Alam mo ba ang tagubilin ng Matthew 18 na “puntahan mo siya at kausapin nang sarilinan” ay hindi lamang ang tanging paraan upang harapin ang hindi pagkakasundo ng mga Kristiyano?

Read in English

Tanungin ang sinumang Kristiyano kung paano makitungo sa tunggalian at huhugot nila ang Mateo 18 sapagkat inilalabas nito kung ano ang nakikita ng marami bilang TANGING PARAAN para makitungo ang mga Kristiyano sa kasalanan ng interpersonal. Sa loob ng maraming taon ay inilatag ng simbahan ang proseso ng pakikipag-usap sa tao nang paisa-isa, kung kung walang resolusyon magdala ng isang tao bilang saksi. Kung wala pa ring resolusyon, dalhin ang tao sa harap ng simbahan at kung wala pa ring resolusyon ay paalisin ang tao mula sa simbahan. Ito ang pamantayan ngunit paano kung sinabi ko sa iyo na hindi lamang ito ang biblikal na paraan na harapin ng pamilya ng Diyos ang kasalanan? Mayroong talagang hindi mabilang na mga halimbawa ng iba pang mga paraan ng paggawa ng parehong bagay na maaaring mas may kaugnayan sa iba pang mga konteksto ng kultura.

Sapagkat ang magkakaibang kultura ay mayroong magkakaibang paraan ng pagharap sa hidwaan. Ang di-tuwirang komunikasyon, sa pamamagitan ng mga konsepto tulad ng pahiwatig at pakikiramdam, ay pangunahing batayan ng komunikasyon at hidwaan ng ilang mga mamamayang Pilipino at mga Sinaunang Tao [First Nations] sa Hilagang Amerika. Ang Lupon Tagapamayapa ay isang mahalagang bahagi ng lipunang Pilipino at isang mabisang paraan upang mapanatili ang kapayapaan sa ating mga pamayanan.

Ang aklat ni Duane Elmer noong 1993 na Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for effective ministry ay isang mahusay na teolohiya ng bibliya ng paglutas ng kontrahan na hindi nililimitahan ang sarili sa Mateo 18:15-20.

Para kay Elmer, ang diskarte sa Mateo 18 ay lalong kapaki-pakinabang sa tinaguriang mga lipunan sa Kanluranin kung saan ang paghaharap at pagiging prangka ay mga pagpapahalagang pangkultura. Tulad ng sinabi ni Elmer, kahit na “ang pagiging diretso, komprontasyon, pagiging lantad at lantad na pagsasalita ay pinahahalagahan at inaasahan sa kultura ng Kanluranin, sa karamihan ng mundo ang kaparehong mga halagang ito, kahit na ipinakita nang may paggalang, ay itinuturing na masungit, walang pino, masamang asal, masungit at nakakainsulto” (p. 62). Ang diskarte na ito ay hindi gaanong kapaki-pakinabang sa iba pang mga setting ng kultura kung saan ang komprontasyon at pagiging prangka ay talagang lumilikha ng mas maraming hidwaan. Idadagdag ko na ang pagtuon lamang sa Mateo 18 ay nagbibigay ng mga dahilan para sa mga nahuhuli sa kasalanan kasi ginamit ito paminsan-minsan bilang isang dahilan upang tanggihan ang anumang proseso ng pagkakasundo.

Hinahati ni Elmer ang kanyang diskarte sa apat na kategorya. Magbibigay ako ng isang maikling balangkas ng argumento ni Elmer kasama ang kahulugan at mga halimbawa mula sa bibliya sa bawat kategorya. Ang aklat ni Elmer ay higit na lumalagpas dito sa pagbibigay ng mga halimbawa mula sa tunay na mundo kung paano naging epektibo ang paggana ng iba’t ibang mga pamamaraan sa mga setting na cross-cultural subalit dapat kong ipahiwatig na lumalapit si Elmer sa karamihan ng mga sitwasyong ito bilang isang taong nasa labas ng kultura. Gayunpaman, hindi ito nakakaapekto sa teolohiya sa Bibliya na binuo niya sa libro.

Pamamagitan at ang Tagapamagitan [Mediation and the Mediator]. Ang isang hanay ng mga talata sa bibliya ay nagsasalita tungkol sa kung paano minsan nalulutas ang salungatan sa pamamagitan ng paggamit ng isang tagapamagitan. Ang pamamagitan ay sa katunayan isang malaking tema sa lahat ng banal na kasulatan, tulad ng nakikita natin sa ibaba.

Malinaw na sinabi ng 1 Timoteo 2:5-6 – “Sapagkat iisa lang ang Dios at iisa lang ang tagapamagitan sa Dios at sa mga tao. Itoʼy walang iba kundi ang taong si Cristo Jesus. Ibinigay niya ang buhay niya bilang pantubos sa lahat ng tao. Ito ang nagpapatunay na nais ng Dios na maligtas ang lahat ng tao , at inihayag niya ito sa takdang panahon.” Ang tungkulin ni Jesus bilang tagapamagitan ay pinalawak sa Juan 3:17, Roma 5:10-11, at Mga Hebreyo 78.

Si Moises ay tagapamagitan sa paghahatid ng batas, tulad ng pagbanggit ni Pablo sa Galacia 3:19-20, at tulad ng nakabalangkas sa Exodo 32:30-32 at Bilang 12:6-8.

Nais ni Job ang isang tagapamagitan upang tulungan siya sa kanyang kaso sa Job 9:33 – “Mayroon sanang mamagitan sa amin para pagkasunduin kaming dalawa ….”

Nagtayo si Joab ng isang tagapamagitan sa pagitan ni David at ng kanyang anak na si Absalom sa 2 Samuel 14:1-4 sa pagsisikap na makamit ang kapayapaan.

Ang mga Propeta (Deuteronomio 18:18-23) at mga Pari (Exodo 28:1; Levitico 9:7; 16:6; Hebreo 5:1-4) ay nagsilbi ring bilang tagapamagitan sa pagitan ng Diyos at ng mga tao.

