In "Voices of Faith," religious leaders answer readers' questions.
Seek the truth
The Rev. Justin Hoye, pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church, Nevada, Mo., and St. Bridget's in Rich Hill, Mo.: Before his death, Jesus prayed that God the Father might consecrate his followe rs in the truth so that his disciples "may all be one" (John 17). Jesus understood that unity testifies to the truth, and from a Christian viewpoint the continual fractioning of individuals into mo re and more camps who share neither tradition, creed, morals or practices is scandalous.
I would invite anyone who was faced with a dispute within his or her religious community to ask himself or herself whether this is truly a matter of substance — a matter of truth — or simpl y a cosmetic affair.
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If the latter, I would suggest re-examining what links him or her with the congregation and honestly reflect on whether one's commitment isn't just a little too tenuous. Those who may leave a community because of a lousy choir, the length of worship or a leak in the roof are simultaneously making a statement about their values.
If you find that the issue is a matter of truth, then engage the issue. Why are divisions forming as they are? Who has the authority to resolve the issue? Where do you find truth and clarit y in a world of competing voices?
Rather than allow an internal dispute to shake one's faith, see such an occasion as an opportunity to be consecrated in the truth and to grow in one's beliefs.
Play the mediator
The Rev. Duke Tufty, Unity Temple on the Plaza: If the dispute in your congregation bothers you now, if you go it will continue to bother you for years and years to come.
There may be resentment because you feel you were deprived of your spiritual home. There may be personal animosities toward those who were involved in the dispute. You may become angry over how the dispute turned out.
Leaving is not going to make your dissatisfaction go away, for it will go with you, in your mind, until you come to a peaceful resolution with it.
The best way to come to a peaceful resolution is to engage yourself in the dispute. Every conflict should engage three sides: the two sides who disagree with each other and one side that is totally neutral and focused on finding a solution that the other two parties can live with.
You could play a very important role in this dispute by working toward conflict resolution. There are wonderful online resources that clearly and easily state procedures to resolve differen ces. If you engage yourself in this process and it gets resolved you will feel good about the situation for years to come.
There is one solution to this dispute that is the very best for the church. Engage yourself with others of a like mind to assist the opposing parties in finding it. It may be challenging, b ut persist and you will find it is quite rewarding.