Conflicts Among Christians

Ajith Fernando

Extracts from an interview with the Singapore Magazine, IMPACT.

ImpactIs it possible for Christians to actually live in unity without conflict?

Fernando:  Conflict is inevitable because we all have individual differences, and many of us have high expectations of standards and behaviour within the Christian community. I have heard people say that it is easier to work with non-Christians than Christians.  Our expectations of Christians are much higher, and therefore our disappointments.  So there will be unpleasantness and conflicts when Christians work together. But the things that bind us together will help us overcome the conflicts.

Impact: Though Jesus prayed for unity among Christians, so many Christians spend so much time and effort fighting with each other.

Fernando:  One of the causes for this, especially within the evangelical movement, is that there hasn’t been enough reflection on what it means to be the body of Christ or on how much the Bible teaches on unity.  I’m presently doing a statistical study of the teaching of the Epistles. I am amazed by how much teaching there is on unity.  When we say we are the body of Christ, it means that Christ is equally concerned for the church “down the road” as He is for “our church”.  Likewise, He is equally concerned for the brother with whom I am having a conflict as He is for me.  If so, that should really temper the way I behave.  I would be very careful to do anything that would hurt that person.  I would also consider it a major problem if my relationship with that person were not right.  But instead of working hard for solutions, people are fighting, dividing up the church and going to court.

Impact: If a leader of a church or Christian organisation disagrees with the direction the leaders are taking what should he do?  Is that a basis for him to break away?

Fernando:  In some rare instances breaking away may be necessary, but it is happening far too much today.  On the whole, we are lazy about talking through our problems because it is unpleasant and difficult to talk about differences.  We may just share once or twice and give up.  If there is a lot of prayer, confrontation and talk, many church splits could have been avoided.  In the twenty-two years that I have served in YFC, without a doubt, the most painful thing has been the struggle to maintain the unity of our team.  This is emotionally draining work, but it is also very rewarding.

Impact:  Why is it such hard work?

Fernando:  It can be very unpleasant when people are fighting.  Nobody likes unpleasantness. Sometimes people are not willing to bring it out.  The leader of the team has to try to get them to do so.  One person may be extremely smart and persuasive, and the others may actually be afraid to confront that person.  So they allow disunity to grow rather than go through the humiliation of debating this smart guy whom they think will defeat them in an argument.  It is hard work, and over the years we have had some painful experiences.  But I think we have been able to forge a team of faithful, hard working people whom I can trust.

Impact:  Is the concept of servant-leadership a key to the resolving conflict?

Fernando:  Yes!  The heart of servanthood is a crucified self.  And most often, delay in resolution is because of uncrucified Christians who are not willing to give in or change their perspectives.  They feel humiliated if someone confronts them, especially if it is in public. So it becomes a battle to win rather than to see the glory of God.  We say we are fighting for justice, but really we are fighting for the retrieval of our own name.  Leaders have to take the lead in demonstrating servanthood in crises.  If leaders know people are upset with them, without waiting for them to come, they should go to these people, ask them what is wrong, and nip conflict in the bud (Matt.5:23-24).

…Also in a conflict situation, it is always good to check with those we trust about the way we are reacting.  In conflicts, I try not to act without first consulting my wife, my Board Chairman or my senior colleagues, because I am distrustful of my reactions, especially when I am angry. One way to differentiate between righteous and selfish anger is for others to tell us….