What Can We Do?
As consultants, we can help identify where a colleague is in the conflict process. We can raise some important “what if” type of questions and share what might work for you. We point out that being entitled to justice does not mean the congregations will be interested in granting justice. The system is just to the degree we insist it be so.
A ‘go’ strategy is as important as a stay strategy. Increasingly, leaving a congregation ‘unscathed’ is as difficult as trying to stay. Negotiating a clear “safe passage” process agenda is needed. Leaving or staying one needs to know the dangers involved and what issues to raise for discussion so that the conflict becomes a win-win situation. Family and reputation need protecting and we can help.
Colleagues are urged not only to learn the rules of fundamental justice, but insist they be followed by all parties in the dispute. Unfortunately, this insistence by itself can increase the level of the conflict. So must be done carefully.
Mediation is the method we support. It is a process for reconciling persons and resolving disputes out of court in a Biblically faithful manner (Matt 18:15-20). For decades we have urged churches to use alternative dispute resolution methods. (ADR) For mediation to work there must be trust.
However some pastors have not been able to get their Church to negotiate and found it necessary to seek legal help finding justice and some clerics are at present before the courts seeking judicial review of Church decisions. Others proceed with wrongful dismissal cases etc.
Some Christian traditions define Justice as “impartially rendering to everyone their due in conformity with the standards of God’s moral law.” We evaluate each situation from this moral supposition.
Civil legal traditions including the Constitution of Canada (Section Seven) teaches that no one including clergy, can be deprived of their income unless “it is in accordance with the principles of Fundamental Justice”. The central focus of justice, in this context, is the protection of the minister from authority unjustly exercised. The test of justice is procedural fairness as this relates to the protection of family, professional reputation, and the opportunity to serve the present or future congregation.
“Due process”, is to have the complaints in writing, face the accusers in a tribunal free of bias, know the reasons for church decisions, and have the opportunity to make a defense etc. Who can call on us? Anyone! In times of stress we all need to feel support and safe. We do not pick and choose who receives our support.
Why Church Conflict Management Fails
Our position is that church attempts at resolving conflict inevitably fail because the Churches do not recognize four main assumptions operating in their agendas:
- The first is simple, the victim is always blamed.
- The pastor must “go” no matter the means – fair or foul.
- Any resolution seldom if ever includes dealing with the local troublemakers in any significant way after the pastor leaves.
- Above all, the Church process must be seen by one and all to be just and officials helpful to the pastor in question, even if it seldom is.
The person’s innocence or guilt, the person’s theology, personality, sex life, leadership style, cultural baggage, or view of scripture, is not at issue with us. We reject the “blame the victim” assumption, that a person “brought the conflict upon themselves. (Therefore deserves the pain)”.
Neither do we accept the argument that the person has a history of “trouble”, or that the pastor should have seen the conflict coming and moved. Nor the rationalization that the minister is abusing the congregation and so deserves the conflict. Experience has shown us that these politically correct remarks are just excuses for not helping a colleague in need.
All conflicts are different yet the same. While the conflict may be different it is still the minister who gets hurt. In this very important way they are the same. If we say our particular conflict was different, then that becomes the loop hole we use when searching for a reason not to support a colleague we may feel uncomfortable being identified with in years to come.