Many are amazed when disagreements occur between participants of prayer groups and charismatic communities, between the members and their leaders or even between one group and another. No one enjoys disputes and quarrels. No one likes finding himself in a position opposite to that of his brother or sister. Those of us who witness it from the sidelines, like it even less.
We all know that disagreement can lead to mutual anger. It can create envy or pride towards one another. These can result in inner hurts of those involved. Sometimes conflict leads to the end of a relationship or seriously damages such relationship. Nevertheless, we all know that conflicts are an integral part of our life. When different persons meet regularly, some sort of disagreement will inevitably arise. There is a very interesting Spanish proverb which says, "Where God has his church, the devil tries at least to have his chapel."
It is not surprising, then, that since the early times of the Church, there existed conflict. The question of circumcision created so much conflict that the apostles decided to hold a council (Acts 15:1 ff); the lack of agreement between Paul and Barnabas on whether Mark was to accompany them on their mission resulted in the separation of these two early pillars of Christianity (Acts 15:36-41). Paul was involved in another serious dispute regarding unclean food, this time with Peter. Here Paul accuses Peter, the head of the Church with hypocrisy (Gal 2:11 ff.)!
Conflict, if perceived positively, can lead us to accept, acknowledge and love more one another. It can make us conscious that although we are different from each other, we still can all work together for the Kingdom of God. A conflict within a group can show that the group is alive and well. When everyone agrees with everything, holds the same opinion, when all that the leaders say is always right, then there could be something seriously wrong with the group. But conflict may lead us to build a climate of suspicion which will result in lack of trust. Those who disagree with us become our enemies and we conclude, "I cannot trust that person any more!" It can diminish or disrupt communication. We start looking more for our own benefit rather than that of the others. In this way the common vision and the team spirit will be destroyed. Many members start feeling as losers and demoralized and so leave the group or community.
There are various reasons which lead to conflicts between us. We have different perceptions of things; we have different priorities, or roles which are not clearly defined. And there may be also personal clashes-superfluous words that hurt, a person who is touchy, another who feels he or she is being ignored. There are many ways to solve these conflicts.
I. We can deny that conflicts exist. Someone has written, "The mark of community, true Biblical unity, is not the absence of conflict but the presence of a reconciling spirit. Conflict that goes underground poisons the soil and eventually hurts everyone.
2. We retreat from everything. At the slightest sign of disagreement, we leave the group with whom we have a conflict.
3. We solve the conflict haphazardly and without the necessary right spirit.
4. We prohibit a discussion to take place about the existing conflict.
These methods certainly do not lead to the right solution. So what can be done?
1. We build our trust in God. Paul tells us that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Rom 8:28). Conflict through divine intervention can become a means to make us holy and grow in loving those whom we disagree with.
2. We build our trust in others. Without mutual trust, two persons will never love one another, let alone work together in the Kingdom. When trust ceases to exist, it is not easy to rebuild it. Yet it is possible!
3. Communication. This means that we can share clearly our way of thinking and our feelings with the person with whom we are in conflict. And we do this without using offensive language or trying to be oversensitive.
4. We look and delve more deeply into the problem and search for the issues and needs that lie hidden within. A problem resembles an iceberg-there are many hidden factors underneath the surface.
5. We self-examine ourselves regarding our relations with others. Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians will surely help.
6. Reconciliation. Once I was asked, "When a China cup is broken, and all the pieces are brought together and mended, does the cup become the same as it was before? And if two persons have an argument, and they settle their conflict, will their relation become as it was before?" As Christians our answer should be, "Through our strength alone this would be impossible. But through Gods grace everything is possible!"
God can give us wisdom and strength to love, accept and even forgive those persons not only with whom we disagree, but also those who cause us harm. Jesus, through His blood shed on the Cross, cleans all stains caused by sins we commit against others and those sins committed against us. And we, if we are united with Him, can transform and reconcile every conflict.
Lest we forget, from this the world will know that we are Christs disciples, from the love we have for one another, even when we disagree.
Nikol Baldacchino represents Malta on the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Service Council. ©1998 The ICCRS Newsletter , Vatican City. Used with permission.