Monday, April 19, 2010

Dealing with conflict is an important part of growing our congregations

In reading Kate Tweedie Erslev's book Full Circle: Fifteen Ways To Grow Lifelong UUs, I've come to the chapter entitled, "Prepare all for the Negative Side Of The Community".

Erslev points out that UUs focus on the positive, optimistic side of life in our 7 principles and she writes:

"We aspire to our Purposes and Principles, but don't always live up to them. Further, UUs have no ceremonies of confession or atonement as do Catholics and Jews. We need ceremonies of reconciliation and remorse when mistakes are made or when, intentionally or unintentionally, we cause bad things to happen."

As a Unitarian Universalist Roman Catholic I agree wholeheartedly with Erslev. It may be a reason that the UU denomination stays so small is that we don't manage conflict, disagreement, and sin very well.

I asked a fellow congregant at the Brockport Unitarian Universalist Fellowship why 80% of UU congregations have less than 100 members and there are so few larger UU churches and she said simply, "Conflict. They don't know how to handle conflict." I felt like I was talking to the Buddha. BINGO! I think she and Erslev are right on the money.

As a family therapist I often ask families "How does your family do forgiveness?" People usually look at me startled and then give some very thin description like, "We say we're sorry." Usually, this is not enough and families don't have a deeper awareness.

Erslev goes on to write:

"Through our liberal idealism we desire progress, believe in the possibility of good, and value dignity, justice, and freedom. These are good ambitions, but we often neglect to prepare our children and youth for the inevitable suffering and evil they will experience in their lives." p.31

What I have noticed, especially in UU, is that injustice and evil becomes the elephant in the living room which people ignore, deny, gloss over, and arguments ensue trivializing the issue while emotions flare and the injustice escalates leading to a breach in relationship which becomes a permanent cut-off. Without mechanisms and ceremonies of restoration which identify the nature of the injustice and lead to some kind of repair the breach continues and becomes permanent. While we don't believe that Christ died for our sins, we don't have any other way to atone and become one again. Our children are left with a broken world, fractured relationships, and never having been given specific tools with which to manage injustice.

Erlev writes very wisely:

"Deepening our faith involves understanding conflict and betrayal as inevitable human experiences and preparing ourselves for them." p.33

I am a big fan of restorative justice. I believe in the concept, I have lived it's principles, and used its tools with very positive results. I think it would be a great model to teach our children and implement in our congregations and in our work with communities.

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