conflict resolution

Waging Peace in Syria

IN EARLY SEPTEMBER, President Obama told the American people that the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad of Syria was a moral atrocity that required international consequences.

Religious leaders agree with the necessity of a determined response to the Assad regime, which is responsible for the deaths of 100,000 of his own people, including the brutal use of chemical weapons on civilians. But many faith leaders are asking tough moral questions about what that response should look like.

We fundamentally reject the assumption that refraining from military action is “doing nothing.” We need more imagination and a deeper response than the traditional one of military strikes, which haven’t proven effective and almost always have serious unintended consequences, risk dangerous escalations, and consistently create more suffering for innocent civilians.

As religious leaders, we are called to peacemaking, not just peace loving, which requires harder and more imaginative work than merely falling into old habits of military “solutions.” Our priorities should be to mobilize global support for the many vulnerable Syrians—including the millions of refugees—and to do the hard work of conflict resolution that could lead to a political solution.

BUT THE CRISIS in Syria also gives us an opportunity to rethink how we respond to conflicts. The “war fatigue” in America is deeper than just the national tiredness of war. It is also the result of the failure of military responses in answering the real threats of terrorists and brutal dictators such as Assad.

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Conflict Resolution 101

Photo illustration , lolloj / Shutterstock.com
Photo illustration , lolloj / Shutterstock.com

Conflict happens everywhere, from Congress to congregations, from boardrooms to bedrooms. The dysfunction of Congress is just a highly public instance of a typical conflict scenario.

I recently compiled some basics of church conflict. See if you agree with me that this playbook applies broadly.

Church conflicts – which will happen to all clergy and congregations eventually – generally focus on the clergy, just as conflict in any enterprise tends to focus on the top leader. That’s because the underlying issue usually is power – who calls the shots, who can initiate change, who can hold others accountable.

Secondary issues like specific actions, perceived performance and trust get the spotlight, but are surrogates for the power issue. People who want power don’t relish being perceived as wanting power. They prefer being seen as the aggrieved, better performers, more trustworthy, more faithful to ultimate purposes.

Church conflicts usually spring from a small group of antagonists, perhaps even a single person, who start with a conclusion, largely intuitive and emotional, and then search for reasons. Those reasons tend to be moving targets that defy better information. Deal with one reason, and two more take its place.

Antagonists, meanwhile, intimidate others into compliance, or at least silence, by making it clear they will stop at nothing to win.

Bullet-Proof Gospel

EACH DAY REV. JAMES BYENSI seeks the face of God in one of the world’s deadliest places, an environment where rape has been used as a weapon, children have had their innocence stolen, and the church of Jesus Christ is called to stand in the gap.

He lives in Bunia, a town on the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). And while only the largest events of the DRC’s conflict—such as the M23 militia’s takeover of Goma, a city 300 miles south of Bunia—make world headlines, every day Byensi engages his community and country as an active agent of peace. For example, recently he helped deter a cycle of violence from escalating in his hometown. “Even as I write, I have just received a call from the mayor to join him in talking to a group of people who are protesting against the killing of their brother last night,” Byensi told Sojourners in October in one of several email interviews. “The killers were one of the rebel groups operating in the area surrounding Bunia.” While advocacy against violence is a cause close to Byensi’s heart, the protest itself threatened to become part of the problem: “Protest in this area is always violent and followed by looting or even rape,” he explained. The result of that meeting was that Byensi and the mayor together “devised the way to address the people and cool them down,” which included the mayor’s office helping the bereaved citizens with burial expenses.

That is the kind of advocacy and justice work Byensi does on a daily basis as a leadership and conflict-management consultant and trainer, and through the nonprofit he founded, the Rebuilders Ministry.

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