Sinabi ni Elmer na ang isang tagapamagitan ay isang “iginagalang, walang kinikilingan, at layunin” at kumikilos bilang isang tulay sa pagitan ng dalawang partido na may salungatan na may layunin na makamit ang isang win-win solution. Ayon kay Elmer, ang paggamit ng isang tagapamagitan kapag naghahanap ng pagkakasundo ay normal sa maraming mga kultura. Tulad ng sinabi ni Elmer, “maraming mga kultura ng mundo ang mas gusto ang mga hindi direktang pamamaraan para sa paghawak ng salungatan at mga potensyal na salungatan. Ang isa sa mga pinaka-karaniwang hindi direktang pamamaraan ay ang paggamit ng isang tagapamagitan. Ni ang pagkakaroon ng isang tagapamagitan o ang mga pagpapaandar ng isang tagapamagitan ay dayuhan sa account sa banal na kasulatan. Habang ang lipunan ay maaaring nahawahan ang papel ng tagapamagitan o ginamit ito para sa makasarili, kahit sa mga masasamang hangarin, ito ay isang lehitimong papel na kailangang maunawaan at naaangkop na gamitin ng mga Kristiyano.”

Ang posisyon ng isang-baba at kahinaan [The one-down position and vulnerability]. Ang isa pang hanay ng mga sipi ng Bibliya ay nagsasalita tungkol sa kung paano nagaganap ang resolusyon kung kailan inilalagay ng isa o pareho ng mga partido ang kanilang mga sarili sa alinman sa mahina o mas mababang posisyon. Halimbawa, kapag ang mga pastol nina Abram at Lot ay nagkasalungatan sa mga karapatan sa pag-gamit ng pastulan sa Genesis 13:8, kinuha ni Abram ang isang-pababang posisyon sa paghingi ng resolusyon sa pamamagitan ng pag-aalok na ilipat sa ibang lugar.

Mamaya si Lot ay nasa posisyon na isang-pababa dahil siya ay nakuha ng ilang mga namamayagpag na hari sa Genesis 14:5-12. Si Abram ay dumating upang iligtas si Lot mula sa posisyon na ito sa Genesis 14:13-20.

Si David, sa kanyang pagkakasalungatan kay Absalom, ay nagpapalagay din sa posisyon na one-down. Sa 2 Samuel 14:1-4 sinenyasan ni Joab ang babae na sabihin, “Tulungan nʼyo po ako, Mahal na Hari!” sapagkat mailalagay nito ang babae sa isang pababang posisyon sa hari, na may obligasyong tulungan siya.

Sinabi ni Elmer, “Ang pagkuha ng one-down na posisyon ay nangangahulugang gawing mahina ang iyong sarili sa ibang tao o ipahiwatig na wala ang kanilang tulong ikaw ay nasa panganib na mapahiya o mawalan ng mukha.” “Mahalaga para sa iyo na huwag maging sanhi upang mawala ang mukha o mapahiya ng ibang tao, ngunit kung may panganib na mangyari sa iyo, maaari kang tumawag sa iba upang protektahan ka mula sa pagkawala ng mukha. Sa katunayan maaari ka ring tumawag sa sarili nitong nagbabanta sa iyong karangalan upang iligtas ka mula sa parehong kahihiyang maaaring dumating sa iyo. ”(p. 80) Binigyan ni Elmer ang pakikitungo ng Diyos kina Abram at David bilang mga halimbawa.

Pagkukuwento at salawikain [Story-telling and proverbs]. Ang pangatlong hanay ng mga sipi ng Bibliya ay nagbibigay diin sa mga kwento bilang mga tool sa paglutas ng hidwaan.

Marahil ang pinakamahusay na halimbawa nito sa Bibliya ay nang harapin ng propetang si Nathan si Haring David dahil sa kanyang kasalanan kay Batsheba (2 Samuel 12:1-9). Si Nathan ay nagsasabi ng isang detalyadong kuwento ng isang mayamang tao na nagnanakaw ng minamahal na tupa ng isang mahirap na tao. Kapag nagalit si David, pinapagal siya ni Nathan sa pagsasabing, “Ikaw ang taong iyon!” Ang resulta ay ang pagsisisi ni David.

Ginamit din ito ni Jesus nang maraming beses nang sinabi niya sa mga talinghaga na magturo ng mga pagpapahalagang nais niyang ituro. Kumbaga, maaari siyang direktang maglibot at hamunin ang mga tao tungkol sa kanilang kasalanan at masabing, “Magsisi kayo!” Sa halip ay pinili niya ang pagkukuwento bilang kanyang pangunahing anyo ng pakikipag-ugnayan.

Mayroong maraming mga halimbawa ng pagsasabi ni Jesus ng mga talinghaga, ngunit ang ilang mga makabuluhang halimbawa ay kasama ang Lucas 18:10-14, nang ikinuwento ni Jesus ang tungkol sa Fariseo at sa Maniningil ng Buwis sa isang pagsisikap na parehong maipakita ang pag-asa sa mga maniningil ng buwis at hikayatin ang pagsisisi ng mga Pariseo.

Ginagamit din ni Jesus ang pamamaraang ito nang harapin ng mga pinuno sa Mateo 21:23-27. Nang tanungin, “Ano ang awtoridad mong gumawa ng mga bagay na ginagawa mo? Sino ang nagbigay sa iyo ng awtoridad na iyan?” sumagot si Hesus sa pamamagitan ng paglalagay ng palaisipan na nagpapahintulot sa kanya na maiwasan ang isang direktang paghaharap.

Ang bisa ng pamamaraang ito ay ipinakita sa paglaon sa Mateo 21:33-46 nang ikuwento ni Jesus ang tungkol sa taong umarkila ng kanyang ubasan. Ang kanyang mga tagapaglingkod, na ipinadala upang kolektahin ang kanyang bahagi ng ani, ay pinapintasan at ang kanyang anak ay pinatay. Kapag natapos na ang kuwento nalaman natin na ang Punong mga Pari at Pariseo ay alam na pinag-uusapan sila ni Jesus – ibig sabihin ay hindi direktang naihatid ni Jesus ang kanyang mensahe.

Elmer muli: “Ang pagkukuwento sa ganitong pang-unawa ay hindi simpleng paggamit ng mga kwento ngunit… ang pagtuturo, pagwawasto at nuanced na paggamit ng mga salita …. upang makisalamuha ang mga mas batang kasapi ng isang lipunan sa mga pamantayan at halaga ng lipunang iyon. Gayunpaman ang parehong mga tool na ito ay madaling gawin sa mga tugon sa mga sitwasyon ng kontrahan.”

Tandaan din ang pag-unlad na kasama sa pagpipiliang ito: Ang isa ay pinapayagan na maging mas direkta kung ang mga inilaan na target ng kuwento ay hindi masyadong makakonekta sa kanilang sarili.

