A Bid to Mediate Church Conflicts

A very good article about mediating church conflicts was recently posted on mediate.com, “Referring Church Conflicts to Mediation.” The author, Wayne Plenert, uses the passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians about the conflict between Euodia and Synteche to argue that there is a biblical basis for mediating church conflicts. In that passage (Philippians 4:2-3), Paul pleads with someone to help Euodia and Synteche resolve their conflict, noting that both of these women have labored with Paul in sharing the gospel. It’s the best example in the Christian Scriptures of mediation as an appropriate method for resolving conflicts. Mr. Plemert extracts some guiding principles for church leaders in addressing internal conflicts, providing a useful tool for any church member in a conflict with another (which is just about all of us, at some point or another!).

One-Man ADR

There are Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) processes, and then there’s Ken Feinberg. Mr. Feinberg has become a one-man process unto himself, a unique blend of mediation and arbitration, completely outside the judicial system. Michael Lewis, in his podcast series “Against the Rules,” interviews Mr. Feinberg and delves into aspects of his power and authority, in episode 5, “The Neutral,” released a couple weeks ago. It’s worth a listen, for anyone who is a mediator or arbitrator, or for anyone who hires such. Mr. Feinberg has privately settled financial disputes associated with just about all the recent disasters in the U.S., from the 9/11 families to the Boston Marathon bombings to Catholic Church priest abuse cases in New York to the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings this past fall. His approach raises all kinds of questions for purists, but the bottom line is, it works.

Restorative Justice in Murder Cases

The CBS TV news program “60 Minutes” did a story Sunday May 12, called “The Most Unlikely Meeting,” about using restorative justice principles to bring together family members of murder victims face-to-face with the murderers. Interviews with both the family members and the convicted murderers demonstrate the power of this process. One murderer admits that he cannot explain why he pulled the trigger, but highly regrets what he did, and receiving the forgiveness of his victim’s sister has brought him some measure of peace, even though he’s likely to spend the rest of his life in prison. The sister explained how she was herself a prisoner to her bitterness and unforgiveness, and she has been freed by getting to talk with her brother’s killer. Other stories are similarly moving.

These encounters, all in Wisconsin, are facilitated by the Restorative Justice Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School. The program claims it has facilitated a hundred of these interviews over the last ten years, as well as launching other efforts to improve the criminal justice system.

In my own limited experience with restorative justice efforts, we’ve steered away from felonies and personal injury crimes, believing them to be “too hard” to facilitate. But, the greater the crime, the deeper the need for healing, on both sides. The UW RJ Project shows what’s possible.

Peacemaking Doesn’t Mean Passivity

“Peace is not just about the absence of conflict; it’s also about the presence of justice. Martin Luther King Jr. even distinguished between ‘the devil’s peace’ and God’s true peace. A counterfeit peace exists when people are pacified or distracted or so beat up and tired of fighting that all seems calm. But true peace does not exist until there is justice, restoration, forgiveness. Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.” 
― 
Shane Claiborne, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (Zondervan, 2010)

 

Mother Forgives Son’s Killer

Stories of forgiveness are literally extraordinary—outside of the ordinary. One took place in a Grand Rapids courtroom last week. As reported by the Grand Rapids Press, Javika Wallace-Hawkins faced the man who murdered her son Andre last year, and told him, “I have forgiven you from the bottom of my heart.”

Andre was just 17 when he was killed last year by Vicente Rodriguez-Ortiz. Apparently Vicente thought Andre was romantically involved with Vicente’s ex-girlfriend. One night last January while Andre was sitting in his car with a friend in a residential neighborhood, Vicente approached and fired his gun at Andre. Andre died later that night in a hospital from multiple gunshot wounds. A jury convicted Vicente of first-degree murder last month. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He is 23.

At the sentencing hearing last week, Ms. Wallace-Hawkins said she had to forgive Vicente. “As a mother, you’re a child to me, and in my heart, I have no anger or bitterness toward you. As a mom, I just want to hug you because I know there is something that’s not connected, that made you feel so angry for a person you didn’t know,” she said through tears.

In her statement, Ms. Wallace-Hawkins managed to get past her grief and pain to empathize with her son’s murderer. It sounds like she recognized that something inside him was broken – “not connected” – and that realization touched the part of her heart that is a loving mother. It’s a beautiful lesson in how to forgive. We honor this grieving mother who did the hard work of moving her heart to a place where she could express forgiveness like this.

 

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