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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Conflict

When it calls your name, answer

In the Harry Potter books, almost all the characters are loathe to speak the name of the villainous Lord Voldemort. As if avoiding his name will avert disastrous contact with the evil one, he is referred to obliquely as “You Know Who” or “He Who Must Not Be Named.”

In many congregations, it seems like the C-word is one that shall not be uttered. “What did you say? Conflict? Oh my, no. Surely not in our church! The only C-word we allow is Christ. And our Lord calls us all to be one big harmonious family, right?”

To acknowledge we have conflict would be to admit our unfaithfulness and unchristian conduct, many think.

But conflict is everywhere. An ELCA study some years ago revealed that within a five-year period, more than 40 percent of our congregations experienced a serious conflict that resulted in the departure of the pastor and/or a significant number of members. More recent data by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research indicated that 75 percent of congregations from 41 denominations and faith groups reported some level of conflict in the previous five years.

A high percentage of conflict revolves around decision-making, particularly the minister’s role and authority in making decisions. In short, conflict is part and parcel of being a human community, including one centered in the gospel.


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