Tuesday 10 January 2012

God of Conflict?

It is always a source of great irony to me that working towards a truly inclusive Church seems to produce so much conflict. Sometimes that conflict is subtle and well mannered, sometimes not.
Just before Christmas I received a Facebook friend request from someone I hadn’t seen sinceI was a curate. He was a member of the congregation where I served, and I remember assisting at his wedding.

When I looked at my Facebook page, I also noticed that he had commented on one of my blog posts– he said,

‘I don’t understand this – the word of God is explicit about sexual immorality including homosexuality… on judgment day, those who promote homosexuality and encourage others whilst claiming to be“Christian” will find out the truth of things when God rejects them saying, “I never knew you” and then sent to Hell.’
I guess that is me done for then! As I accepted his ‘friend request’ I couldn’t help thinking ‘with friends like these ...!’

But reading the Epiphany Bible readings today, I am reminded that whenever God has spoken into the world it seems to have produced conflict.

It was true for Moses and the people of Israel enslaved in Egypt. It was true as God led Israel into the promised land. It was true in the ministries of the prophets, from Samuel through Elijah, to Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Amos.

At Epiphany, it was true in the birth of Jesus, as Herod’s reaction to the Wise Men shows us. It was true in the ministry of John the Baptist as he upset the political rulers by his straight talking, and in the ministry of Jesus as he challenged the religious leaders.
It was true in the early church, upsetting Jews and Gentiles alike, provoking persecution, imprisonment and even death for a faith which claims to bring peace.

It was true for the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, as they challenged the status quo, and for Roman Catholics like Archbishop Oscar Romero, murdered at the altar for speaking up for the poor in El Salvador. It is true today in many countries around the world where Christians and those of other minority religions are often persecuted for their faith.

And it is true in the Church’s struggle with sexuality.

It seems that whenever God is at work - there is conflict.   If this was the result when Jesus appeared ‘full of grace and truth’, how can it be any different now?

So perhaps it is my expectations which need to change. To be involved in God’s work involves us embracing conflict, living with conflict, working with conflict.

But that does not mean we should look for conflict or arm ourselves to win by force. The Christian way is not one of powerful victory, but of faithful witness, prayer and love - even in the face of visceral confrontation.
When faced with conflict, we must hold out arms of love rather than point fingers of condemnation; we must challenge the anger and fear of closed hearts and minds while planting the seeds of reconciliation and forgiveness; we must seek to see Christ in those with whom we disagree rather than seek to simply rebrand them with our version of God’s image.

So my prayer for 2012 will be the one from Celtic Daily Prayer, based on the Breastplate of St Patrick. It recognises both the inevitable conflict that seeking to follow Christ brings, while looking for Christ in all those we meet along the way.

Christ as a light illumine and guide me.
Christ as a shield overshadow me.
Christ under me;
Christ over me;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all powerful.
Christ as a light;
Christ as a shield;
Christ beside me
on my left and on my right.


  1. I am reposting this as I managed to delete it last night by some strange quirk I don't fully understand!

    Apologies to everyone who commented on the original post - I am now trying to retrieve your comments and post them below.

    C'est la vie!

  2. Creativeconflict wisdom said: Really interesting insights Benny. I think there is a further factor or two. Conflict creatively handled stretches us. It tests our view of how things are at the worldly level and the spiritual and also is a good probe for arrogance on our part or those we find ourselves in argument with, which is of course a good way towards due humility. It also challenges our interpretation and asks if it is loving enough? And I think there is something called loving conflict, which contains difference within love. The comment about your blog you start off with seems to lack enough Corinthian 13.13 for me and I think your response was well expressed.

  3. Erika Baker said: Very often our conflicts are really about a battle for the right to control others. In the lgbt debate we have straight people, largely males, assuming the right to make binding decisions about gay people without seemingly listening to them. The same is being played out again in the assisted dying debate, where all the advisory bodies and the legislators are made up of healthy adults who assume the right to make decisions about another group of people, terminally ill people, without granting them a proper part in the decision making process. I think we must analyse our own motives in any conflict very carefully. Are we genuinely prepared to give those we are in conflict with an equal voice? Only then can conflict be truly creative

  4. Suem said: I think that is very true, Erika. It is difficult to manage conflict creatively. Sometimes we do need to agree to disagree, it is our behaviour to others that counts more than our "opinions" on various issues. Having said that, I think telling other people that they are going to hell for their opinions does show a certain arrogance and narrowness!

  5. Thank you Ed, Erika and Sue for your comments which I found very helpful as I continue to reflect on this.

    I must put in a plug for Ed's blog - Creative Conflict Wisdom - I have known Ed for many years and his record and experience in conflict management and resolution at every level of industry is second to none.

    Not only that but he does not restrict himself to industry, commerce and politics - he also seeks to recognise faith and spirituality in the process of conflict and (hopefully) creative conflict.

    So check the blog out... http://creativeconflictwisdom.wordpress.com/