What if Judge Kavanagh had Received Conflict Coaching?

Since the Honorable Brett Kavanagh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, he has issued two statements of regret–an apology to Senator Klobuchar that evening, for answering her question with a question; and an acknowledgment in the Wall Street Journal today that his tone was sharp, and he said some things he now wishes he hadn’t said. Because he is a professing Christian, his statements of regret provide an opportunity to reflect on how some Christian conflict coaching beforehand might have helped him handle his Committee appearance differently. What if he had used Jesus as his model of how to behave when unjustly accused?

The phrase “conflict coaching” is a term of art in biblical peacemaking. It means, helping a fellow believer respond to conflict biblically, reflecting on their behavior in the light of Scripture. We all have blind spots, and a neutral person can help us see how well our behavior in the midst of a conflict measures up to the Christian ideals we profess.

Below are some questions a conflict coach might have used to help Judge Kavanagh take a different approach in the hearing. These questions start from Judge K’s perspective that he is completely innocent. They’re not designed to change his mind about that, so much as to offer a different way of behaving in the hearing, that would be less likely to result in regrets (and criticism). These questions assume that the recipient is a Jesus-follower who takes Scripture seriously.  [Just to be clear: these were never used; they’re just examples of how a conflict-coach might have approached this. I have no idea whether anyone tried to talk to Judge Kavanagh from this perspective.]

Conflict Coaching Questions

Q: You believe you have been wrongly accused. Can you think of people in the Bible who also were accused of a crime, yet innocent?

(Possible answers)

  • Joseph, by Potiphar’s wife
  • David, by Saul
  • Jesus, by Jewish leaders

Q: Can you identify one quality that person displayed under those circumstances, that you admire?

(These are just some examples)

  • Joseph (Genesis 39): apparently didn’t have a chance to defend himself to Potiphar, so never even had the chance to tell his side of the story; apparently trusted God while he was in prison, and God worked through Joseph; reading between the lines, Joseph must’ve forgiven Potiphar, and not allowed a root of bitterness to grow while he was in prison.
  • David (I Samuel 18 et seq): David resisted the temptation to retaliate—twice he could’ve killed Saul, but he restrained himself out of fear of the Lord; he could’ve used his power and authority to demolish Saul and Saul’s kingdom, but he chose to flee instead of starting a civil war; he showed respect to Saul right to the end.
  • Jesus (John 18-19, etc.): once arrested, spoke little; kept his focus on his goal of fulfilling the Father’s plan; endured the betrayals of friends Judas and Peter; constrained himself from exposing the Jewish leaders’ hypocrisy; constrained himself from lecturing Pilate; endured humiliation wordlessly; etc.

Q: Are there any qualities in these biblical examples that you want to emulate yourself? Which ones? How will you do that?

Q: How do you think Jesus was able to endure all that torture and humiliation? Not only was he innocent; he also had the power to end it at any time. What empowered him to persevere? Read Ephesians 3:17-19 to learn more about how great is the love of Christ for us.

Q: Given that one of your goals as a Christian is to become more Christ-like, how might you imitate Jesus in this situation? What aspects of Jesus could you adopt and implement? How is this even possible? Reflect on passages like John 15:5-25; Matthew 10:37-39; I Corinthians 5:20-21; Colossians 3:1-3, that talk about how we are transformed when we are “in Christ.”

Q: Are you feeling like you’re being persecuted? Do you recall how Jesus said to respond to that? See Matthew 5:44-45. How can you live out this verse in this situation?

Q: Not many people get the opportunity to defend themselves publicly against a false accusation; God is giving you a rare glimpse of what Jesus went through in his last hours before death. What does it mean to you to be able to identify with Jesus in this way? Are there any other ways in which you especially identify with Jesus as you go through this ordeal? How does that help you?

Q: What goals do you want to keep in mind as you go through this process? What image or picture could you focus on? Reflect on I Corinthians 10:31. How could you glorify God through this process? What would it look like if you made that your primary goal? What would be some things you would be sure not to do, if you’re trying to honor God?

Q: What characteristics do you want to display in this process? What adjectives would you like people to use afterwards to describe your behavior? “He was very ….” Think about the “fruits of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23). Do they play any role here? Is there one that you would especially like to display as you go through this process?

Q: What temptations or pitfalls do you want to try to avoid? How will you do that?

Q from The Peacemaker, by Ken Sande, p. 42: When this is all over, if God were to evaluate your behavior, how would you want God to complete these two sentences:

  1. “I am pleased that you did not …” or,  “I am pleased that you resisted the temptation to …”
  2. “I am pleased that you …” or, “I am pleased that, despite reasons not to, you were able to …”

Q: Are you feeling a need to talk back to your accusers? “Teach them a lesson”? Expose them? Consider Romans 12:14-19. Is it possible that God will take care of this in another way, so you don’t have to be His “mouthpiece”?

Q: Is it possible that, in the intensity of the hearing, you might say something you later regret? If you realize it in the hearing, how might you handle that? How do you feel about publicly apologizing if, for example, you give a response that is sharp, sarcastic, or disrespectful? Consider that “humility” is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). If you realize you’ve said something not consistent with the Christ-like attitude you’re striving to maintain, could you apologize right then? What might you say?

Getting to the Heart:

Q: Do you know what an “idol” is? One definition is that it’s a good thing that we want too much, for which we’re willing to sin to attain. So let me ask you a question for you to reflect on—don’t answer it yet, just think about this: Is it possible that you have made your desire for a Supreme Court seat into an idol? Or, is it possible that you have made your desire for a good reputation into an idol? What might it look like if you had? One sign of idolatry is that we’re in conflict with anyone who doesn’t worship our idol. The cure for idolatry is to confess to God that you have been worshiping something other than God; repent; and replace idol worship with worship of the one true God.

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