If you’ve been part of a church for longer than a week, you’ve probably noticed an occasional recurring phenomenon… conflict.
If you’ve been a Christian for longer than a few weeks you may have also noticed that more and more, much of the Christian life and belief systems are in conflict with the secular world around us.
As a Christian, in fact perhaps just being a human being, conflict is a constant part of our life that needs to be navigated successfully and gracefully.
The funny thing about conflict is we often make it far worse than it really is. I’ve noticed that in many cases, people who have slightly different opinions on something don’t actually engage and deal with the conflict properly.
Rather, they tend to ignore what their “opposition” is really saying and take them to be saying something far more extreme. Then they tend to argue against that non-existing extreme. This intensifies the conflict and makes it far harder for the problem or conflict to be resolved.
I call this phenomenon “building a straw man” (ie someone who isn’t real) and then killing it. You build and then kill a point of view that doesn’t really exist.
This is the easy way out of conflict. And it happens a lot.
For example, when Christians are arguing amongst themselves about theology, or when Christians and atheists are arguing with each other. Or perhaps my most common mistake, when younger Christians are disagreeing with older saints (it’s easy to for us young’uns to write off some older people as devious traitors who hate mission).
Perhaps that’s an extreme example, but the point still stands, when in conflict our tendency is to “extremify” the opposition rather than to engage them helpfully and attempt to understand their point of view and begin working on a solution together.
Jesus demands more from us than dealing lazily with conflict by building straw men.
Jesus calls us to love others, including our enemies. I think when dealing with conflict this works itself out by gently and calmly engaging with those with whom we are in conflict.
It’s easy to kill a straw man, but God demands more from us when dealing with those He created in His image.
Wellspring Anglican Church, Hobart