Today a new President of the United States will be inaugurated. After the long, divisive, and at times acrimonious campaign and the drawn out transitional period, it is almost a relief to have the new President in office. From now on the President will be judged on what he says and achieves. But while acknowledging that many Americans will welcome the new President with hearts full of hope and anticipation, others no doubt will feel ambivalent or alienated. We hope that the new President will at least attempt to reach out to all Americans in his Inaugural address and to unite the country in his vision for it. But having said that it is important that we acknowledge the issues that do legitimately divide us as a nation: issues ranging from immigration policy to climate change to education and health care. People have strong opinions both ways on these issues and more.
None of us particularly like conflict and often do what we can to avoid it. But conflict is never resolved by avoidance! What I find really encouraging in the New Testament is how up front the scriptures are concerning the presence of conflict in the early church. First Corinthians opens by acknowledging the conflict in the Corinthian Church: “there are quarrels among you.” The gospels recount Jesus’ various conflicts with the Pharisees and the Scribes and the Temple authorities. In Acts we hear about the major conflict between Peter and Paul over the issue of circumcision. The positive thing is that the New Testament is upfront about the various conflicts in the early church. We could say that being truly human embraces conflict and also attempts to resolve it. In Acts we hear of the first Council of Jerusalem when the early Christian leaders resolved the issue of circumcision. But because of the presence of conflict Paul is very clear about the need to maintain unity. There are some issues that are not easily resolved. But as Christians we continue to live and work and to love each other despite our real differences. For ultimately we believe unity comes from God; that we are called to be reconcilers and peacemakers. And that does not mean papering over conflicts or pretending that they don’t exist. Rather it means being upfront with them and working out ways both to resolve them or at least to live with difference.
I suspect that in coming days and months there will be plenty of issues facing us that may give rise to real conflict and difference of opinion. How we deal with conflict in our midst is an important test for our Christian faith. Is our “unity of the Spirit” more important than being right all the time? It is easy to take hard and fast positions and to defend them vigorously. But it is far more difficult to listen carefully; to assess the conflict; and to agree to differ “in love.”
I pray that as Christians we model the maintaining of the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace. This will be a vital witness to our community and nation.