Coping with Conflict in the Church

Debate, discussion, conflict and even schism
have made Presbyterians who we are.

We need to think not only about the issues that people were and are passionate about, but how through them people sought to know and do God's will when the Bible needed to be interpreted and applied in new situations.

Presbyterians sometimes feel that their tradition is peculiar for its conflict.  You would be surprised - talk to someone from another tradition!

The real question is not whether Christians have disagreements, but how we handle them. Our attitude and the "rules of engagement" we follow can be as important as the issues themselves for the long-term health of the church. Conflict is an opportunity to prove what the Gospel means, not just in terms of who may be right, but by how we handle it.

Conflict is also laden with temptations - we need to be sure we actually understand what others are actually saying not just what we fear or imagine they might be saying. We need to be cautious about assuming the motives of others do not include seeking to know and do God's will. We especially need to be careful about letting the behaviour of some cloud our judgement as to what is the real issue. People who behave badly may be quite right - those who behave impeccably, quite wrong (and vice versa). There are sinners, there are saints, but they are seldom tidily arranged.

In the last two decades one of the great debates in many churches, including Presbyterian, has involved the place of homosexual persons within church leadership. For the courses using these websites we will be considering some of the issues which arise from having a debate like this rather than the debate itself.

Contemporary issues like this have parallels with earlier debates in our history.  These historical and recent experiences have lessons for our ongoing handling of differences and how we engage with the sources of authority and understanding we appeal to in making Christian decisions.

Almost every generation in church and society faces moral issues which people see differently. If it is not this it would be something else. It is also common for issues to be compounded - generations, power, understanding of biblical authority, theological stream, and a moral dilemma facing society as a whole.

Some Thoughts I have picked up along the road

Dealing with stuff

Managing Personal Risks

Managing Congregational Risks

Managing Regional Risks

Managing National Risks

Email is also a Risky Activity

John Roxborogh



Becker, Penny Edgell. Congregations in Conflict: Cultural Models of Local Religious Life, Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Coalter, Milton J., John M. Mulder, and Louis Weeks. The Pluralistic Vision : Presbyterians and Mainstream Protestant Education and Leadership. 1st ed. The Presbyterian Presence. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992.

Elsmore, Bronwyn. Creedism : Religious Prejudice in New Zealand. Palmerston North, Auckland: Nagare Press ; Distributed by Brick Row Pub. Co., 1995.

Evans Alice Frazer and Robert A. Peace Skills: Leader's Guide, Jossey-Bass; 2001.

Glaser, Chris. Uncommon Calling : a Gay Christian's Struggle to Serve the Church. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.

Grenz, Stanley. Welcoming but Not Affirming : An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998.

Hathaway, Brian. Living below with the Saints We Know! N-Joy publishers, Box 45-004, Auckland 8, New Zealand.

Hoffman, Patricia L. AIDS and the Sleeping Church. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1995.

Vasey, Michael. Evangelical Christians and Gay Rights. Grove Ethical Studies ; No. 80. Bramcote: Grove, 1991.