Hindi pagkilos, maling direksyon, katahimikan, at mga taong walang katiyakan [Inaction, misdirection, silence, and indefinite persons]. Ang huling hanay ng mga sipi ng Bibliya ay titingnan natin ang mga pag-uusap tungkol sa kung paano nalulutas kung minsan ang pagkakasalungatan gamit ang hindi direktang paraan. Ang ilang mga kultura ay binibigyang diin ang higit na hindi tuwirang mga paraan ng pakikipag-ugnayan at humantong ito sa isa pang uri ng pamamahala ng salungatan na binibigyang diin ang kawalang-derekta.

Dalawang Hebreong komadrona sina Shifrah at Pua na tinalakay sa Exodo 1:8-19. Matapos mag-utos ng Paraon “Kung magpapaanak kayo ng mga babaeng Hebreo, patayin ninyo kung lalaki ang anak, pero kung babae, huwag nʼyo nang patayin” tumugon ang mga kumadrona sa hiling ng Paraon sa maraming paraan: katahimikan dahil walang direktang sagot mula sa kanila sa utos ng Paraon; hindi pagkilos (v17) sa “hindi nila sinunod ang iniutos ng hari”; at maling direksyon (v19) sa kung saan sinisi nila ang kalusugan ng mga babaeng Hebrew bilang dahilan kung bakit hindi sila maaaring sumunod. Ang kwentong ito ay maaaring mukhang kakaiba, hindi bababa sa mula sa isang pananaw sa Kanluran na maaaring bigyang kahulugan ang mga komadrona bilang hindi matapat. Gayunpaman, ang katotohanang “kaya pinagpala ng Diyos ang mga komadrona” ay nagsasabi sa atin na inaprubahan niya ang kanilang mga pamamaraan.

Nakita rin natin ang mga prinsipyong ito sa mga kwento ni Haring Saul (1 Samuel 10:27) at sa Esther.

Sa Marcos 9:33-37 mababasa natin na ang mga alagad ni Jesus ay “hindi sumagot.” Ito ay dahil nais nilang iligtas ang kanilang mga sarili mula sa kahihiyang pagkakaroon ng pagtatapat sa kanilang tinatalakay sa kalsada. Hindi sila hinarap ni Jesus tungkol dito ngunit sa halip ay gumagamit sya ng isang hindi direktang object lesson upang matulungan silang mas maunawaan ang mismong tanong na pinagtatalunan nila.

Si Hesus mismo ay gumagamit ng katahimikan nang subukang pilitin siya ng mga Pariseo na kondenahin ang babaeng nahuli sa pangangalunya sa Juan 8:1-11. Gumamit siya ng maling direksyon upang ibalik ang tanong sa mga akusado nang sabihin niya na, “Kung sino sa inyo ang walang kasalanan ay siya ang maunang bumato sa kanya.”

At syempre si Jesus ay nanatiling tahimik din sa Mateo 27:14 nang tinanong sya ni Pilato.

Sa pakikipag-usap sa katahimikan sinabi ni Elmer, “ang katahimikan ay hindi nangangahulugang naayos na ang isyu o naabot na ang kasunduan. Karaniwan nang nangangahulugan ito ng pagkaantala hanggang sa maaaring magamit ang ibang naaangkop na diskarte …. Mayroong oras para sa katahimikan at oras para sa pagiging maingay. Tila ang grabidad ng isyu ay isang tagapagpahiwatig para sa pagpili, tulad ng pagiging maagap.”

Ang ilang mga huling pangungusap. Napagtatanto na wala sa mga pagpipiliang ito ang eksklusibo ay ang susi sa pag-unawa sa iba pang mga anyo ng paglutas ng salungatan sa Bibliya. Sa halip maaari nating paikutin ang iba’t ibang mga paraan ng mga pamamaraang ito na may layunin na makarating sa isang sitwasyon na win-win sa huli. Mahalagang tandaan din na kailangan nating gamitin ang mga porma ng paglutas ng tunggalian na angkop sa kultura , na may hangarin ng aktwal na resolusyon. Hindi lamang natin nais na pumili ng pamamaraan na pinakamahusay na susuporta sa aming panig ng isyu. Kailangan nating piliin ang diskarte na pinakamahusay na hahantong sa resolusyon.

Ito ay maaaring isang pagkakataon na pumunta sa palengke upang mamili lamang ng gusto natin pag dating sa conflict resolution at piliin ang pinakamahusay na magsisilbi sa aming panig ng hidwaan. Hindi iyon ang punto ng ehersisyo na ito. Ipinapakita sa atin na paminsan-minsan ang ating paggamit ng Mateo 18 ay nagpapatibay sa hidwaan kaysa sa paglutas nito sapagkat nilalayon itong magamit sa isang partikular na setting ng kultura. Ang pagpili ng isa sa iba pang mga pagpipilian ay maaaring humantong sa mas mahusay na mga resulta sa iba pang mga konteksto.

Ito rin ay isang magandang lugar upang banggitin na ang tinatawag na mga Western theology ay hegemonic. Nangangahulugan ito na mayroon sila, ayon sa dami ng isinulat ng mga taga-kanluranin, kinuha ang pamamayani at ginamit na kapangyarihan sa Iba. Kailangan itong magbago habang ang ibang mga kultura ay pumasok sa pag-uusap kasama ang kanilang sariling mga konteksto at system. Ang resulta ay magiging isang teolohiya na mas mayaman sa huli.

Ano ang palagay mo sa mga iginigiit ni Elmer? Sa palagay mo ba ay nagbibigay ito sa simbahan ng ilang mga mas mahusay na pagpipilian para sa pagharap at paglutas ng hidwaan? Mayroon bang mga hindi nalutas na isyu na mayroon ka sa isang tao na maaayos kung sumunod ka sa ibang proseso?

Gusto kong marinig ang boses mo. Kaya palaging malugod na tinatanggap ang feedback.

Pagbabahagi ang ginagawa ng mga kaibigan.

Larawan ni Charl Folscher sa Unsplash.

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Did you know that Matthew 18’s instruction to “go, confront him when you are alone” isn’t the only Christian way to deal with conflict?

Basahin sa wikang Tagalog

Ask any Christian how to deal with conflict and they will pull out Matthew 18 because it lays out what many see as THE way for Christians to deal with interpersonal sin. For years the church has laid out the process of talk to the person individually, then if things don’t work out bring someone as a witness. Then, if things still don’t work out, bring the matter before the church and if that doesn’t work out then expel the person from the church. It’s pretty standard but what if I told you that this wasn’t the only biblical way that God’s people deal with sin? There are actually countless examples of other ways of doing the same thing that may be more relevant in other cultural contexts.

