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“Guiding Christians to the Best Conciliation Process and Preparing Them to Participate Well in It”
What is conciliation? And, more specifically, what is Christian conciliation? As an attorney and Christian conciliator, I work with Christians so that scripture is the supreme authority governing every aspect of the conciliation process. Christian conciliation is a process for reconciling people and resolving disputes out of court in a biblical manner – a conciliatory process, rather than the adversarial process in which I was trained as a lawyer.
Over my years as a litigator, I saw that no party ever walked out of a courtroom wanting to shake hands with the other party. Ever. Then I was introduced to Christian Conciliation through Ken Sande’s book The Peacemaker. I was convicted of my own long-term conflict with my managing attorney, followed the book, and walked through a confession, an apology, and the restorative steps. It was an amazing experience which turned both my life and my life’s work around. I became a Christian conciliator and now walk alongside Christians in conflict.
As a conciliator, I first try to help people recognize that the fact of the problem itself is really the problem. Fight (defensive responses) or flight (escaping or ignoring) activities just don’t work as solutions to disputes or problems. These are our natural responses, but hating another person (bitterness) truly is a poison we drink ourselves wishing the other would die. Bitterness is a terrible solution, and it kills joy as well as the possibility of a godly life.
By “hate”, I am referring to biblical hate, which Tim Keller defines as “ill will”. As described in Proverbs 24:17: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice.” This type of hatred, or seeds of hatred, is often concealed, not only from the other party but also from ourselves.
When we look deeper into Jesus’s command that “you shall not murder” (Matthew 5:21), we find that Jesus goes on to say that even if you look at someone and call them “fool” or “raca”, then you, too, are guilty of murder. People in conflict will respond with “that’s not murder” – maybe disdain, or ill will. As Tim Keller suggests, Jesus would ask them, “How do you think murder starts?”
This verse does not imply that one can never say anything of negative evaluation of someone. Instead, it encourages the reader to examine their communication in order to determine motive, attitude, and ill will. This verse helps to illustrate how when someone wrongs another person, oftentimes “ill will” will sneak into the heart of the person wronged, leading them to begin to root for the other person to be unhappy. Ill will, in this little seed form, can begin to twist them, shape them and, in a sense, defeat them. The feeling of “ill will” ends up putting them in conflict with the other person.
Once the person recognizes their usual methods of dealing with the dispute are not working, I then organize my coaching around the only factor of the conflict they can truly control: themselves. What is their part in the dispute? Do they have ownership of some contributory factor? This self-reflection is the most important work to be done in preparation for dealing with the dispute. It starts with one-on-one coaching.
This kind of coaching is not quick and easy. Rather, it is a gentle, searching, and biblically instructed dive into the heart to determine its motives. The best guide for the “heart work” we do is James 4:1-12 (“What causes fights and quarrels among you?”) along with ensuring that we stay alert to the fears that could be underlying the behaviors of the parties and tripping them up along the way.
Obviously, another key factor is the assessment of the personality and style of thinking of the person with whom I am working. Add to that the evaluation of the spiritual maturity with which they come to the table. Spiritual growth may be much of the work we are addressing in the coaching – which may be one session or many. Prayer, along with scripture, guides us all the way through.
The need for coaching often continues during a mediation. If necessary, we will step aside for “private conversations” when they are needed and helpful.
There is a final third step in preparing for the conciliation: I help all parties involved examine the circumstances, the dynamics of the people involved, who and what are truly the focus of the situation, and what process options are available. We then select the process that best fits their situation and, hopefully, set it into motion.
The processes are as follows:
- Coaching – a one-on-one activity – involves working with the individual to draw out the underlying reasons for a dispute or whatever “matters of the heart” are impacting attitudes, motives, or actions that are inconsistent with Christ’s commands and teachings and that are dishonoring to God.
- Mediation is relatively informal and is totally voluntary. It is a process where a mediator facilitates the communication between the parties. Mediators are concerned as much with reconciling the parties as with helping them settle their substantive differences. The goal is to assist the parties to find their own best resolution to the dispute.
- Arbitration is a more formal process where the arbitrator acts in a different role – as a judge – and their decisions are legally binding. Going directly to an arbitration without trying mediation first is usually not advisable.
- Another option is mediation/arbitration: the parties agree to mediate first and, if unsuccessful, the parties are legally obligated to proceed to arbitration.
As you may imagine, just getting through the initial stages and identifying the best process takes time, especially if you have one side who is not really wanting to participate – which is often the case.
The initial consultation and then the one-on-one coaching of each party are all crucial in getting a process selected and running. This coaching process starts the individual work in each party that will be very necessary for the process of mediation, or joint meeting together, to have success.
One of the biggest hurdles in the conciliation process is the belief of parties that mediation always results in a compromise, or a splitting of the difference. This is simply not true. It is amazing when people recognize their contribution to the problem (which they have totally missed all the way up to contacting me) and are ready to hear the other side. It is wonderful when workable solutions appear from their hearts. The generosity of these solutions often astounds me. And the rejoicing over the reconciling of relationships is a total win for all.
The key is the Gospel as spelled out and applied in scripture. Christian conciliators follow it – all the way through. It is only through each party giving up their feeling of superiority, releasing the other from the “full liability” they had previously imagined was a necessity, and overcoming the evil “ill will” in their motivation, as outlined in scripture, that they then can productively speak truth to each other as laid out in Ephesians 4:25-32.
These steps as worked through by the parties, by God’s grace, bring confession, repentance, and forgiveness as needed to heal their relationships, disputes, and conflict. It is a joy when they step out of the judgment seat and into the peacemaker role. The example of the Lord as a servant who voluntarily took the vengeance we deserved becomes the focal point and motivator. ♦
Candace McCune is a Colorado attorney with litigation experience since 1987. Since 2006, she has limited her practice to mediation and arbitration. McCune is the Founder and Director of Conciliation Ministries of Colorado, Mentor/Instructor for Peacemaker Ministries, and a member of the Christian Legal Society. She served on Group Reconciliation team with AoR then created online conflict coaching and mediation presence. She is a certified Christian Conciliator with the ICC and a Certified Christian Reconciler with RW360.
McCune, Candace. “Guiding Christians to the Best Conciliation Process and Preparing Them to Participate Well in It.” Canopy Forum, March 29, 2022. https://canopyforum.org/2022/03/29/guiding-christians-to-the-best-conciliation-process-and-preparing-them-to-participate-well-in-it/.