|Bishop's CornerConfronting Conflict
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker
the church is nothing new. Just read the apostle Paul’s first letter
to the Christians in Corinth. They were divided by their differences
in social class, spirituality and sexual morality. There has never
been a golden age in which there was no conflict in the church.
Why should we expect the church to be free of
conflict? The church is God’s grand experiment in human history to
create community through a common faith in Jesus Christ. The church is
to be nothing less than a new humanity through participation by faith
in God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ and poured out in the Holy
The creation of a new humanity involves
overcoming the centrifugal force of human sin. St. Augustine said the
human species is the only species that is “social by nature and
quarrelsome by perversion.” The way to a new humanity united in
divine love is through conflict. Once conflict erupts in the church,
then the opportunity arises to really learn how to become a community
of love in which there is a common commitment to Jesus Christ, mutual
respect for differences and a spirit of forgiveness and acceptance.
The emergence of conflict is often the test for experiencing genuine
Even though conflict is not new, it may be more
common in many churches today simply because in a mobile society there
are people who come together from many different places and there is a
lessening of social inhibitions. Sometimes it is necessary for
churches to be led through their conflict by someone from the outside
who has been trained on how to resolve conflict. One of the items on
the agenda of the Conference Table is to recruit and train consultants
for conflict resolution and establish policies for their work in
Whenever conflict emerges there is an
understandable desire to walk away saying, “I want the church to be
one place in my life where there is no conflict.” Yet to succumb to
this attitude would be to fail the test of forming Christian
community. In all relationships there is conflict. The issue is how to
confront and overcome it.
If there is any community that possesses the
resources for confronting and overcoming conflict it is the church.
The church is the community that knows the forgiveness of sins through
Christ’s passion on the cross. Within this environment of divine
forgiveness, we can forgive one another and, thus, experience being a
new humanity made possible by the grace of God.