Because different cultures do indeed have differing ways of dealing with conflict. Indirect communication, through concepts such as pahiwatig [hinting] and pakikiramdam [sensing non-verbal cues], are at the core of communication and conflict resolutions of some Filipino and First Nations peoples. The Lupon tagapamayapa, or peacemaker board, is a key part of Philippine society and is one effective way in keeping peace in our communities.

Duane Elmer’s 1993 book Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for Effective Ministry is a great biblical theology of conflict resolution that doesn’t limit itself to Matthew 18:15-20.

For Elmer, the Matthew 18 approach is especially useful in so-called Western societies where confrontation and frankness are cultural values. As Elmer says, even though “directness, confrontation, forthrightness and candid outspokenness are valued and expected in Western culture, in most of the world these same values, even when demonstrated respectfully, are considered rude, unrefined, ill-mannered, discourteous and even contemptuous” (p. 62). This approach is less useful in other culture settings where confrontation and frankness actually create more conflict. I would add that focussing solely on Matthew 18 provides excuses for those who are caught in sin because it can be used as an excuse to reject any process of reconciliation.

Elmer divides his approach into four categories. I will give a brief outline of Elmer’s argument including a definition and biblical example or two of each category. Elmer’s book goes far beyond this by giving real-world examples of how these various methods have worked effectively in cross-cultural settings however I should point out that Elmer approaches most of these situations as a cultural outsider. However, this doesn’t impact the biblical theology that he also develops in the book.

Mediation and the Mediator. One set of bible passages talks about how conflict is sometimes resolved through the use of an intermediary. Mediation is in fact a big theme in all of scripture, as we can see below.

1 Timothy 2:5-6 explicitly states — “There is one God. There is also one mediator between God and humans—a human, Christ Jesus. He sacrificed himself for all people to free them from their sins. This message is valid for every era.” Jesus’ role as mediator is expanded in John 3:17, Romans 5:10-11, and Hebrews 78.

Moses was a mediator in delivering the law, as Paul mentions in Galatians 3:19-20, and as outlined in Exodus 32:30-32 and Numbers 12:6-8.

Job wants a mediator to help him with his case in Job 9:33 — “There is no mediator between us to put his hand on both of us.”

Joab sets up a mediator between David and his son Absalom in 2 Samuel 14:1-4 in an effort to achieve peace.

Prophets (Deuteronomy 18:18-23) and priests (Exodus 28:1; Leviticus 9:7; 16:6; Hebrews 5:1-4) also served as mediators between God and humans.

Elmer says a mediator is a third party who is “respected, neutral, and objective” and who acts as a bridge between the two parties in conflict with the goal of achieving a win-win solution. According to Elmer, the use of a mediator when seeking reconciliation is normal in many cultures. As Elmer says, “many cultures of the world prefer indirect methods for handling conflict and potential conflict. One of the more common indirect methods is the use of a mediator. Neither the existence of a mediator nor the functions of a mediator are foreign to the scriptural account. While society may have contaminated the role of the mediator or used it for selfish, even evil purposes, it is still a legitimate role that needs to be understood and appropriately employed by Christians.”

The one-down position and vulnerability. Another set of Bible passages talk about how resolution sometimes takes place when one or both of the parties place themselves in either a vulnerable or a lower position. For example, when Abram and Lot’s shepherds have a conflict over grazing rights in Genesis 13:8, Abram takes the one-down position in seeking resolution by offering to transfer to another area.

Later on, Lot was in the one-down position because he had been captured by some rampaging kings in Genesis 14:5-12. Abram comes to rescue Lot from this position in Genesis 14:13-20.

David, in his conflict with Absalom, also assumes the one-down position. In 2 Samuel 14:1-4 Joab prompts the woman to say, “Help ⌞me⌟, Your Majesty” because this would put the woman in a one-down position to the king, who would then be obligated to help her.

Elmer says, “Taking the one down position means you make yourself vulnerable to another person or indicate that without their help you are in danger of being shamed or losing face.” “It is important for you not to cause another person to lose face or be ashamed, but if there is danger of this happening to you, you may call on another to protect you from losing face. In fact you may call even on the very one endangering your honor to save you from the same shame that may befall you” (p. 80). Elmer gives God’s dealings with Abram and David as examples.

Story-telling and proverbs. A third set of Bible passages emphasise stories as tools for resolving conflict.

Perhaps the best example of this in the Bible is when the prophet Nathan confronts King David over his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:1-9). Nathan tells an elaborate story of a rich man who steals a poor man’s beloved lamb. When David is enraged, Nathan stuns him by saying, “You are that man.” The result is David’s repentance.

Jesus also used this many times when he told parables in order to teach the values that he wanted taught. Conceivably, he could have directly gone around challenging people with their sin and saying, “Repent!” Rather he chose storytelling as his main form of interaction.

There are countless examples of Jesus telling parables, but some significant examples include Luke 18:10-14, when Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in an effort to both present hope to tax collectors and encourage repentance by the Pharisees.

Jesus also uses this method when confronted by the leaders in Matthew 21:23-27. When asked, “By whose authority do you do these things” Jesus replies by posing a puzzle that allows him to avoid a direct confrontation.

The effectiveness of this method is shown later on in Matthew 21:33-46 when Jesus tells the story of the man who rented his vineyard. His servants, sent to collect his portion of the produce, are mistreated and his son is killed. When the story is over we learn that the chief priests and Pharisees knew Jesus was talking about them — meaning that Jesus was able to indirectly get his message across.

Elmer again: “Storytelling in this sense is not simply the use of stories but … the instructional, corrective and nuanced use of words …. to socialize the younger members of a society into the norms and values of that society. Yet these same tools are easily crafted into responses in conflict situations.”

Note also the progression included in this option: One is allowed to become more direct if the intended targets of the story don’t quite make the connection with themselves.

Inaction, misdirection, silence, and indefinite persons. The final set of Bible passages we will look at talks about how conflict is sometimes resolved using indirect means. Some cultures emphasize more indirect forms of interaction and this leads to another type of conflict management that emphasizes indirectness.

