Jesus’ suggestions for conflict resolution

“…If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. 
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses….'”
Matthew 18: 15-16

Many of us will hear this Gospel this Sunday, September 6, 2020. Has a Sunday reading ever been more appropriate for a current social challenge? As I personally reflected on this reading, Matthew 18: 15-20, and discussed it with others, I thought, “This is one of the most personally challenging commands of Jesus in the New Testament.” After all, isn’t it easier to internalize our conflict with another, respond with over aggression, or seek a third party (either through by gossiping to another or by expecting a third party to intervene and fix our problem)?

How many more cases of violence and death of demonstrators, counter-demonstrators, police officers, or disgruntled lovers/family members/co-workers do we have to face before embracing Jesus’ command to first attempt to settle individual differences nonviolently and 1:1? Does Jesus’ message ever leave any room for approaching any conflict with a knife, military style assault weapon, or shooting someone seven times in the back?

The pecking order that Matthew describes (first, attempt to settle the difference 1:1; if that fails, ask two witnesses to join you when you address the person with whom you differ; if that fails, go to a civil body established to decide cases of differences between people) is not uncommon. Jesuit Fr. Dennis Hamm, in “Confronting in Church,” notes that his university’s own student handbook suggests such a procedure for student differences and academic appeals. I suspect that Matthew simply adapted a code of ethics or community norm that predated Jesus when he wrote this passage. As time tested and fundamental as this process is, why is it so hard to practice in our families, neighborhoods, municipalities, and between nations today? Do industries behind individuals’ guns and nations’ bombs prevent nonviolent conflict resolution? Is it easier to hire a personality types favoring a more aggressive and less dialogical approach than an employee more geared to nonviolence and dialogue?

Several years ago, I met Eli McCarthy and became acquainted with his organization DC Peace Team. Its mission is clear, “We commit to unleashing the power of ordinary civilians to increasingly become nonviolent people by serving our communities using creative nonviolent skills, with a particular focus on unarmed accompaniment and protection.” It has trained hundreds of civilians and police officers in peaceful methods of conflict resolution. There are also international organizations that peacefully intervene in international hot spots and train others to be nonviolent international peace brokers. Nonviolent Peaceforce (founded in 2002) describes its mission as, “…to protect civilians in violent conflicts through unarmed strategies, build peace side by side with local communities, and advocate for the wider adoption of these approaches to safeguard human lives and dignity….”

So where does this leave us? Consider certified training in conflict resolution or mediation to advance nonviolence in one’s local community. Or, if you are more globally focused, consider participating or financially supporting an organization like Nonviolent Peaceforce. Ask your candidates, elected officials, and law enforcement agencies how they would respond to conflict resolution in our communities and world. Conflict resolution is as old as original sin, but if the mass media and global communication have any redeeming value, their excessive reporting of such violence may help us finally turn the corner on stemming and eliminating such violent overreactions to everyday and international conflict.

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