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“Technology in Service of Biblical Dispute Resolution: The Peacemaker App – A Conversational Approach to Effective Reconciliation”
Written by Lee Ann Bambach
Based on an interview with P. Brian Noble
This article is based on an interview with P. Brian Noble, the CEO of Peacemaker Industries, who presented at “The Promise and Perils of Religious Arbitration: New Research, Emerging Trends, and Practitioners’ Perspectives” virtual conference. In his interview and related presentation, Noble discusses his organization’s newly-developed app, The Peacemaker Lite app, which has been used in certain Christian communities to teach dispute resolution skills. (Note: Canopy Forum does not endorse the Peacemaker app and the views of Peacemaker Industries do not reflect those of Canopy Forum.)
Christian conciliation arises from a deep conviction that believers should resolve disputes using Biblical principles rather than turning to the civil court system (1 Cor. 6:1-20). The modern Christian conciliation movement in the U.S. began over four decades ago, and has grown in size and sophistication over that time. Organizations like the Institute for Christian Conciliation (ICC Peace), and the Christian Conciliation Service provide training and certification to individuals — mostly lawyers and pastors — who are interested in becoming Christian conciliators, trained to help people resolve their disputes by acting as mediators or, if necessary, arbitrators. Ministries such as Peacemakers and RW360 offer seminars and workshops for those wishing to gain practical skills on how to prevent conflict and navigate conflict when it arises. Finally, there are books, pamphlets, and videos such as Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker, my 2019 book, The Path of a Peacemaker, and my most recent publication, Living Reconciled, which provide resources for individuals interested in learning how to respond to conflict biblically, and to navigate the path to reconciliation when disputes arise.
Yet in spite of all these amazing resources available, we at Peacemaker Ministries still felt that something else was needed, so we decided to harness the power of technology and develop an app.
Why an app? First, it’s important to recognize that most relational issues or even disputes do not rise to the level where they need a third party, like a trained Christian conciliator, to help resolve them. Or, they wouldn’t rise to that level if people had the tools to resolve them earlier.
Second, we would like every Christian in the world to be able to resolve their disputes in a biblical way, but no matter how many seminars and workshops we and others may offer, we are still only able to reach a small fraction of the Christian community. Many people don’t know about Christian conciliation; many also lack the money or time to take advantage of it. And if Christians did want to attend such training, we simply would not have the capacity to teach them all.
Third, while traditional books and pamphlets are great, they have definite limitations. If they’re hard copies, people aren’t going to carry them around. In fact, even if they are electronic versions on a person’s phone, people are unlikely to access them except as a reference.
So why an app? Because it is handy. It’s on people’s phones or tablets and as a result, it is accessible at any time in any place. And because we all use apps for all kinds of things, we are accustomed to turning to the digital technology in the palm of our hands to help us navigate the world. Navigating conflict should be no different.
The Peacemaker Ministries App is designed to be a biblical guide for conflict resolution that can be downloaded to anyone’s phone.
Based on biblical principles, the app guides users through an easy-to-use “Path of a Peacemaker,” walking them step-by-step through an introductory look at effective reconciliation. It uses what we call a “conversational approach.” Instead of a more legalistic approach, or utilizing a third party mediator or arbitration, to resolve a dispute, the Peacemaker app is designed to facilitate a conversation among or between people involved in some kind of conflict, what we call “Path of a Peacemaker Conversations” or, more simply, “Path Conversations.”
The Peacemaker app begins by asking that all parties involved in a conflict download the app, with the idea that they will be using the app together to guide them towards reconciliation. At the outset there are a few options – users can select from a “simple” path or an “in-depth” path. There are also options specifically designed for cases involving racial tension, helping kids, or the workplace. While each of these options is customized and slightly different, the general path is similar. For example, in the “Simple Path,” the app sets out six steps coupled with Scripture readings and prompts that identify when parties should stop and pray together. In Step 1, it sets out clear ground rules, such as: be polite, don’t interrupt, listen to each other, extend grace and understanding. Step 2 focuses on having people agree to healthy tension by respecting differences, asking questions to gain clarity, and removing defensiveness. Step 3, called “Discover the Story,” poses a series of questions designed to help people listen to others’ perspectives and share their own. Step 4 uses a series of prompts to get users to share their biblical core values, while Step 5 asks them to reflect and take personal responsibility. By the final step, Step 6, users are ready to connect, confess their own sins, apologize, and forgive each other. Even more importantly, however, the app directs the parties using it to make and implement a plan for the future, deciding how they will interact and what their relationship will look like moving forward.
From the feedback we have received, this simple plan is very effective in resolving conflicts. However, if the parties still need help resolving their disputes, the app offers two possibilities: the in-depth version of the “Path” or a link to the Peacemaker Ministries site where they can be directed to more resources and assistance. The app also contains helpful readings, videos, and other resources for users, some of which are free and some to purchase.
There is an important caveat to all of this: we never want to put people in harm’s way, and the Peacemaker App recognizes that it is not designed to deal with disputes arising from an abusive relationship or where there is a power imbalance between the parties. It therefore clearly informs users of that up front, advising people to call 911 if they are in an unsafe situation. We also give them a number to call if they are not in immediate danger but need help. The foundation for all our Peacemaker materials is that the people involved in a dispute communicate, interact, and negotiate in good faith with a heart of humility, introspection, and an authentic desire to change. If these are not present, the parties should not be using the Peacemaker app.
How successful is the app? We don’t have hard data. This is a choice we made – unlike what has been reported recently with some prayer apps, we do not collect or share any data from the users of the Peacemaker app; the only statistic we have is the number of downloads, which since its launch in 2020 is currently between 3000-4000 times. Anecdotally, however, we have heard many accounts of people who have had success in resolving conflicts by using it, and to date we have had two instances of people initiating formal mediations from the app.
The Peacemaker app is a technological tool, not magic. It doesn’t produce some kind of fairy dust we can sprinkle over people that will all of a sudden resolve their conflicts. What it does do, however, is provide a biblical approach to guiding people through simple conversations that will help them better understand each other as well as themselves. As such, it is our hope that this app, which every Christian can carry around with them and have easy access to at any time, will help serve as an instrument of grace.
P. Brian Noble is an everyday guy who loves Jesus and cares deeply about people’s relationships. He is the CEO of Peacemaker Ministries and has been an ordained minister for over 25 years. Brian proclaims hope through the gospel message as the Holy Spirit empowers believers in their daily life. He is the author of three published books, The Path of a Peacemaker, Daily Wisdom for Peacemaking, and Living Reconciled, and several other resources that aide with navigating conflict biblically.
Lee Ann Bambach is a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion and Adjunct Professor at Emory Law School. Her research focuses on the intersection of religious law and secular law, with a particular emphasis on Islamic law, especially faith-based dispute resolution and Islamic finance. She clerked for the late Honorable Sam J. Ervin III of the Fourth Circuit and worked in the D.C. office of Latham & Watkins.
Noble Brian & Bambach, Lee Ann. “Technology in Service of Biblical Resolution: The Peacemaker App – A Conversational Approach to Reconciliation.” Canopy Forum, July 19, 2022. https://canopyforum.org/2022/07/19/technology-in-service-of-biblical-dispute-resolution/