Shiphrah and Puah are two Hebrew midwives discussed in Exodus 1:8-19. After being ordered by the Pharaoh “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth, look at the child when you deliver it. If it’s a boy, kill it, but if it’s a girl, let it live,” the midwives respond to the Pharaoh’s request in several ways: silence in that the passage doesn’t record any direct answer from them to the Pharaoh’s order; inaction (v17) in that “they didn’t obey the king of Egypt’s orders”; and misdirection (v19) in that they blamed the Hebrew women’s health as the reason why they couldn’t obey. This story may seem odd, at least from a Western perspective that might interpret the midwives as being dishonest. However, the fact that “God was good to the midwives” tells us that he approved of their methods.

We also see these principles in the stories of King Saul (1 Samuel 10:27) and in Esther.

In Mark 9:33-37 we read that Jesus’ disciples “were silent.” This is because they wanted to save themselves from the shame of having to confess what they were discussing on the road. Jesus doesn’t confront them about this but rather uses an indirect object lesson to help them better understand the very question they were arguing about.

Jesus himself uses silence when the Pharisees tried to force him to condemn the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. He then uses misdirection to turn the question back to the accusers when he says, “The person who is sinless should be the first to throw a stone at her.”

And of course Jesus also remained silent in Matthew 27:14 when being questioned by Pilate.

In talking about silence Elmer says, “silence does not mean the issue is settled or that some agreement has been reached. It usually means a delay until another appropriate strategy can be employed…. There is a time for silence and a time for forthrightness. It seems that the gravity of the issue is one indicator for choosing, as is timeliness.”

Some concluding remarks. One key to these alternative biblical forms of conflict management is to realise that none of them are exclusive. Rather one can cycle through various forms of these approaches with the goal of arriving at a win-win situation in the end. It is also important to note that we need to use culturally appropriate forms of conflict resolution, with the goal of actual resolution. We don’t just want to pick and choose the method that will best support our side of the issue. We need to choose the approach that will best lead to resolution.

This might seem like an opportunity to go “conflict resolution shopping” and choose the option that will best serve our side of the conflict. That isn’t the point of this exercise. What this is trying to show us is that sometimes using Matthew 18’s approach solidifies the conflict rather than resolving it because it is intended to be used in a particular cultural setting. Choosing one of the other options may lead to better results in other contexts.

It is also a good place to mention, at least in passing, that so-called Western theologies are hegemonic. This means that they have, by virtue of the volumes written by westerners taken predominance and exterted power over the Other. This needs to change as other cultures enter into the conversation with their own contexts and systems. The result will be a theology that is richer in the end.

What do you think of Elmer’s assertions? Do you think this provides the church with some better options for dealing with and resolving conflict? Are there unresolved issues that you have with someone that would be fixed if you had followed another process?

I want to hear your voice. That’s why feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Charl Folscher on Unsplash.

Scripture is taken from GOD’S WORD®.
© 1995, 2003, 2013, 2014, 2019, 2020 by God’s Word to the Nations Mission Society. 
Used by permission.

Thoughts on Truth and Reconciliation for Orange Shirt Day

Eva and I spent a couple of hours on Saturday looking for Orange t-shirts. We went to several stores in the area but were surprised that there weren’t any for sale. Eventually we ended up at the Wanuskewin Gift Shop on Broadway in Saskatoon where we found a few shirts in 3X and 4X sizes! We were extremely pleased that we found something even if they are far too large.

“What’s the big deal about orange t-shirts?,” you may ask. Phyllis Webstad tells the story of the orange shirt that inspired Orange Shirt day. As she says,

“I went to the Mission for one school year in 1973/1974. I had just turned 6 years old. I lived with my grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve. We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school! 

When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”

Today Orange Shirt Day has become the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. I have already written on truth and reconciliation here, here, and here. Eva and I wanted to participate this year but I had a couple of questions, the most prominent of which is a logistical one: How can I be involved in Orange Shirt Day without also profiting from it? I would hate to be a participant in some kind of cultural appropriation and it would be an even greater shame for the oppressors to further profit from the day. For example, the Hudson’s Bay Company recently came under fire for selling Orange Shirts. This is especially poignant given the company’s history in Canada. Fortunately, the Company had followed the proper procedures, as outlined in the Orange Shirt Society’s guidelines. But that isn’t the case for every company doing this.

The next question I had was how do I go about the process of reconciliation particularly in a culturally appropriate way. I am working on a post about conflict resolutions in the Bible. Most Christians assume that Matthew 18 is the only way to do things. I happen to disagree with this but let’s agree with this for argument’s sake. What would that entail when it comes to truth and reconciliation in Canada? Since Mt 18 is all about bringing the offending sibling back into fellowship we need to recognise that that is us!

Us. I will say that my family history is full of discrimination and persecution. My father’s side has roots in the Mennonites who moved around the world trying to find places where their pacifism would be acceptable. They moved from the Netherlands to Prussia to the Ukraine and eventually ended up in Canada. My mother’s family has roots in the First Nations particularly in how the fur traders interacted with First Nations women that lead to a group of people known as country born. But in spite of this history of discrimination and persecution, I have grown up completely separated from those identities and live a life of privilege. So when I say that we are the offending sibling I am including myself in that. This is especially true for those involved in churches when talking about residential schools.

What can we do to foster truth and reconciliation? I can think of a couple of options that will lead toward reconciliation.

In reconciliation, the offenders don’t set the agenda. Rather, as the offending party we must place ourselves in a position of powerlessness. It’s not enough to apologise. Often when giving an apology I find myself frustrated that the offended party wants to talk more about how offensive I have been. All this shows is that I am not truly apologetic and I don’t want reconciliation. This is particularly hard when it comes to corporate evil. The Canada we know has been built in part on a flawed foundation that is in need of renovation. What does that renovation look like? Ask someone who is affected by the flaws to find out.

In reconciliation the offenders need to listen. We need to be humble and submissive and to listen to the stories of those we have offended because that is the only way for us to experience their pain. Let’s start this process by listening and watching as Phyllis Webstand tells us her story.

But as Phyllis says, her story is not unique. Another part of the reconciliation process is to find someone in our own community who we can share stories with. Only by sharing stories can we find truth and reconciliation!

Help is available. Call the 24-hour national Indian Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Rod Long on Unsplash. Video by orangeshirtday.org.

