Faith-based organizations shouldn’t shy away from conflict, consultant tells ‘A Matter of Faith’
November 25, 2022
Conflict, the Rev. Dr. David Anderson Hooker likes to say, is just two ideas trying to share space.
“There’s a Christian narrative that says people should get along and go together, but conflict itself is excellent. It’s necessary to advance,” Hooker said during a recent episode of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast,” hosted each week by Simon Doong, mission specialist in the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, and the Rev. Lee Catoe, editor of Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice. “Usually, though, what happens is people make conflict personal. We say, ‘There’s a problem between us’ or ‘There’s a problem with you if you don’t agree with me.’ But conflict can show up from so many places. There’s structural conflict, interest and values differences, history — all of those can be sources of conflict that have nothing to do with relationships.”
Hooker, the principal and founder of Counterstories Consulting LLC, worked with Presbyterian Mission Agency leaders for about 18 months to help redesign the structure and purpose of the agency to better carry out the Matthew 25 vision. Listen to Hooker’s conversation with Catoe and Doong here.
Responding to a question from a podcast listener, Hooker spoke to Catoe and Doong on how churches can better manage internal conflict.
“The first thing to do is to figure out what we are conflicting about,” Hooker said. “Do we have two different ideas that are both trying to compel us going forward? If that’s the case, then great. Let’s look at them to see what’s possible and what there is to mine from these different ideas that will allow us to go forward” or to “find a third idea that wasn’t necessarily articulated in either of ours but is going to allow us to move forward.”
“What often happens, though, is the way to try to resolve those conflicts is by power. … We use power-based rules, ‘Robert’s Rules of Order’ and other kinds of deception. We withhold our resources to force people to accept our idea. … How do we find a space where we can all flourish?”
“The idea, I think, is that faith-based organizations are trying to create spaces for more and more people to be able to flourish, and so we have to look at what of your idea advances the possibility for many of us to flourish and what of my idea does that, and how do we take on those ideas within the constraints of our system?”
When two ideas vie to share the same space, it might be wise to shake up the space.
“None of those structures are organic or naturally existing or divinely ordained,” Hooker said. “They are because we created them, and so how do we reimagine our structures in order to allow more people to flourish, to allow a thousand flowers to bloom?”
For faith-based organizations, often the underlying values are assumed, Hooker said.
“People come in and say, ‘If you were being the church, you wouldn’t do it this way’ — which is really my narrative of what it means to be church and not necessarily a shared narrative or an agreed narrative about being church.”
However, as Doong pointed out, “faith-based organizations also need financial resources to continue being the church.”
“How do you see them doing the work in the community,” Doong asked Hooker, “while making sure there is enough money to do said work?”
Often, what happens, Hooker said, is “We have values, but we allow those values to be forwarded only if there is someone willing to pay for them. Often, it’s the case that the conditions we are trying to change have made possible the profit that other people have to now spend.”
“The question is, are we inviting the people who are profiting from injustice to be the ones to determine the proper valuation for the justice that we’re seeking?” Hooker asked. “Sometimes you have to do things without necessarily getting the financial support. … If people aren’t willing to pay for that, it’s probably because that’s not a world they have imagined for themselves.”
New episodes of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” drop each Thursday. Find new editions here.
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: ‘A Matter of Faith’ podcast featuring Rev. Dr. David Anderson Hooker
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Let us pray
Gracious God, by your Spirit you inspire our efforts to feed the hungry, preach the good news and share your love. Your people, all your children, are hungry for food, for friends, for peace and for the good news. As you have fed us, bless our efforts to feed each other for we serve in our name. Amen.