I’ve just become aware of a post on the Provoketive blog by Lee Fischer, a student on our M.Phil. in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation. Provoketive Magazine is associated with the emerging church movement, and Fischer blends her reflections from our module on Conflict Transformation (taught by Alistair Little and Wilhelm Verwoerd) with her thoughts on conflict in wider debates within the churches.
I recommend you read the full post for yourselves. It covers a lot of ground, from Fischer’s description of the Conflict Transformation module to her thoughts on the hell debate sparked by Rob Bell’s Love Wins.
The Conflict Transformation module features an intensive week at Corrymeela, where Little and Verwoerd guide the students through the process they use with various groups from opposing ‘sides’ in the conflict in and about Northern Ireland (and from other conflicts from around the world).
Fischer sees conflict as an inevitable part of life and she urges those in the emergent conversation to face up to – rather than hide from – it:
I bring this up here, because I see the danger of continuing a bad ‘family’ trait even into this new emergent generation. I grew up in a non-christian home and a Christian extended family, both of which pretended that if we didn’t talk about conflict, it meant that we didn’t have any; I studied theology at an inter-denominational college where conflict as a theme in and of itself was never addressed theologically; and I spent years in churches, seminars, conferences, retreats and missions (Evangelical, Charismatic, and Lutheran; in America, Sweden, Australia, PNG and Germany), where, besides an occasional reference to Matthew 18:15-17, and the ever-present lapel to forgive, there was no strategy and no underlying concept for helping their communities deal with conflict constructively. The cardinal assumption being that good Christians don’t do conflict!
But rather than fostering fraternities exuding peace and justice in the world, this refusal to take conflict head on theologically, exacerbates the friction inevitable in any human plural, and conditions cultures to fester and fracture over matters both profound and piddling. Of greater consequence even than the personal stories of disillusionment with Christian fellowships that abound, as grim as that is, however, is the general disconnect that many faith communities and institutions have toward complex societal ills, the prolific number of armed conflicts around the world, and trans-global injustices. With the exception of my brief time in Church of the Savior, DC, of which Sojourners Magazine is a part, nary a mention of these realities in the Christian sub-cultures I’ve experienced in over twenty years!
She sees some of the present debate about hell, whether you agree with Rob Bell or not, as distracting from more important questions in the here and now such as dealing with conflict, and one of its roots, poverty.
As a lecturer, I’m of course pleased to see Fischer making links between one of our modules and debates in the emerging church. The emerging church is one of my current research areas and I’m always looking for connections between what I know from the fields of conflict resolution and reconciliation, and my work on the emerging church.
I’m also intrigued by her observation that Christians have refused to take conflict on theologically, other than issuing some rather glib urgings for victims to ‘forgive’.
This is not a million miles from the argument put forward in the new book about the churches in the Northern Ireland peace process by John Brewer, Gareth Higgins and Francis Teeney: that the churches as institutions didn’t adequately analyse the conflict sociologically or theologically – meaning that they struggled to help transform it.
I look forward to the emerging conversation moving forward on these themes.