Oh no, Canada: Reflections on Canada on Canada Day

Reflection is good for the soul because it causes us to look back on events that we normally view on default and look at them with new eyes. Canada Day is one of these things, especially in light of a recent push to reconcile history with the past. Even using the term “default” is actually problematic because what may be default thinking for me is different for someone else. The history that I read may be different from the history someone else reads. My understanding of the past is also almost certainly different from the actual past.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified the residential school system as a form of cultural genocide. What we are beginning to realise is that some form of physical genocide may also have been happening. Certainly the past was a lot more dangerous than the present, with diseases like TB and the influenza pandemic of 1918 taking many lives, but there are also documented cases of abuse and death at the very hands of those entrusted with the care of these young First Nations children. What makes things worse is that it doesn’t seem to be merely a government issue (and governments do tend to be animal-like), but also a church issue. This is because churches were an integral part of the Residential School system.

Because of these issues there have been calls to rethink Canada Day. After all, why celebrate the country when the country is built on such shameful actions that has made some many mistakes? Some communities are cancelling Canada Day celebrations, while others are planning alternative events to help incorporate victims of Residential Schools into Canada’s story.

So what is the answer? I think it lies in the concepts of Truth, reconciliation, and repentance.

Truth. This is the debate between history and the past (that I have discussed elsewhere). In a nutshell, history is “texts” about the past from a certain perspective. Texts can include writing of course but can also include any aspect of society (citation) including statues, memorials, and events like Canada Day. The past is the actual events that have happened and are being interpreted when doing history. History changes all the time as new perspectives create new interpretations but the past remains the same.

Reconciliation, or restoring relationships, is supposed to be a major part of the church. After all, God has given the church the “ministry of reconciliation.” Relationships need to be restored people and God but relationships between people and other people also need restoration. The church has emphasised the first aspect throughout the years — and in many ways this emphasis may have led to the residential school disaster by ignoring God’s command to love our neighbour as we love ourselves — but hasn’t worked as hard on the restoration of interpersonal relationships. We haven’t been as good at this part as we could have been.

“What about forgiveness?” some may ask. Forgiveness does need to happen, as Matt Stovall, writing from a First Nations’ perspective, points out in his great FB post on this. However, forgiveness works best when it is coupled with repentance, which means the church, as the offending party, needs to repent and ask forgiveness.

So what needs to be reflected upon this Canada Day? Where does reconciliation need to happen? Where does truth need to be reevaluated? How can I ask forgiveness?

On Canada Day, let’s reflect on Canada and repent of our sins. Our eyes are finally opening to the our ugly past. How will we make a better future? Listen to someone’s stories of their residential experience. Read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report. Read Dr. Peter Bryce’s 1907 Report on the Indian schools of Manitoba and the North-West Territories. Read about residential schools, reconciliation and the experience of Indigenous peoples.

On Canada Day, let’s reflect on the church and repent of our sins. It’s quite simple. For church insiders there is a wide range of church types and theologies, that are unknown and even meaningless to church outsiders. The specific churches involved in the Residential School System cannot be separated in people’s minds from the idea of “church.” As I have said elsewhere, “even if we weren’t physically present during these atrocities, we are still complicit in them because people bearing Jesus’ name did these things. Don’t we also bear Jesus name?” So as churches we need to seek ways to ask forgiveness. We need to reflect on the theologies that we hold that led to the whole Residential School system. We need to find ways to connect with First Nations People. We need to reflect on what repentance looks like for you and me.

On Canada Day, let’s reflect on Truth and repent of the untruths and half-truths we have believed instead. I have written elsewhere on truth. Suffice it to say, none of us has a complete understanding of absolute truth. Don’t get me wrong— I do believe in absolute truth but at best I can say we are approaching absolute truth. That means that part of the way forward includes reflecting on the truths that I know and how those truths coincide with the truths that others know and changing our truths so the future is better than the past.

Feedback is always welcome!

Image by Derek Thomson on Unsplash.

What should be my place in the church’s pecking order?

My wife and I have spent the past week on a farm and one incident reminded me of the common saying, “Pecking order.” There were a bunch of eggs in the incubator waiting to be hatched and our arrival at the farm was the due date. One by one the little chicks pecked their way out of their shells and began the next phase of their lives. Which is when we noticed an interesting occurrence. Those chicks who hatched first began to peck at the chicks born later. This is the famous pecking order that determines who gets to peck whom?

It’s the most basic form of relationship and while I can’t begin to try to understand the way a chick’s mind works it does illustrate the way some relationships are oriented around power and domination.

Sometimes the same thing happens when people come to faith. Those who come to faith first set the rules for the next who come to faith. There are countless examples in the Bible, perhaps the most famous being the Pharisees and the prodigal son’s older brother.

Acts 15 is a great example of how the pecking order was challenged and a new way of relationship was hatched. Apparently some of the early Jesus followers decided that non-Jews also needed Jesus and so they began to proclaim Jesus to others. The first stage was Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, who was a Jewish proselyte. Others, however, went further and began to talk about Jesus with people with an entirely different worldview. This of course created turmoil in the early church as people accused both Peter and these other Jesus followers — now called “Christians” — of violating God’s laws.

Peter’s rebuttal is simple: The same Holy Spirit that guides us also guides these new Jesus followers.

The result was the order issued by the early church leaders that is recorded in Acts 15 that outlines how these new Jesus followers could be folded into the church.

This was a reversal of the pecking order concept where the old timers get to set the rules. Now the newcomers could create their own rules. In fact, it was the very rules themselves that lost their ability to shape culture. Rather, the Holy Spirit would somehow intervene in the lives of these others and help them to reshape their own cultures for Jesus.

Jesus says, “Be the one who gets pecked. It’s ok to be pecked because I have been pecked, too.”

So what other pecking orders exist within the church? What does the Bible have to say about these pecking orders?

Intergenerational pecking orders. But Jesus said in Matthew 19, “Don’t stop children from coming to me!” and also a few verses earlier in Matthew 18, “I can guarantee this truth: Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me.” What does this mean? Sometimes people whose faith is fresher have a better approach to faith.

Favourite Bible Translation pecking orders. It is interesting that most of these debates are about English translations of the Bible, even though English is not one of the original languages. It doesn’t make sense if we are happy accepting other language translations but are only happy with one English one. What is important is that God says in Isaiah 55, “My word … will not come back to me without results.” What does this mean? God’s word works.

Favourite preacher pecking orders. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 — “some of you say, ‘I follow Paul’ and others say, ‘I follow Apollos,'” — talks about the teamwork involved in church ministry. What does this mean? Be a team player when it comes to church. Listen to a variety of voices. Engage in conversations rather than monologues.

