Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Biblical Principles of Conflict

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:7,9)

Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. (Mark 9:50)

Accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions....Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls.... Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this-- not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way of faith. (Romans 14:1, 4, 13)

Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20)

If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:... enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:15-23)

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble."  Submit therefore to God.  (James 4:1-7)

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. (Romans 12:14-18)

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)

If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him." (Luke 17:3-4)

Let all that you do be done in love. (1Corinthians 16:14)

How To Disagree

      I often find myself in disagreements.  Maybe it's because I'm a disagreeable person, I'm not sure.  But over many years I have found that there are basic principles that are helpful in conversations in which we disagree, whether face to face or on the internet.  While I don't always follow all of these principles, I think that our discussions would go better if I, and all the rest of us, could follow these basic guidelines when disagreeing.

           Expect disagreement
No matter how much we may agree with each other, disagreement will happen.  This is not a bad thing.  If we disagree, we can discuss issues and come up with a better solution.  What is problematic is when the disagreement is completely unexpected or comes from a position we consider illogical or immoral.  There are times that we will be hurt by the fact that someone we otherwise respect we disagree with in an important issue.  However, we must be careful not to let that hurt or anger at a position determine our response.

 Listen to understand the other person’s position
We may want to listen to other’s point of view in order to find specifics to undermine it.  What is more important is that we understand what the other person is saying.  If we begin the conversation as an attack, then we won’t even know what exactly we are attacking, and many of our counter-arguments will not actually be about the other person’s point of view at all.  We must be careful to know their position before we even begin a response.  This might mean we will need to ask questions to have them clarify their point of view.

Look for the ideas  you can agree with
If someone disagrees with you, this doesn’t mean that there are no areas of agreement in the broader realm of the subject.  Look for the areas of agreement.  Those areas of agreement can be mentioned to soften the blow of the clear disagreement.  Also, the areas of agreement can be used later to discuss another way of looking at the whole problem, a point of view which both parties might agree with.

 Never insult or demean the other person or their belief system
Just because they disagree with you, your logic or your moral ideas does not make the other person bad, illogical or immoral, and they should not be treated as such.  Do not bring in false conclusions to their point of view—you can be concerned about the implications, but don’t assume that they will happen.  Never use insulting language.  Do not demean their character, nor demean the sources of their belief system.  That will only increase anger, not discussion.  And it certainly will not create agreement.

Try to respond with clarity
When you respond to the other person’s position, be sure to be clear how your points relate to theirs.  If you have an opposite viewpoint, make it clear, along with your reasons. Don’t keep repeating your point again and again.   Be sure whatever examples or stories you use are clear and pertinent.  Carefully use your language so it doesn’t make the wrong point.  On the internet, use emoticons to express what we might do with tone or facial expression, such as sarcasm or a joke.  It might be good to bring the other person along with you.  Speak about mutual goals and how your position is more likely to achieve those goals.

Give them an opportunity to respond in respect
Disagreement should be a conversation, not a monologue.  So this means we should hope and expect responses.  If the responses are insulting or hateful, then the conversation is over, because anger is the far most likely response to anger.  But we should give an opportunity for the one we disagree with to respond and for us to come up with a reasonable response to them.

If the disagreement becomes unproductive, it is time to stop
Any of us, at times, can have our emotions carry us where we are no longer productive.  So if a disagreement becomes uncontrolled or polarized, it is time to end the discussion.  Perhaps the conversation can be taken up another time, but it is not worth hurting each other for the sake of a point.  Perhaps one of the parties can see the heat of the argument, back up and cool things down.  This can be done with humor, or with a sincere apology.  But if cooling down doesn’t work, it might be time to back up and try again another day.

 The goal is not agreement or convincing, but love
In a disagreement, if the purpose of both parties is to prove they are right, then there is no convincing either side—for this reason debates don’t work because they create deepening polarization, so no real solution can be found.  But often a disagreement cannot find agreement between the opposing parties.  Even if they are looking for some kind of agreement, it cannot be found.  So, rather than create false expectations for those involved, the goal of the disagreement must be love.   We want to love our opponent by giving them respect.  We want to love those listening to us by responding fairly and clearly.  And we want the goal of our positions to be about love: love of others, love of the poor, love of nature, love of God—whatever the subject may be.  We need to remember that if it is important enough to have strong disagreement, the purpose must be to benefit someone.  If there is no benefit, then perhaps the disagreement isn’t worth having.