Conflict, peace and peacemaking. The LDS difference.

Stephen MarshMormon 26 Comments

I was looking at a news item.

Canadian School of Peacebuilding Research studies verify what experience tells us: the majority of Christian congregations endure internal conflict. At any given time, one fifth of congregations are engaged in serious conflict. Conflict is a fact of congregational life that can be skillfully or awkwardly managed. This course will examine the “firestorm” of faith-based conflict. We will survey problems that typically lead to conflict, unique dynamics of healthy and unhealthy group interactions that commonly occur, and creative ways of using conflict in faithful, lifebuilding ways. We will use didactic methods, which include personal reflection, academic investigation, case study, and a variety of resource materials.

Location:Canadian Mennonite Unviersity, Winnipeg, Manitoba, CANADA

Course taught by Lois Edmund, in collaboration with Congregational Peacebuilding Partners

Made me think about how peace and conflict differ in LDS congregations compared to other groups.

We don’t have a sub-industry of people who specialize in healing broken congregations, and our intractable issues seem to move differently.

What do you think?  What could we use, what do you think would make us stronger, what would make us more divided as a people?  How do you handle conflicts and who do you go to when you have one?

Comments 26

  1. Yeah, if Mormons have an intractable issue — the opposition is out. Problem solved.
    And then we can go to General Conference and let the GA’s intone to us how we need to care for the abandoned, pat ourselves on the back for feeling kind and forget about it.

    I’m obviously being a little glib, but reconciliation, if not the opposite, is at least on the other end of the spectrum from excommunication. A lay church leadership has little training or little background in conflict resolution and given the prevalence of the cliche that people leave the church only because they are offended, the inner-ward conflicts are often not resolved amicably. People are unofficially dis-fellowshipped all the time.

    Somebody is going to bring up D&C 42:88-90, which I agree with in the first part about simply confronting the person who as offended you. I think in terms of the modern church there needs to be some new revelation on how to handle conflict however, because public shaming as recommended in verse 90 just doesn’t wash in a modern open society, maybe it was a good control mechanism in an insular 1840s community, but you do that now, people will simply leave, families will be hurt, lives devestated and the church will receive the occasional lawsuit.

    Some ideas to reduce conflict:
    1. If you want to create less inner conflict, figure out how to eliminate the social power hierarchies. That unrighteous dominion is a big culprit — even Joseph Smith said so.
    2. Figure out how to make people really humble. If you know that you aren’t all that or are at least open to the possibility, then conflict resolution flows much easier. Be ye therefore imperfect, and realize it.
    3. Cut back on the “all or nothing” attitude. Making it the “one true Church” makes conflict as inevitable as hits in T-ball.
    4. Half-joking here, but make temple recommends available on a majority basis — if you pass half the questions you are in.
    5. 10% joking here — tithing percentages on a sliding scale of income.
    6. Ok, now I’m just trying to create conflict — allow gay marriage.

    OK, I’ve changed my own mind. Conflict is inevitable, maybe the best way to deal with it is learn to relish the vitality it can bring.

  2. Well, let me see,
    1. no argument there
    2. Best to make yourself humble before working on others.
    3. Sorry, but it is “the one true church” or not. Otherwise it’s just an interesting little ecclesiastical side note.
    4. Temple recommends. It seems you’re worthy or not. I don’t think lowering the bar is more inclusive. It just tells you that some things like morality, fidelity, honesty, etc aren’t that important.
    5. Tithing is 10%. You decide of what.
    6. No problem there.

    I realize that on some of these you were trying to be funny. Try again.

  3. I have been fortunate over the years to live in wards that have been free of overt conflict. There have been differences of opinion in the organizations about what and how to do things but it has seemed that people were willing to assume good will and keep things in perspective. A good example was my first wife when she was a missionary. She had a companion that was very difficult to deal with but when I asked how she was able to get along with her she said that she just felt that what they were doing was more important. Sometimes people lose sight of that but not all that often. Plus having faith that leaders really were called acts as a buffer in potential conflict situations.

    I think it’s rare to see someone in outright rebellion or opposition since those folks usually have already separated themselves from the group. Conflict resolution doesn’t really apply to the DAMU. Once you’ve decided to be there the chance to talk goes away because those kinds of issues have little to do with teaching primary, getting the scouts to camp, planning RS or Young Women’s in Excellence. Sometimes it’s a matter of trying to remember what pretty much any church is, just ordinary people trying to do the right thing for each other.

