Kidney Stone Conflict Management

K. D. ‘Casey’ McKibbon

To me, focusing on the local bad guys is important, (especially if you’re in a Congregationalist model) but to leave it there is to miss the deeper dimension of the problem. In my analysis, the locals get the trouble going but the real villain is the systemic nature of this evil. This is followed closely by ‘church officials’, who unwittingly carry on the tradition of abuse. (I use church officials in the generic sense to describe the various presbyteries, bishops, field staff, church civil servants, colleagues, committees etc.,) I will deal with the systemic nature of the problem at another time.

It is not my intention to demonize these officials; at best they are not aware that their attempts at conflict management are determined by the system’s historic hidden agenda. These officials see their role as ‘protecting’ the institution and doing their best by you. They honestly believe they are trying to help you. I just wish they wouldn’t try so hard. They get angry and hurt at any suggestion that their actions are being questioned or that you are not being treated fairly.

All churches use ‘kidney stone conflict management’. All their efforts rest upon the assumption that this fight too shall pass and we will get back to ‘normal’, after all we have seen this problem all our lives. Kidney stone conflict ‘resolution’ has four main hidden but demonic assumptions dictating the agenda. Clustered around these four are a multitude of other less important assumptions.

  1. The Victim is blamed. The ‘resolution’ outcomes in church fights continually demonstrate clearly that the minister gets the actual blame no matter who or what the real problem is.
  2. Peace at any price and the pastor is the price. The pastor must ‘go’ no matter the means used, or the cost to the minister. The means are often demonic and the costs horrific in terms of inner self, family, career., and spirituality.
  3. The lay power brokers are never dealt with. The ‘resolution’ of a conflict does not include dealing in any significant way with the issues raised by the pastor regarding the local troublemakers before or after the pastor becomes history. The Interim minister concept is the opiate the church is using to make themselves believe they are coming to grips with this dimension of the evil. Lately, a new solution de jour is ‘mediation’.
  4. Justice must always seem to be done. It is of utmost importance to these officials that they are seen by the wider audience as deeply caring Christians out to help the minister, and save the church. They want people to see them as just doing their jobs; following the rules for the greater good of the wider church. Their motives are of the highest order etc etc etc

My thesis is that all church attempts at resolving conflict fail because they do not acknowledge, face, and deal seriously with the four assumptions outlined above.

The goal of each conflict resolution outcome should be a win-win situation. Therefore any attempt at conflict resolution should begin with a commitment by all concerned to stay with the process until a win-win solution is obtained. Without this agreement, there is no hope of a just ending to the problem.

It will be up to the minister to bring this goal of a win-win into reality. The pastor should make the request that win-win be the agreed-upon goal in the resolution of the conflict and watch the heads nod in agreement. Ask that it be in writing and have it documented. This will put a deep chill in the air. If you can get the win-win goal in place then procedural ground rules for the process should be discussed and understood by all parties before they begin. There should be an agreement that the pastor and the pastor’s advocate be involved as full players in the process. With that kind of dialogue and goal we will be on our way to real healing but without it you are dead.

Now back to the first dictum of blaming the victim. To confirm this opinion one need only watch these authorities and observe the outcome of their actions. Authorities come in, act on allegations and ignore any evidence to the contrary. In fact, hearsay may be encouraged under the cloak of ‘confidentiality’. Granting ‘confidentiality’ thus creates the illusion that the cleric has done something awful. Actions so terrible that the accusers must be protected from the minister. There is the assumption of guilt by accusation. Principles of natural justice are ignored, ditto those persons who come to your defense. Testimony, if contrary to the original allegations, is dismissed as biased. The distinction between important allegations and trivial vexatious allegations are never drawn. It is soon clear that the operating assumption beneath all their caring talk and conflict management style is to blame the victim. Of course, they will never admit to blaming or assigning guilt.

