Last fall I posted this on bullying in the church (along with this followup). I wrote it on a day I was tired of hearing stories of too many good Christian friends and leaders being bullied in the very body where we covenant to care for one another. I was very angry.
The response I received was overwhelming, and only made me sadder as I saw how widespread this was. As feedback rolled in, I heard these questions repeated over and over:
- Are you talking about what so and so did to you?
- Are you talking about what so and so experienced at St. so and so’s?
- You know, some people might think you are talking about us….
I had over a dozen conversations of this nature. My response was generally, “I am talking about that. And about you. And me. Because I am not going to be silent about it anymore.”
All of those conversations led me to reflect on some of the conflicts I had been a part of in my ministry. I wondered what started the conflict? I recognized some parts of my personality that made me defensive and overly aggressive. On the other hand, there were some unequal forces I was fighting against that were far greater than me or my church: sexism, ageism, political differences. I began to see a difference between losing myself for the sake of Christ, and losing who God made me for the sake of making others feel like they had won.
All winter long I paid attention to my interactions with others. Conflict always came down to the same thing, that I would diminish myself for the sake of Christ, but if I did it only to make an angry person less angry, it never worked.
In June 2013, I attended my second Unconference, an open space conference for church leaders, hosted by Stony Point Center. Generally, participants come with an idea or a question they want to explore with others at the conference. I came only with a prayer. It had been several years since I had done any research outside of my parish setting. I wanted to get back into studying, so I came to Unco seeking some inspiration.
After supper I went into the Stony Point bookstore, lightly pondering some conflict or other, and stopped at the Non-Violence section. As I read the titles, I wondered, “Could there be another way of dealing with church bullying besides the band-aid of conflict resolution?” Throughout Unco, as conversations were proposed, I kept asking for others to talk about non-violence with me. I spent two hours under a tree with a Mennonite from North Carolina and learned about how he practices non-violence in his Church for homeless folks and how pacifism does not mean not being angry about injustice.
Resisting violence in the Church
In all my reflections, I knew I was dealing with something far greater than personality conflicts. I was coming face to face with the myth that the loudest voice (or the biggest weapon) is the one that will win the argument (or the war). That’s why every time I was trying to take the transparent, non-anxious approach to conflict, the other person just got louder and louder. I also knew that as long as only a very few leaders were expected to be calm and conciliatory all the time, nothing in the Church was going to change, more and more leaders would burn out, and the little credibility the Christian church has in the world to work for peace would continue to fade away.
The practice of non-violence is not about being passive, but about creatively finding a different way to resolve conflict without turning to violence.
I raided the sale shelf and a few others and my reading has begun. My mind is being blown over and over with truth I feel I always knew but never really lived or articulated.
I’ve been wanting to blog about all this, but had to write this one first. Stay tuned for a post on Syria and some great campfire/poolside conversations.