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  5. I, too, have been fortunate to live in wards that were relatively free from conflict. Two times in recent memory, however, it has reared its ugly head. The first was when a Lady Missionary took it upon herself to run to the bishop every time she found something in the ward she didn’t like. The second was when a new ward was created which included a pocket of affluence on the other side of a major highway. The members from that pocket felt themselves clearly superior to those of us poor peons not in that pocket.

    And I agree about mixing politics and religion. A ward I grew up in almost became divided over a hot, local political issue. Fortunately, the bishop at the time exerted strong leadership and kept politics outside the chapel.

  6. Well, being the contrarian/conflict junkie that I am, I must say you guys sure make it easy to have conflict. First my reaction to Mr. Marsh’s snub — you can ignore me, that is your prerogative, but it is also indicative of how the Mormon church deals with conflict — ignore it and it will go away, except that it doesn’t. It just hurts people and does exactly what a religion shouldn’t do, alienates and ostracize. “Shhhh, if we are quiet he might go away.”

    Dan — and by the way everyone should read his blog, it is excellent — I disagree. Politicizing the religion will not divide and destroy it, not politicizing it will divide and destroy it. It just needs to be properly politicized. Rather than avoiding politics and saying we stay out of them while funding political campaigns which just appears hypocritical and opens up the religion to ridicule. The proper politicization should be focused on fundamental Christian/Mormon values, the first and second commandments and that is it. Does the political belief allow for freedom of religious expression you disagree with, including gay marriage for example (some people see that as a religious issue like polygamy)? If the answer is yes, then the Church should support it. It is a very libertarian, free agency, not Satan’s plan kind of approach. The second commandment is all about loving and providing for your fellow man, so things like providing people health care, maintaining proper stewardship of the planet and preventing armed conflict should get the religious stamp of approval. Arguments and conflict can be allowed and tolerated on how best to accomplish those things, but the agenda is set on what is best for all our fellow men and women. This is what a religion should and must do to be meaningful.

    And GBSmith — living up to your Glenn Beck initials I see —

    1. Glad you agree with me. Do you also believe in the Joseph Smith quote, “that by proving contraries, truth is made manifest?” Just curious.
    2. Humble and quiet are two different things.
    3. See Footnote A —
    4. Most people have to lie on at least one question — usually the honesty one.
    5. And I bet Diet Coke is Ok, but RedBull isn’t.
    6. I’m glad to see you don’t have a problem with gay marriage.

    One point on my original post that was lost on you GB — humor is sometimes the only way we have to avoid conflict.

    Footnote A: Exactly my point, in all humility our culture is an interesting and occasionally vibrant “ecclesiastical side note.”

  7. Jack, it’s interesting that we had the same exact experience with a sister missionary. She’d get started with how the gospel doctrine teacher was off the mark and then move on to the RS president and how she wasn’t following the handbook. It set back the missionary program years.

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    Ulysses, I’m obviously being a little glib … when I respond to you, including politely to your insults, you ignore the responses. When I don’t have something to add, you take it as a snub.

    But, humor is sometimes the only way we have to avoid conflict … Yes.

  9. But serious issues can also be couched in humor. One of the points, which I think is valid and that should at least be open to discussion is how do you reconcile the Church’s proclivity to exclude against Christ’s admonintions to include?

    Also, I’m interested in dialogue, not hurt feelings. I’m unaware of how I’ve insulted you, if so I apologize. I don’t believe disagreement or different beliefs are insulting in the least.

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    “Oh, Stephen M just panders” …

    Perhaps that wasn’t an insult.

    Anyway, I wasn’t trying to snub you. Just very busy and a bit terse. The 28th was a very busy day from 6:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

  11. #2 in response to #1~

    1. To relinquish social hierarchies is to basically disable the Church’s leadership structure and enforce the original idea of share ‘n share alike. So the Brother and Sister Christensens would have to sell the Hummer and help the Brother and Sister Thompsons who can’t afford food let alone tithing. Right? You sure you’re up for that? That means you’d have to be compassionate for those meddling SISTER missionaries, I suppose.

    2. I laugh at the whole ‘humility’ charge; where was and is Ulysseus not humble? Or is that just one way to snub someone because there’s really no defense for it?

    3. ‘It’s either the one true Church or it’s not?’ Okay, it’s not. Go ahead, I dare you to tell me it is and you and I can argue back and forth and then you can tell me again how you don’t have conflict in your religion because of the black and white mentality coupled with audacious and prideful proclamations. Next.

