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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ruinous Conflict

I remember it like it was yesterday. My first Annual meeting as a member of the church. I had been baptized just a few months before and I was only thirteen. This was all very new and exciting. I had heard some stories about the conflicts that sometimes happened at these meetings. I was secretly hoping that some fireworks would happen this day. I was not to be disappointed.

I don’t remember how the fight started. But the fight was about the day car center that occupied our building for many years. For as long as we had the day car center, there was fighting over it. Now it seemed that things had come to a boil. The family that was against the center was led by a older man who seemed to be their family patriarch. What he said was the law in that family. Most of the rest of the people in the meeting seemed to support the center. The patriarch said that the kids in day care damaged the building and didn’t pay enough rent to balance out the cost. Other people countered that the center was more of a ministry than a business for the church and should remain regardless of the cost. It went back and forth like this for a while. As it did the emotional level increased. I even remember someone crying during one part of the heated discussion.

Then Mrs. Arrow stood up and spoke. I remember her fondly. She was a very elegant lady originally from the south. She had a slight accent and carried herself with dignity and gentleness. She was a lovely woman. This day she stood up and was not so gentle. She said in a loud clear voice for everyone to hear, that the entire family that opposed the center did not contribute one dime to the church (I believe they stopped giving in protest). As a result they should not have the right to give their opinions regarding the operation of the church. Now if you know anything about religious organizations, having your giving status proclaimed loudly for everyone to hear is the most humiliating thing that could happen. So immediately the patriarch stood up and walked out of the church with the rest of the family close behind. We never saw them again.

Because I was still a child I considered the meeting as a child would. Wow, I remember thinking, I hope that next years meeting is the same. Now of course I can look back and see the destructive nature of the conflict behind that meeting. Two sides that refused to see each other’s point of view. Two groups striving with each other with no desire to compromise. Something had to give. And that something was my gentle, loving friend, Mrs. Arrow. The least likely person to get angry and launch a verbal mission at the warring family.

Years later I was told that Mrs. Arrow never forgave herself for what she said in that heated debate. For a brief moment she let her self-control slip and she let that family have it. She regretted it the rest of her life. That meeting hurt a lot of people, Mrs. Arrow most of all. Many people would say that the patriarch and his family deserved it. But I see nothing but sorrow and hurt coming from it. Conflict is ultimately destructive. The feeling of superiority that accompanies a good comeback line is temporary. What lasts is the hurt feelings on both sides of the conflict. The peace that comes at a conflicts end is not worth the cost. Relationships are damaged and broken. Often they are not mended. Today I see conflict as no fun. It needs to be avoided at all cost.


Pastor Bill

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