Lord, how do I love my family when their loves are in conflict with my own? I mean, you know the political issues that really burn me up: when Christian leaders proffer an idolatrous Nationalism, preach against caring for Creation, adopt far right wing international agendas, teach and preach against women in leadership. You know how I feel about all these things. But what do I do when the issues get personal, when I can’t approach such things among my own family members, when there’s an uneasy quiet in the room because I just can’t say what I’m really thinking. And that quiet goes both ways. I know what they think of my doctrinal and political differences. We agree not to talk about it. I feel as though a big confrontation is just around the corner. Like the storm is coming and its only a matter of time until the accusations get thrown about. Is there real peace in situations like this? Dear God, how do we really talk about our loves and concerns for this world and its future without dissension?
With the recent discussions on the Reformation and Protestantism fresh in my mind, I’d like to extend the conversation into where the proverbial shit hits the fan: at home. Sometimes the blogosphere is the easiest place to talk about theology, doctrine, ecumenism, and politics simply because its set up to attract parties largely in agreement. I’m in a bit of a personal crisis right now that brings it all home to me. Namely, what do I do when my family and I find ourselves diametrically opposed on crucial issues?
How does this connect with the question of Protestantism? Because we are not Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, liberal, conservative, womanist, hierarchalist, revivalist, ecumenist, preterist, zionist, creationist, or evolutionist, in the abstract. These different allegiances come home to roost. For example, if a family member and I are on the same couch watching the Fox News Network for any given length of time, one of us will sigh or leave the room—and I guarantee it will be me. If the subject of women in leadership is brought up, I have a strong dog in that fight. I cannot join or regularly attend a church that excludes women from the Spirit’s giftings.
If a family member I loved were to extol the spiritual benefits of joining John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, my pain and outrage would seem to be without measure. The list of issues and concerns goes on and on, but this gives you have a picture of the fault-line within my own extended family. I’ve made it personal. Why do I do this? Because, from where I sit this is a realistic picture of only some of the divisions within the Church, irrespective of denomination.
There are people whose job it is to deal with conflict resolution. I stand amazed at such people. I can guess that they are certainly not perfect at home themselves, but the ability to stand in the face of someone opposed to you and not back down, avoid, sidestep or let up, is a strong witness that I have far to go. I think in particular of Cliff Kindy and Jim Fitz of Christian Peacemaker Teams.
I see them only on occasion and I read about their work, but I’ve had the privilege of watching Cliff in action, actively listening to someone I would call a wacko expound on a dream about hand-to-hand combat with terrorists in Palestine. I have to guiltily confess that I barely cast an eye at such people. I’d rather shoo them away like a mosquito. I easily other them without thinking twice—until I hear it in the family room, then its a crisis. Cliff calmly walked and talked, eagerly heard the man’s words, did not rush to make his own point, but then calmly engaged the man with another way of seeing the people he did not understand. What I observed that day in Cliff, that active listening with good questions that provoked healing discussion, created a longing in me to be that sort of person.
I have to equate his sort of conversing with watching Lou Ferrigno lift weights. Its rather daunting and I hardly know where to begin. They do this all the time and I have the guilty pleasure of living rather conflict-free. My family members live hundreds of miles away and we just agree not to approach certain topics. This doesn’t keep the pain of my knowledge of their very different beliefs and interests from effecting me.
I found these five core principles from the Common Ground Approach that think I can be safely applied to managing and resolving conflict within Christian families. Here they are:
To me, following Jesus means becoming the kind of person who will not fear conflict, but can transform it. It means looking for common ground, taking the long view of peace as a process, and finally remembering that we humans are interdependent. We need each other, even where we disagree. My truth is not the whole truth. I must be open.
So is that it? No, that’s just the beginning. Like picking a rigorous exercise program, I know the sort of sore muscles, potential injuries, and relapses ahead from experience. But we’re looking for healthy interpersonal relationships here! Those aren’t fostered by hiding behind surface chit-chat. The bottom line is how can I get to know Jesus better through this family member (whom I’m at times tempted to despise)? How can I offer my prayers and support in good conscience?