Monday, September 9, 2013

Church and Conflict

I mentioned bad news in my post from a few days ago, and I've had a little more time to think about it.  I actually wrote this post several days ago and sat on it.  I wasn't sure I wanted to send it out.  I guess my point here is that conflict happens everywhere, even within the church.  I just don't know how to resolve it.

I haven't been able to figure out why conflict and religion seem to go hand in hand, but it has been present in every church I've attended.  The church I grew up in had a major split over the pastor (half loved him, including my family, but the other half wanted him to leave).  It was really hard for me, at the time a senior in high school, to see people I respected behaving so childishly, to the point that sides were yelling at each other over the situation.  I had never seen someone shout at my father until then.  It was so ugly.  Interestingly, the matter faded just a few months later when my family was involved in a car accident that killed my grandparents.  My mother was the church secretary, and my father was the youth director and church treasurer at the time.  But several months later, the disagreements escalated dramatically again and the pastor elected to leave.  That was the first time my family changed churches, and it was hard on us.  To this day, my parents have never gotten involved in another church like they were at that one.

Much later, my wife and I were active at our church in Rockville, running the drama ministry and getting very involved in quite a few other programs.  My in-laws were also very involved, with my mother-in-law being the pastor's executive assistant, and my father-in-law leading the largest Bible study at the church.  As it turned out, our pastor was surprisingly engaged in some criminal activity regarding the finances of the church, and was forced to resign.  My cousin was married to the pastor's daughter, and his name was dragged into the whole mess.  My in-laws were also very involved in the care of the pastor's two youngest kids.  It was hard for us to just stand by while this was going on, though we certainly weren't supporting the pastor.  However, due to our connection to the pastor's family,  we became as ostracized as the pastor's family from the church.  In fact, my wife and I were stripped of leading the drama ministry without any notice or reason.  We soon left since it had become too uncomfortable for us to continue to be a part of that community.

In both of the above cases, while very different situations, the churches were never the same, and both eventually became shells of their former selves.  The conflicts were death knells for these churches.  And it's a shame.  You might think, since Christ-followers follow the teachings of Jesus, they would be above this kind of conflict, but, in fact, conflicts tend to be even more destructive in the church.  It's a poor reflection on true Christianity.  Yes, we're all human, and conflict just seems to be a part of life, but it's just so sad when it happens in the one place where you might think should be immune.  Especially when the result is chasing away people instead of hearing their issues and trying the resolve the conflict before it escalates.

At one point, early in my college career, I debated whether to enter the ministry.  I felt God was leading me towards a change in careers, and I thought long and hard about whether that was the direction I was being led in.  I finally decided not to go in that direction, since my career as a cartographer seemed to be so much more enjoyable at the time.  I thought I would still be involved in church ministry, and that's true.  But I still encountered conflict.  And when it erupted, it was just easier to turn the other way and leave instead of possibly making the situation worse by fighting.

I don't know what the answer is.  To me, it doesn't make sense to keep fighting.  But it's also very difficult to leave a place where you feel comfortable.  I've done both.  When I stayed to fight, the situation only got worse.  It seemed to fester and became more and more uncomfortable as time went on, and finally it made more sense to just leave.  Leaving right away gives you the opportunity to leave on your terms.  I'm not saying that's the right thing to do, it's just the easiest.

As I said, I hate the combination of church and conflict.  I see it everywhere I've been, and it is the root of so much conflict over the centuries.  Wars are fought between people of different religions.  And we know from reading in Revelation that there will be conflict.  In fact, it's all over in the Bible.  I guess all we can do is turn the other cheek.

Have a great evening, everyone!

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