Theological pecking orders. People love to fight about theology. I can remember to this day some of the theological arguments that I had more than 30 years ago — and I loved debating because I knew that I was right! That is the problem with theological debates because the goal is to find out who is right and who is wrong. The bible advises us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). What does this mean? Be prepared for the reality that you may not always be right!

Hermeneutical pecking orders. Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation and for many years one hermeneutical system has reigned supreme: the grammatical-historical method. The problem is that this isn’t necessarily the default hermeneutical system used either in the Bible (eg. take a look at how Peter interprets scripture in at the end of 1 Peter 3) nor in various parts of the world. What does this mean? Sometimes other people know how to make sense of things too. It’s best to dialogue with them rather than condemn them.

Where is your place in the pecking order? How can I embrace being pecked rather than pecking others?

Note: A few days later I happened to see all the chicks huddled together because it was cold. I guess a common problem is more important than pecking each other! Is that why persecution sometimes makes the church stronger?

Truthtelling: The Ethics of Negotiation

“Is it ethical for a police hostage negotiator to promise to the hostage taker whatever his demands are, even if there is no intent to meet those demands?” I was shocked to hear this question from a Senator investigating the Manila Hostage Crisis. “What if,” the senator went on, “the hostage taker appears to have some mental issues and we need to save the hostages. Shouldn’t we just lie to him so that he lets the hostages go? Then we can arrest him and say, ‘Sorry, we did it for your own good’” (paraphrased).

It reminds me of a story I heard about comparative religion during my University days in Saskatoon. Two boys are in a house playing. The father, who is outside, sees that the house is on fire. He yells to his boys to get out of the house so they will be saved. One boy runs out immediately. The other, however, is enjoying playing so much that he ignores his father’s call. Finally, in desperation, the Father, appealing to his son’s love for fun calls out, “Come outside! There is a parade passing by!” Of course the boy runs out and is saved from the fire. What disturbs me about the story is the lie.

A lie is the opposite of trust. Why did the boy trust the father enough to come out when he said there was a parade? Because of trust. I can assure you, however, that once the boy realized his father had lied to him, a little bit of that trust was gone. Next time, the father wouldn’t be so lucky.

It goes the same for hostage negotiations. In reality, you are not just negotiating for the current crisis, you are also building trust for the next crises that come along. Otherwise, why will any subsequent hostage-taker even bother talking to negotiators?

Building the Kingdom: Essentials vs Non-Essentials (Part 2)

A few months ago I wrote about the concept of Essentials vs Non-Essentials. At the end I expressed frustration about not having enough time in class for closure on the issues raised. Yesterday we had that closure in class.

The issues related to Essentials and Non-Essentials are quite often fought out in the issues on the periphery of our belief. That is, the battles waged in this area in our churches are primarily fought over non-essential practices as opposed to essential beliefs. The class did  an assignment  that called on them to list their core beliefs as disciples of Christ — that is the things that are absolutely essential to their life as Christians, the kinds of things that if they were not there would cause them to walk away from the group. I was mildly amused to see that the issues they considered to be core were almost exclusively theological in nature: Who is Jesus? What is the Church? Ordinances. etc. There was very little practice listed.

Which led us to the discussion of core beliefs and core practices. Of course, we all need to have core beliefs. But I just can’t survive on core beliefs. At some point those core beliefs need to come out — I need to show them in my actions.

For example, I remember watching a show called Venture on Canadian TV about 20 years ago. One episode hightlighted a new company that had developed a machine for turning garbage into potable water. The scene has stuck in my mind forever of the inventor of the machine holding a glass of water that had come from his machine. He proudly declared the water to be safe to drink. However, when asked by those present to prove his beliefs with action — in other words to drink the water — he refused saying, “I prefer wine.” Guess what? I have never heard of that machine again. Why? Because even though the inventor’s core belief was that the water was pure, his core practices did not include actually drinking the water himself!

Of course, I am not saying that everybody’s practices needs to be the same but that we find unity in the beliefs we share together. One issue that has come up in our faith community lately is how the practices that older Christians have relate to the practices that young Christians have. If we focus on the practices themselves, we will be divided. But if we focus on the core beliefs we can be unified and support a variety of legitimate core practices.

As a Theology teacher this truth strikes home for me. I must reexamine not my beliefs, but my practices so that my beliefs will be proved true in the things that I do.

How about you? Do your practices align with your beliefs?

What is my White Picket Fence & Church with a Steeple?

I have been living in a culture that is not my own for almost 11 years. From the beginning, my wife and I resolved not only to follow God’s call to this place but to do so without imposing our passport-culture’s baggage in our host culture.

You see, when I was in high-school I saw part of a movie on TV that was based upon James Michener’s Hawaii. I now realise that the book and movie were based upon Michener’s own misunderstandings of the issues of cross-cultural workers and how they related to locals. However, the story of a missionary who isn’t willing to pass the baton to the locals when the time comes has stuck with me since then. Stories also abound of how people bringing God’s message of Good News also brought with them their own cultures and forced locals to wear clothes, build churches with nice steeples and white picket fences around them.
When my wife and I arrived here, we resolved to leave the cultural baggage behind, and instead just bring the message of God’s love.
Easier said than done.
I recently realised that I am a cultural imperialist! Of course, my version of imperialism doesn’t include clothing and white picket fences. It does, however, include an innate belief that the way I do things is better than the way things are done here. When people do things differently than I would and problems arise I have an immediate solution: Simply start doing things my way and all your problems will be solved! After all, isn’t that what transformation is all about?
If my goal as an agent of transformation is not to transform culture then what is it? My wife’s words were apropos: “You are here to glorify God.”
The realised that the problem is that I am assuming that transformation means that all must embrace my culture. Rather I should assume that all must embrace my God and let the culture sort itself out.
What is your white picket fence and church with a steeple?

Building the Kingdom: Essentials vs Non-Essentials

Had an interesting discussion in our School of Ministry yesterday. We were talking about how the church is to be an example of the Kingdom of God on earth by exhibiting its values and by being a true community.