The second presupposition is that the minister must go-leave-move no matter what. Even if you can’t go, or don’t want to go, in their eyes you must go. This may include working with the local trouble makers to craft an action plan for your removal. Even if it means you, your friends and family, faith, and career will be destroyed. You must go.

The search for who or what is right is just not on at any significant level. Remember, if “anything goes” in getting rid of the pastor, then officials can justify changing the rules as they go along or making up new ones to suit their agendas. If blaming and getting rid of the minister is the agenda operating then anything goes. Very good decent people do terrible evil things to each other in front of this idol. The idol is in all the traditions. This historic way of not solving the problem generation after generation, has formed a false consciousness in the finest of people.

No matter the unfairness, no matter the injustice, if anything goes, confidentiality can be broken at will, used or misused against a person to increase the conflict. Most conflicts can be easily reconciled, but once officials enter the mix it becomes much more difficult. 

As to assumption three, little of significance gets done at the local level after you resign and leave. Any attempt by you to surface the real issues is to be patronized. You confirm for them that you just don’t “get it,” and they were right you about all along. As I said earlier, the new vehicle of denial and smoothing things over is the ‘interim’ minister but again these interim ministers never deal with the specific problems or the specific locals who ran you out. Has one of these locals ever been asked to move to another congregation? I rest my case. Of course, the myth says it’s their church and you believe it yourself. I say it’s time to demytholologize and face a few of these myths.

Allow me to repeat. Authorities hold the mistaken view that the greatest gift of discernment a pastor can exercise is to sense the conflict before it surfaces and move on. It saves them from assuming you are guilty and taking the action of removing you.

Sadly, the minister moving or being removed just allows the denial to proceed from pastorate to pastorate and the cycle of evil to repeat itself ad infinitum. This attitude of not dealing with the issues a cleric raises about the charge has done untold damage to the fabric of the church institution and caused more pain to clergy than any other single factor. With a growing clergy surplus, finding a different situation becomes increasingly more difficult, especially if one is older and near the end of a career.

As to number four that says ‘justice must always seem to be done’. The wider church membership play a role in continuing this process. Few clergy rise up to defend a colleague. Instead, clergy and lay people alike rise up to defend the institution and find excuses for supporting it by blaming the victim. Colleagues look the other way just glad it isn’t their turn. Friends are never ready to commit to the struggle for any length of time. Woe to any clergy who questions or resists in the name of fairness or justice. They are soon numbered among the lepers and treated accordingly.

I am happy to report that the minister is not always driven out, in spite of the hidden agenda operating . In recent years some very brave pastors have survived and stayed on. Those who wish to move find they can get out relatively unscathed but it takes great skill.

Addressing Objections

There are those who object to this analysis, who tell me how helpful church officials were, others explain the official’s actions by explaining that these officials are ‘only’ volunteers or well intentioned, but missing the facts. Soon as these people in authority get the ‘facts’ all will be well.

Often the first thing officials do to the clergy in trouble is pour on the sympathy. They marvel at how ‘you stand it’ . Sympathy masquerades as empathy, they are ‘amazed’ at how you stand the stress. They tell you ‘you’re too good for these people’, if they were you they would get out. Hinting you would be showing these locals morons a thing or two. Forget the denial, many church committees are steeped in their own history and dedicated to the four assumptions outlined above.

The most pathetic objections come from church insiders. They begin by denying there is any significant problem. They rationalize that in a large organisation like the church there is bound to be isolated problems stemming from well-meaning but inexperienced lay persons. They usually end their put down by saying that in their experience in the few conflicts they have seen it was the minister who was abusing the congregation. Like all myths, there is just enough truth expressed to make it believable.

The bottom line is that those ministers who raise issues about conflict within their church are pastors who are moved along and their ministry terminated long before they themselves would have done so. Whether they ‘jolly’ you off or run you off – what’s the difference? I guess in the former, one gets to keep one’s dependency illusions about the institution. The latter is more painful but both end up the same way – wounded and moving in pain.

