Addressing and resolving conflict is rarely listed as someone’s favourite activity. Most people would put it up there with say, dentist appointments, tax time, or spring cleaning. According to my personality assessments, I am the kind of person that longs for harmony. Picture it: a campfire on the beach, someone strumming their guitar, and the soft strain of voices singing, “Dust in the Wind.” Joking aside, I’m not crazy about conflict. But I also understand and accept that conflict is a normal part of life. In the last couple of months, our team at New Direction and at my church where I’m an elder, have been looking at different conflict resolution styles and process.
An oft-cited text in Matthew 18 reminds us to not try to sweep things under the rug. I particularly like the Message version:
“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.”
I had a conflict. A brother in Christ had hurt me. And I knew I needed to be honest and say so.
In an article for Charisma found here, Alan Chambers, President of Exodus, had referred to an informal conversation over lunch that he and I had many months earlier. Though he didn’t identify me by name, people who are familiar with this area of ministry would have likely identified me as the unnamed Canadian in the piece. In fact, I received a number of emails from folks who wanted to be sure I’d seen the article because they were concerned for how it reflected on me.
I had a lot of unanswered questions after I read the article and wanted to take some time to pray and reflect before communicating with Alan. Part of me wanted to just “let it go.” But I also knew that if I did not have some resolution about some of my questions it would seriously hinder any potential for future relationship. So, I sent Alan an email about it at the end of March and we had several emails back and forth – trying to work this out as followers of Christ.
At one point, Alan suggested that we do an “interview” of sorts on my blog as an opportunity to clarify some of the issues – and hopefully to model some resolution even in the midst of some disagreement.
So here goes:
WG: Alan, you know that the ‘kiss of death’ in our area of ministry is an accusation of compromise. I felt that the Charisma article implied that your ‘Canadian friend’ had compromised. Why did you publish an article that could easily be connected to me and with a tone that could damage my credibility?
AC: It honestly wasn’t my intent to single you out or to connect this issue to you. Maybe that was naïve of me or worse, just plain ignorant. After the fact, my biggest concern was if such an article would alienate Canadians in general. In hindsight I should have simply left Canada out of it all together. I am really sorry that I didn’t. And, I am sorry that this negatively impacted you especially so closely on the heels of the dissolution of our formal partnership that was amicable.
WG: Conflict is best resolved when the focus is kept on the issues, not personal feelings. The key issue in the article seems to be the appropriateness of covenantal friendships. I felt that the article misrepresented my position on such friendships. Do you really feel that two single people (single for whatever reason), who accept that marriage is not a likely outcome for them, ought not to make a deep friendship commitment to live together long-term, share a household, finances etc. as an experience of God-honouring intimacy and community?
AC: In my mind that isn’t all you seemed to be saying during our conversation on the topic. The couple we were discussing had a commitment ceremony, were same-sex attracted and committing to one another non-sexually for life. I do not believe that the sin of homosexuality is just sexual. I think there is something far more troubling to the Lord when someone chooses an identity—regardless of sexual behavior—that is less than God intends for His creation. Two men or two women pledging their lives to one another in marriage is less than God’s best for them. I’ve been there and my desires were much deeper and values compromised. The best thing I ever did was flee such a situation because it was not healthy or Godly.
As far as two people sharing a home—even owning it together—of course I am not opposed to that. I can think of a dozen or more different scenarios where individuals team up and together do something financially that they couldn’t do a part. Siblings do it. Parents and adult children do it. Friends do it. But, the situation you described isn’t one that I think is healthy or biblically sound.
(Note: In an earlier post, I made some comments to clarify my thoughts on covenantal friendships:
There has been some discussion of late of my support of covenantal friendships. I do not view a covenantal friendship as a sexless marriage. However, in our microwave, throw-away culture, I do appreciate the Biblical value of covenant expressed in friendship. Just because two people covenant to do life together, sharing a deep abiding friendship and commitment to be there for each other – does not make them like spouses. (ie. Abraham and Lot made a covenant.) Whether these two people are same-gender attracted or not, I see this as a viable option for those who are single – for whatever reason. And if such a commitment is made – between two friends or a group of friends – it seems to me to be something the Christian community can celebrate together – for it is an expression of gospel, counter-cultural living, when we say that we are going to serve another through life’s ups and downs. It is an option that might be more rare than common – but I believe it is an option that can be God-glorifying in the right circumstances.
Alan seems to continue to have some misperceptions about my comments. I do not personally know the two women I referred to – I simply knew of their story. I know that one woman is same-gender attracted, I believe the other woman is not same-gender attracted. In our conversation, I referred to these women sharing and celebrating with their community their decision to commit to a long-term friendship covenant. This is not the same as a ‘commitment ceremony’ which implies more of a marriage relationship. Though the lunch was now nearly a year ago, and I do not remember with precision all of my words during the informal conversation that I never dreamed would become cause for Alan to first question our membership within Exodus, and then later be the focus of one of his published articles, I am saddened that misperceptions continue that are unnecessary and bring confusion to an already complex subject.)
WG: Alan, you and I have known each other for over seven years. There are things we agree on and things we disagree on. What do you think is important for resolving conflict in this kind of situation?
AC: Respect and an ability to agree to disagree. I could have handled that on my end differently than I did.
WG: I think this is a really critical time in the Christian church in relation to our engagement with same-gender attracted people. What do you think are the most important priorities and values in this area of mission and ministry moving forward?
AC: I believe the most important tasks before us are equipping, educating and mobilizing the Body of Christ to embody the model found in Jesus. He was 100% grace and 100% truth. We’ve, historically, gotten the truth part right but failed at giving grace. There are portions of the Body now erring on the side of grace, which in my opinion is just as dangerous as erring on the side of truth, Very few are doing both as Jesus did. We must encourage both!
There is a lot, especially in the USA, of activism in the Christian community where public policy over gay rights is concerned. I believe that the Christian community must be far more vocal about their love for people and put their money there rather than simply coming out to support policy initiatives. I am pro-marriage, but I fall short if that’s all people know of me. Christians must be pro-people and pro-hearts. If we win all of the political battles in the world and we lose people over it then we have lost everything. God’s heart beats, “Souls! Souls! Souls! Souls!” So should ours. As I have stated before, there are people “missing” from the Body and they can be found in the gay community and we would be far better off with them than without. God would rather have a handicapped child than no child at all.
Well folks…. there you have it. Some months after the fact, but an attempt to dialogue through difference, disagreement and conflict, in the Spirit of Christ.
What questions does this raise for you? Hopefully, Alan will stop by and engage in the comments along the way as well.