15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.Matthew 18:15-17 (NIV)
Humans have conflicts when they are in a relationship with one another. This occurs in every type of relationship because each of us is unique and has different perspectives. We form opinions based on our personal experiences, our interpretation of information, and the various influences in our lives. Because each of these are different for each person, the opinions formed will be different. These differences can be small and easily resolved or they can be large which often lead to conflict arising. The manner in which we handle conflict can lead to a reconciliation among people or a severance in the relationship.
The body of Christ on earth is not immune to differences of opinion or conflict. Jesus was aware of this reality even before there was an official organization of his followers. So he provides a road map for conflict resolution. He instructs his followers to go to the other person and make them aware when they have created conflicts which cause you some sort of pain. This first step may be the only one necessary if the conflict is resolved. Failure in the first step should be followed by bringing one or two others to witness the attempt toward reconciliation. Unachieved reconciliation leads to bringing the matter before the body so mediation and resolution may result. Jesus says if this still does not restore absence of conflict and injury, the accused should be set aside.
When we read this step-by-step plan, it appears simple and logical, at least until the final step. The last step can appear to be harsh treatment and most church bodies refuse to take it. Yet, the plan Jesus lays out here has the full intention of healing and reconciling a relationship. The plan does not call for hasty and emotion-filled actions. There is opportunity for awareness, mediation and support. There is also accountability woven throughout the approach. Punishment does not surface until the very end and there is no permanency even at that point. The opportunity to reconcile always is available. Important also is an emphasis on the health of the body, the church, and the health of the individual members of the body, both the accused and the accuser.
Conflict and hurt will occur, how we choose to respond to it will impact the outcome. Jesus gives as a healthy roadmap to follow.
We live in a time when it seems very difficult to trust anyone. Over the years, trust has been eroded in some key institutions in our lives. People have lost trust in government officials and elected leaders. As we have recently become very aware, there is limited if no trust in our law enforcement and judicial systems. The trust which people used to have in the Church and religious leaders has broken down. Our neighborhoods are no longer considered safe, so we do not even have trust in our neighbors and this is not only in large cities but also small, rural communities. Trust is a very precious commodity which appears to have become extremely rare.
One reason that this is a major issue for society is that trust is at the foundation of relationships. No relationship can survive if trust is not present. Interaction between individuals at any level requires some amount of trust. If this does not exist, then exchanges will be only on the surface and not have any depth or true meaning. Once trust is destroyed, it takes twice as much work to re-establish it, and may not even occur.
The Church has a lot of trust building to do. The distrust began with the revelations of sexual abuse occurring too often at the hands of faith leaders. However, long before that, the Church had failed to live out God’s love to everyone. For individuals who grew up realizing they were part of an unnamed group now known as LGBTQ, they were shunned by the Church, told to repent their sinful ways, and excluded from active participation in the practices and fellowship of faith. If a person was of a different ethnicity than the majority within the congregation, they were often distrusted and marginalized at best. Asking questions was seen as a lack of faith. Instead of being a safe haven for all people, a place to grow and explore faith, and a demonstration of God’s love for ALL people, the Church became judgmental, ostracizing, and a place of abuse. The Church broke the trust of numerous people and only represented pain.
It is time within our society to openly acknowledge our active role in planting seeds of distrust. The Church has the opportunity to be a leader here. Through its own acknowledgment of actions and words leading to people no longer trusting the Church and its leadership, the Church can show the first step in trying to rebuild the trust. Some individual congregations are doing that and shifts are starting to slowly begin at a greater level. This is going to take time and require a much greater effort. Some will never reclaim a trust in the Church but others can be given an opportunity to share their heart and begin healing. Then if the Church becomes a light and example to the world (as it was created to be) we may see changes happen in other institutions and among groups of people.
We need trust because we need relationships and relationships are only possible if there is trust. Let us take the first step in building trust.