Conflict Resolution

18 Sep

This week I received an email with a code of conduct for a parish community. Now I understand why people produce such documents – because in a litigious society we need to show we have taken every step to address conflict and concerns as part of our corporate responsibility for each other. It is not that this document is inappropriate that concerns me but the fact that it is deemed we need it.

The truth is, as William Loader comments; “Honesty in confronting issues often makes restoration possible, whereas half dishonest failure to name things leaves untended wounds which fester and, even in apparent reconciliation, the pain will be disruptive and is frequently destructive for all. Unfortunately Christians have been particularly good at replacing honest open love with being nice.”

And there is nothing nice about how Matthews Jesus expects us to negotiate the pitfalls and confrontations inherent in community, whether that community is a church based community, families or our general interactions with others in the big bold world outside our doors. Matthews community was struggling to find its place and to work out who was for their Messianic project and there were ongoing conflicts and falling outs. Jesus reminds them that this needs to be resolved in the first instance on a personal basis but if this not possible then we are to engage others in the process.

It is important to remember that this was seen to be a conflict amongst those of a similar mind and a commitment to the life of the community, not to personal feelings or emotions nor with those not committed to the same community. It is not a universal practice. It is about the life and health of the community. It is not about being nice and making excuses for others behaviour, for in the end that will slowly eat away at the heart of the community itself resulting in a slow death for all.  The very thing we were attempting to avoid happens anyway.

Unless both parties in the conflict put the future of the community first there can be no reconciliation and resurrection of life. If one or more of those involved have made the issue all about themselves then the process is doomed to failure even if some half hearted agreement is arrived at. People will sit together in community but be separated in their heart.

In this process there will need to be restitution, apology and pain of consequences. It is a genuine process of breaking open the lives of each and a process of healing which may take sometime to arrive at. Matthew shows how serious this process is by the steps he suggests the community follows – individuals, small group, a larger group and then a cutting off of the offender from the community itself. This is a process we are more often than not unable to implement, often to our detriment.

An outcome of the Uluru statement was the call for a Makarrata – a process for reconciliation after conflict or to heal the separation caused by the wrongdoing of one individual or tribe against another. It is often discussed in terms of the physical wounding of another as a sign that the relationship has been restored. Yet it is very much the process Jesus speaks of in our Gospel.

Makarrata only works if both sides are committed to restoring the relationship. If it is only a call from one side it will not occur. If it only has partial buy in by either groups it will fail. It relies entirely on the commit to community and the restraint of revenge or pay back.  It occurs only after deep dialogue and listening, not from the hurt or from the sense of failure or embarrassment, but genuine listening to hear what is happening for the other.

In Makarrata there is another element present – the spirits and ancestors of both groups. This is not an act happening in isolation from all that gives meaning to each tribal group and their country. The country holding law, language, ceremony and kinship is present at the centre of the dialogue and drives the process.

Interestingly Jesus says something very similar – “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” The ethic of the urge to wholeness found in the incarnated Wisdom of God – the essence of his two countries heaven and earth – is always present when we come together with integrity and honesty to address grievances and concerns.

Our country is engaged in many different arguments which have or possibly will polarise individuals, churches and communities to take combative positions adverse to reconciliation and the urge for wholeness empowered by respect and justice empowered by love.  Income management cards, assisted dying legislations, refugees on Manus Island, marriage equality and more threaten the fabric of churches and the wider society. We need the presence of the Wisdom of God, Jesus, to find a new and life giving openness to dialogue and Makarrata.

Two of Australia’s most prestigious Catholic schools have cautiously endorsed same-sex marriage in messages to parents, staff and students, directly rebuking recent statements from church leaders.

While stopping short of advocating a “yes” vote, St Ignatius’ College in Sydney and Xavier College in Melbourne appealed to Pope Francis’ teachings on love, mercy and non-judgment, and urged the school community to dwell on their own consciences.

Father Chris Middleton, rector of Xavier College, called on the church to reflect on the overwhelming support for marriage equality among young people, and cited an Irish archbishop who called for the church to take “a reality check”.

“In my experience, there is almost total unanimity amongst the young in favour of same-sex marriage, and arguments against it have almost no impact on them,” Father Middleton wrote.

“They are driven by a strong emotional commitment to equality, and this is surely something to respect and admire. They are idealistic in the value they ascribe to love, the primary gospel value.”

Communities will only survive if love is at the centre, not the love of niceness, uneasy peace or that brought about by the destruction of those one is in conflict with. It is about love and young people maybe idealistic but  I believe they who have been schooled in the Christian values, and all young people have through our education system, are empowered by love as they search for wholeness, justice and respect.

Matthews’ community needed an ethic of identity and belonging which prioritised community and the health of the community over and above the niceness of individual happiness and Jesus sets down a process founded on the essential element of our faith – his presence at the centre of all being.

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