    4. Temple recommends are just that: recommends. You are recommended by the Bishop based on a self-assessment. Who needs the temple more? Those ‘perfect’ saints who are obviously creatively truthful, or people who are real, struggling and need the blessing and strength the temple can afford those in need?

    5.”Tithing is 10%, you decide of what?!” See #4.

    6.Creating conflict, if people can leave their ‘pride’ and egos at the side of the door, is a great way to facilitate understanding. Too bad the door is empty most of the time.

    It’s a noble thing when people can look beyond themselves and see the larger picture. Like in the #3 comment–the sister missionary who was given a difficult companion (although to hear the other side’s version, there might be a different story–remember there are two sides to everything)

    In the larger picture, allowing for healthy conflict inside Mormonism would stop the winnowing out of the skeptics and contrarians, forcing them to DAMU, or even into inactivity or out and out separation. But then the ultimate game piece would be lost: the semblance of control. Conflict is hard to control, especially by lay-people who may or may not have been called (come on, we all can agree that God doesn’t personally call each calling; mostly it’s done with a verbal dart board and names. Control is something I believe the hierarchy of the Church desperately needs. Especially if they are politically inclined.

  12. It wasn’t an insult. You had just left a glowing remark on singlemormonchick’s Perspective post and I jokingly said you were simply pandering — schmoozing would have probably been more appropriate term. singlemormonchick got it because right after my “pander” comment, she said “i know that stephen simply ooozes sincerity-especially when he likes my post!” We were doing humorous banter, that is all. Sorry if you thought I was being insulting.

    This is an example of how to resolve conflict.
    Step 1: Define the conflict and the problem. (Ulysseus felt snubbed and Stephen felt insulted.)
    Step 2: Examine the problem. (Stephen didn’t realize that it was intended as humor and Ulysseus can get used to being ignored because GB didn’t even respond, although he did to Jack Mormon.)
    Step 3: Reach resolution. (Apologize, reconcile and continue.)

    Kind of like a shampoo bottle, “lather, rinse repeat.” So in an effort to facilitate the process — JulieAnn, I ignore your comments.

  13. No sweat, JulieAnn — I’ll make sure that I take it personally, that I’m deeply offended and that I’ll never, ever, ever attempt to reconcile the conflict.

    Speaking of potentially never ending conflict — I completely missed this gem by GB — “Conflict resolution doesn’t really apply to the DAMU. ” I must say that I didn’t know what a DAMU was, but Google is a marvelous thing and I’ll be DAMUed if that isn’t a funny acronym. I’m a wee bit incredulous though, GB. How can you discount the DAMU — I vaguely remember a parable about a lost sheep somewhere and needing to leave all the “teaching primary, getting the scouts to camp, planning RS or Young Women’s in Excellence” to go find the lost sheep. Probably easy to ignore if you don’t have to listen to that damn ewe (DAMU- get it?) baa-ing.

  14. Dan, I agree with your comment about politicizing the church. Sunday school today came close a few times to drifting into politics and you could feel the tension start to rise especially when a visitor from Sandy made a comment about the state of our current government.

    As to conflict it can exist on so many different levels it’s probably not wise to speak of it generally but in more specific terms. Within a ward it can arise from someone who’s uneasy with change or their perception that “the handbook” isn’t being followed. Of from an auxiliary head that isn’t sensitive to those she/he supervises. The key is finding out what the problem is. When the conflict is related to doctrine then there really is no arbiter. There’s no forum for open discussion and no real way to deal with it without appearing to be in open opposition to the leadership. If a person feels that there’s no other way to maintain their integrity but by speaking out then the end result is unlikely to be happy for any and all.

    I passed through the need to speak out stage sometime ago as all I saw it doing was making me unhappy and those around me uncomfortable. If a conflict can lead to a productive end or result in something positive, then why not. But it takes a wise person to be able to guide that process and not end up with ashes at the end.

    The other secret if to not let the conversation get in the way of the discussion, something I don’t always do very well.

  15. Ulysseus – I think you and I agree, at least as far as I can tell. The difference is probably that I like to create the conflict, well not that I like it, I’m just really good at doing it.