The logic seems to be that because there is trouble you may be sick, troubled, or inferior. If you were not, then you would have smelled the rat, put your tail between your legs and run to another congregation. That way you get a gift, a party when you leave, and everyone says what a great person you are. Then business as usual continues on the charge and at Presbytery. But of course the sickness goes on. Problem people are never dealt with. The cancer spreads.

Since the minister is not getting out in time, he or she is the perceived problem, and since the cleric didn’t move, then the minister must be the problem. Not justice, not fair treatment, not recognition that there is a conflict repeating itself. None of that. You are the problem so forget about the issues you are trying to raise. In fact, one is seen as getting what one deserves since we didn’t see the evil in time. Not only do you get blamed, you get a ‘reputation’ for trouble. In this context, officials will do whatever they have to do to get you out on their terms. No matter what you are told, no matter how good your analysis of the situation is, moving you out but maybe not on, is the real agenda.

Church officials will nearly always rationalize their actions using an outside authority. They will tell you church procedures, or some ‘expert’ in church affairs has said thus and so. They don’t want to feel guilty or responsible for hurting you. Power and control over you is the name of the game. Giving you rationalizations is yet another method to be rid of you, and we swallow their stories like the innocents we are.

If one insists on fairness or justice they bring out the big gun. Dr. ‘Psycho-babble’ of some nearby pastoral institute, who will report that perhaps you may have a valid ministry but not on the present charge. There is a hint that if you took more training, there would be a job somewhere. So off you go for your spiritual lobotomy or the sani-flush of your theology. The not so subtle message is if you don’t go it will wreck you career and you may not get another charge, no financial support or worse. The discontinued-delisting, defrocking process will begin.

Remember, in their eyes, you might be sick, troubled, or an inferior minister because you didn’t smell a rat and run. Therefore from their point of view you need your skills evaluated, your personality tested and at least another quarter of clinical training. The training may even be good for you, but that is not the issue. It is all part of their game plan to get you out.

Church insiders love the guilt trip. They pour it on in two ways. First, the allegation will be made that you are disobedient to your ordination vows. You are not loyal to mother church when you question. You should blindly ‘obey your ordination vows’, which really means ‘do what we say or you’re dead’. This, even if the church is acting illegally or immorally. Next, they bring out the big one. “Jesus suffered without resisting, didn’t he?” they argue. They forget that Jesus was crucified by those who opposed him not by people who claimed to be his brothers and sisters in the faith like so often is the case for clergy.

Now, the reports, motions, etc issued by these officials will always come couched in the kindest of pastoral, inclusive, caring, Christian language of love. (but oh so politically correct). You will notice that no one ever asks for your opinion or asks you to read the reports before the fact. It is as if you didn’t exist. Ask questions or ask if your lawyer can read it, show just a tad of resistance and see how the climate changes.

As I said, the primary problem is the institutional church’s method of dealing with the conflict. Which is NOT DEALING WITH IT any longer than it takes to get the minister out. Once you see this you can begin to deal with the real agenda. But we clergy seldom do because our analysis is so limited, we have bought into all the myths, and we like to be liked by colleagues. After all who wants to make waves. No one can believe it will get as bad as I say it will.

In conflict situations, there is no such thing as a conciliatory church.

Officials love to talk of the Church as family.

Spare me this drivel.

What family would meet without a member present to make decisions that affect that member’s life? What kind of a family would then ask that person to blindly obey the ‘parents’ orders without ever knowing what the problem is or having a chance to talk to other family members about it? What kind of a family forces another member to get a lawyer to protect themselves from other family members? A family doesn’t set out to harm one another, take away your housing, and the ability to earn a living. What kind of family thrives on harassment, black-listing, and intimidation of other members? What parent would ask for obedience without explaining the reasons for the decisions?

The answer of course is an abusive, harassing, dysfunctional family that’s who!