It is a Feature Not a Bug - Conflict in the Church

The most naive among us, believe that the Church is conflict free, or if there is conflict then it is minimal and quickly resolved. This is not the case.

It is sometimes the case that people will work in the Church and see the “other side” of things and decide to leave Church. Others are victims of the conflict within Church, and this is painful. Still others seek out Church conflict because there is something about the conflict that they are addicted to or get some need met by being a part of the conflict.

The truth is conflict is universal and unavoidable. There is not just the conflict we have between one another, but we also have internal conflicts. Conflict is nothing to be ashamed or afraid of.

The Church understands that with conflict there is the chance to practice reconciliation, forgiveness, listening, compassion, mercy and justice. Without conflict the Church cannot practice these things. And like all other parts of our lives, the things that we do not use, atrophies and dies.

What is remarkable about the Church is that it sees conflict as a feature of the institution, and not a bug.

Some worry that too much conflict for too long will lead to a sort of war. The assumption is that war is the ultimate form of conflict. We have been taught to think this is the case. However, comedian Dylan Moran makes the point that war is not ultimate conflict but it is the inability to have conflict. Moran’s point is that waging war means you would rather have the other person dead than have conflict with them. War is not the ultimate conflict, it is our inability to have conflict.

What if by refusing to be in conflict we are not choosing peace. What if it means that we are choosing war? If we believe that it would be better (more peaceful) when the “other side” is gone, then are we engaged in a sort of ecclesial war?

Conflict is the feature we have in the Church that gives the chance to practice repentance, mercy, forgiveness and justice. Taking the conflict away may not lead us to the peace we say we desire. It may lead us marching into war.

Choosing Conflict Over War

War is often thought of as the ultimate conflict. Of course there is great loss of life and civilization in any war, there is great devastation and destruction in war. As it has been said, war is hell.

However, according to Peter Rolins, war is not the ultimate conflict but the absence of conflict. Meaning that we would rather see the eradication and elimination of the other person(s) than be in conflict with them. As such, war is what happens when groups/people refuse to have conflict and wish the destruction of the other.

Photo by  Jordy Meow  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jordy Meow on Unsplash

The United Methodist Church has been in conflict for a long time. For some it is exhausting and no longer worth the fight. Some believe that we have irreconcilable differences. Some feel that we cannot be united as long as the Book of Discipline is not changed or if it is not being followed. Some believe that we are better off apart than together. 

Put another way, there are many who would rather not have see or interact or be in conflict with others in the denomination. There are some who choose war because it gives a false comfort. We believe that no conflict means comfort. No conflict means war. Even the building of peace has conflict. The difference in peace and war is that peace puts conflict in its proper place and war banishes conflict all together. 

I choose conflict over war. 

I choose to be in conflict with those I disagree with. Those who I feel are being total jerks and those who think that I am a jerk. I choose to be in conflict with those who break the Book of Discipline and those who desire it to remain unchanged. I choose to be in conflict with those who think I am a heretic and those who think I am saint. I choose to be in conflict because I choose relationships (even conflictual ones) over war.

The Uniting Methodists are people who understand that conflict is nothing to fear. In fact, conflict means we all are alive! If there is no conflict then the "others" have been eradicated. If there is no conflict then there is only war. I pray the UMC will come to see that the long conflicts of our denomination are signs of health and engagement. Let us not fall victim to the false comfort that comes from the sirens calling us to war.