    It seems to me that though I’ve been in three wards in the last two years, and I have seen six or so EQ presidents in about that time, I have noticed that very few handle conflict well. My favorite EQ President, well I had the most conflict with him so I thought he was great, began to describe his authority and jurisdiction to me in a PPI. Unfortunately I didn’t agree with his interpretation to his authority and decided to voice my displeasure with what he said. Conflict was there, but I didn’t seem to mind. It wasn’t until two weeks later that the Bishop called me into his office because of the difference of opinions that I realize the EQP was actually serious about his authority. The EQP found that conflict was best handled by someone else besides him, I just chuckled and told the bishop I wouldn’t cause more trouble, but that it probably be best if the EQP didn’t try to talk to me again.

    I’ll admit my own pride got in the way, but it wasn’t that I was being prideful because I saw him in a position of authority over me, but that I saw him as an uninformed fool that tried to show his superiority to me. Stratification breeds conflict and as long as we have ways to gauge who is better than the next, we will constantly be having conflict. So we have one of two options.

    1 – Eliminate all forms of social stratification. (i.e. no more callings, temple recommends, tithing, talks, teachers, or anything else that would make one person look superior to others.)

    2 – Realize that stratification helps the church remain organized and that rather than being scared of conflict, embrace it so that all can see the positions of others and try to respect them. (Hey that might even help people learn to accept others, scary thought I know)

  16. You see GB, this is what I’m talking about. Ignoring people doesn’t work, because everyone will see that you are simply ignoring me. I’m assuming you are ignoring me because of this statement — “the conflict is related to doctrine then there really is no arbiter”, but I’ve brought up several doctrinally sound points that you have ignored or chosen to not comment because — well, I’m not sure why.

    So to recap —

    1. How does ignoring DAMU or me or anyone you disagree with correlate with the admonition to bring back the lost sheep?

    2. As for politics and the church, why shouldn’t political discussions be allowed, especially in relationship to how politics can let us better live our religion?

    3. Still curious on why Joseph Smith’s “proving contraries” quote can’t be extremely beneficial in resolving conflict and finding truth within the “one true church.”

    4. And finally, my original question — how do you resolve conflict without ostracizing people and violating numerous commandments relating to compassion and love?

    I see this discussion we are having as potentially quite productive, since it will allow more people to access the teachings of a religion you profess to be the “one true” church, but not if you don’t actually discuss.

  17. I find that some of the greatest techniques for avoiding and resolving conflict are to give strict heed to the Lord’s intructions on the subject in Matt 3-5 and to MMOB. (which I do poorly enough as it is).
    As far as those who would give counsel to the leaders of the Church on how to avoid conflict, deal with dissenters, or give advice on what moral or political issues they should or should not take stands on (and the two are not mutually exclusive), D&C 1:11-16.

  18. Confutus,

    Glad to see that you know where to find the end of the world/wrath of God stuff (D&C1:11-16). Seems to me that the wrath of God is relegated to those who fall under D&C 1:10: “Unto the day when the Lord shall come to recompense unto every man according to his work, and measure to every man according to the measure which he has measured to his fellow man.”

    Last I checked, “fellow man” was a pretty broad term and includes believer and unbeliever alike. According to D&C 1:10 if you ostracize and ignore, then when the Lord shows up I guess you’ll be ostracized and ignored.

  19. BYU Agnostic,

    Sounds like we are on a similar page — didn’t see your post until now. I didn’t advocate eliminating social hierarchies, I suggested eliminating social power structures — keep the organization and lose the power plays, but I agree, a little more compassion and a little less “I’m right, you are wrong” would go a long way in resolving most conflict that comes up.

  20. BYU Agnostic, in reading your comments it would be easy to do in the LDS Church. Every Sunday would be fast and testimony meeting, like the Quakers. SS could be eliminated and the men’s and women’s meetings could continue along with primary though there would have to be some sort of basic organization. I’m not sure tithing as a way of funding the church could be done away but now whether or not a person is a full tithe payer is between them and the bishop. I don’t know how you’d decide who would preside in this scenario as that is a potential source of conflict all by itself.

    Conflict is something that is ever with us. It’s just that it would be nice when it’s entered into that we’d take into consideration what will be left to us on the other end.

  21. As long as there is free agency, there will always be conflicts. It is just how you handle them is what matters. If there was conflict in the pre-existence under the leadership of the Almighty, we cannot expect there to not be conflict in this mortal life.

    However, there are ways to overcome it…if we achieve Zion with a single purpose.

    “And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.

    “And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God” (4 Ne. 1:15–16).

    It may not be able to last forever, but it can be achieved for periods of time when everyone in the congregation becomes Christlike. It may be a simple sunday school answer, but I think that is all we can strive for if we want to reduce conflict in our congregation…love others and beware of pride.

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