J. Marshall Jenkins

Author, Therapist, Spiritual Director

Peacemaking Amid Church Conflict

countrychurch (1)Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9).

The church grows weary with inner conflict. Divisions over LGBT inclusion. Outrage over clergy sexual abuse. Diametrically opposed visions of social justice. Bickering over liturgy.

The world wearies over this too, often for good reason, often not.  Many who never entered church or turned away find in the church a convenient scapegoat for the conflicts in their own lives. They hold up their unattainable ideals of peace in the church’s face and mock us for not meeting them.

But the world wearies for a more mature reason as well: People naturally long for a word of love and hope from God, and God knows we need that word from the witness of real lives given to love. Characters and communities carry the word of God most effectively, but God’s people so often seem to fumble it through family quarreling.

On that point, many within the church join those outside with a rousing, “Amen!”

Yet, the church never existed without conflict, and consisting as it does of self-confessed sinners, we cannot expect otherwise. Paul’s letters addressed conflict in the church’s earliest days.  Folks divided into factions over their favorite leaders, dietary habits, whether to abstain from sex or throw orgies, whether to circumcise converts, and so on.

As he addressed those issues, beautiful ideas emerged like God’s initiative in our salvation (grace), the righteous living by faith, freedom from the grip of sin, running the good race, strength made perfect through weakness, and God’s promise, “My grace is sufficient for you.” I don’t know how all the infighting turned out, but the poetic words of Paul healed so many souls since that I suspect they healed theirs too.

The church is not supposed to be the promised kingdom of God in which the lion lies down with the lamb and all is calm and bright on God’s holy mountain.  The church heralds that kingdom, and nobody can expect us to direct the world’s gaze to the kingdom by calling attention to ourselves.  We call attention to Christ whose self-sacrificial love reveals God’s reign among us.

We do that by loving insider and outsider as we claim Christ as our leader. Meanwhile, the mess we make provides the context in which we love.  We love through listening, forbearance, forgiveness, and praying for God to show us when to yield and when to stand firm.

It’s not whether we fall into conflict.  We will.  It’s how we face it, whether we face it together, whether we love the antagonist in our midst. That is peacemaking, and even amid the messes we make, it will bless the world.

J. Marshall Jenkins

About J. Marshall Jenkins

J. Marshall Jenkins is an author, psychotherapist, teacher, and spiritual director. For several years he has been writing on the Beatitudes for people in emotional pain, publishing biweekly here on his Beatitudes Blog at http://www.jmarshalljenkins.com. His newest book, Blessed at the Broken Places: Reclaiming Faith and Hope with the Beatitudes, is now available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


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5 Replies

  1. Helpful as my congregation and vrstry in conflict. Everyone trying to be mindful and prayerful. Hard to know when to stand up and when to be silent. Now that I have stood up, I am praying to speak as God would have me.

    1. J. Marshall Jenkins

      Good for you for offering your voice and for listening to God before and after you speak. You just gave me inspiration for my next post….

  2. Michael Parnell

    Being Baptist, I know about conflict. We are not called “the battlin’ Baptists” without reason.

    If you find a church in a community with the name “Harmony” or “Friendship” that means it is probably a split from another church.

    I had a doctor in a former church that said that we Baptists are asexual. We multiply by dividing.

    That said, there is something to the idea of agreeing to disagree. What holds us together is far greater than what drives us apart.

    The Lordship of Christ should count for something. Sadly we Christians have now begun to decide who believes the best and discount those not deemed to make the cut.

    1. J. Marshall Jenkins

      Thanks for giving me my morning laughs! But yes, all the division is sad. A loving divorce is one in which a couple gives each other freedom to love in ways that are no longer possible if they remain married. In the best ones, new friendship develops between the two, albeit with the wider boundaries necessary to allow that freedom with others. Divided and split churches could learn much from such divorced couples.

  3. Good for you for offering your voice and for listening to God before and after you speak. You just gave me inspiration for my next post….

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