Of course, our discussion eventually ended up at the old axiom: “in essential matters, unity; in non-essential matters, liberty; in all other matters, charity.” My colleague, William Camba, pointed out that we don’t really seem to have trouble over the essential matters – we aren’t always discussing within our churches whether there really is a trinity or if Jesus is God or not. We do, however, seem to get caught up on the non-essentials – what colour to paint the walls, what kind of music to play, or what clothes we should wear during worship. The thing is there is also a distinct lack of liberty and love expressed during these times. William illustrated his point with a personal story about how he was recently distracted while attending a conference because the speaker was wearing flip-flops. “Why isn’t he wearing shoes?” was the question going through his mind. Upon his observation of the reactions of others to the slippers (ie no one else seemed to be offended), he eventually began to ask himself whether the problem was really his own and perhaps he was making something an essential that really isn’t essential.

The class then went on to discuss that most contentious of church issues, namely music. To be honest I wasn’t really happy with where the rest of the discussion and feel that I wasn’t able to wrap up the day on a positive note. After, however, a lot of thought, I realise we really need to have a way of determining what is essential and what is not so that we can avoid conflict in these areas in the future and so that we can practice the liberty and charity that we want to.

So what makes some things essential and other things non-essential?

Other than certain foundational theological truths that we can’t mess with, we are surrounded by a vast amount of stuff that can be classified as personal preferences – the songs we sing, the words we use, the Bible version we prefer, the clothes we wear, etc. How can we navigate this quagmire?

The key is that we need to return to the essentials of the church. For example, the Bible describes a church that is not merely to exist but to function properly. Some call this being missional but for the past few years we at SEATS have been talking about the Functional Church. Our churches are to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ (kerygma). They are also to exhibit the values of the Kingdom of God (koinonia). They are to be centers of service to both God and Humans (diakonia), and they are to bear the truth, even to the point of death (marturia).

In determining if something is essential, we need to return to these basic functions. Take the earlier example of music in the church. When we think about being functional in proclaiming the Good News we need to see what is essential. It is essential that the Good News be proclaimed in our public singing but the form that public singing takes is not essential. As long as it gets the job done in the best way possible.

We also need to declare the truth through our music. The form, however, is non-essential. As long as it is effective in declaring the truth then we should do it. If it is not, then we need to modify or change it.

Is it possible to serve through music? As long as the music is functional then its form is secondary. The same goes for proclaiming the values of the kingdom.

You may have noticed that forms are very much based upon societal norms. Keeping music as the example, if we want to reach fans of emo, then we can use emo. If we want to reach fans of country music then use country. If rockers, then rock. And on and on it goes. What is clear is that there is no longer only one societal norm.

So how does the church deal with these issues? One way is by having some kind of multiple services, each one targeted for a different society. (Of course, if you want to check out a different society’s service, prepare to misunderstand it ☺).
Another option for churches is to use the following statement: “We are not doing this particular thing for you – it is for (name of target).” This must be combined with a follow-up: “This is what we are doing for you.”

Paul saw his acting like a Jew or acting like a Greek as nonessentials. He didn’t force people to conform to his preferences but rather conformed to theirs. In light of Paul’s attitude, we need to have the following conversation in our churches:

What is our goal at our church? To have newcomers conform to our list of preferences or to conform to their preferences so they might more easily learn the essentials/become disciples? How can our _______ best fulfill this function? What forms need to be modified? What forms need to be changed? What forms need to be redeemed?

What are your essentials? I encourage the members of SEATS Schools of Ministry to give their opinions on the discussion board on the SEATS Facebook Page.

But just remember: liberty and charity.

Why Anonymous Letters Don’t Work Among Jesus’ Followers

I thought about beginning this blog with a scenario where a person might be led to write an anonymous letter complaining about their church but to be honest I just couldn’t figure out what the motivations might be. Regardless of that, it is a topic that we do need to discuss from time to time. Anonymous letters are part and parcel of a life in ministry. I don’t know anyone in ministry who hasn’t sometime received anonymous advice or an anonymous letter. So how do we deal with them?

All throughout my life I have heard from people in all walks of life – Pastors, District Ministers, Seminary Presidents, and even missionaries – what I should do if I receive an anonymous letter. The answers are all surprisingly unanimous: “Throw all anonymous letters in the garbage and forget about them!” This is very easy to say but very hard to do. There is something that keeps drawing us back to the words on the page over and over again to the point where we are carried off in despair or self-pity.

I was pondering this advice the past week and began to wonder why anonymous letters do not work in the church. Here is my list (not sure I’ll get to 10 so I can’t really call it a Top-10 List):

1. The Church is Community. I know the people I worship and minister with personally. I may see them everyday or even every week. We attend worship services, cell groups, seminars, and classes together. We interact. We play. We love. We share. We know each other. There is that mutual give and take that goes with any good relationship.

Enter the “Anonymous Letter.” All of a sudden that relationship is broken. There is no more trust. Instead there is shame. Someone is too ashamed of the situation to make himself/herself known. Someone is too ashamed of what they are saying that they don’t want to take ownership of their words. Someone doesn’t care about community enough to keep it intact and loving.

2. The Bible tells us to confront in a personal way. Of course, in many cases your culture will determine how you confront or approach someone, but it is still in a personal way. In Galatians, Paul tells us, “Brothers, if someone is caught in sin you who are spiritual need to restore him gently …” The term brothers (or sisters) denotes relationship that leads to restoration. I approach my brother or sister (in a culturally relevant way) and work with him/her to improve. We work through our struggles together.

Enter the “Anonymous Letter.” Now all of a sudden there is no personality to the relationship. “Who is the one who is correcting me? Who knows because it’s anonymous. I guess if no one cares about me enough to help me move through my struggles then I don’t need to change.”

3. Legitimate Questions Deserve Answers (Perhaps even illegitimate questions do as well). If you want an answer for a question you ask, it is vital that the person answering knows who is asking. How can I answer you unless I know who you are? What if I give the answer to someone who isn’t asking. I have wasted my time and you still don’t have your answer! Not all questions need to be answered in a public forum.

Anonymous letters don’t allow us to give the answers to those who are asking them. The writer assumes everyone has the same question and therefore needs to know the answer and so their should be a public declaration of the answer. A public declaration of the answer could even lead to embarrassment for the writer (see #4 below).

4. Anonymous letter writers don’t necessarily have enough info to ask the questions. Their questions may arise because of misinformation, incomplete information, or erroneous information. There may be significant misunderstanding on the part of the writer to the facts of the matter. Just because a letter is anonymous doesn’t mean that it is based upon fact.

The best option is to follow the biblical pattern for resolving conflict and asking questions – namely, the two parties need to communicate in an open and honest way with each other. Not only will this allow the right issues to be addressed but will also foster true community and unity.