“If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18 NRSV).
As related, a two-year-old was calmly playing with a perfectly rounded ping-pong ball when his four-year-old sister arrived on the scene; she too found another ball except her ball was dented and out of shape. The four-year-old then took her brother’s perfect ball and handed him the dented one; he immediately rejected the idea, tossed the defected ball, and chased after his sister all the while angrily screaming, “Mine! Mine!” He was outrun by his sister, who by that time was up the stairs and out of sight. What does the helpless two-year-old do? Assessing that he was no match for someone twice his size and smarts, he turned to grandpa to intervene. Conflict is consistent with everyday life whether we are two or a hundred. To echo the words of James Earl Massey: “Everywhere one looks, conflicts between persons and groups are playing themselves out, with evident and uncivil struggling over differences in values, ethics, religious views, land claims, territorial rights, and a host of other fractious debates. Conflict holds center stage in our time, and voices of wisdom addressed to those involved in the fray ─ or to enlist persons of good will to help quell the conflicts ─ are all too few.”
Dr. Massey gave this statement in 1997, and the profound truth still applies today. One only needs to pause for a moment to recognize the sound of conflicts that permeate our thoughts and the world around us. The message of “peace on earth good will to men" is not only a timely one but a necessity for our very survival and Christian witness. Pastors and teachers must view conflict resolution not only as a relational task but a Biblical mandate. The choice of ignoring the suffering and injustice in our circles, communities, and even the world is not optional. The adage “silence means consent” forces us to accept the cost of being on the side of truth and justice.
When the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission was started in South Africa, it was founded on the premise that reconciliation would not be possible without truth. “Commissions often hold public hearings in which victims/survivors can share their stories and sometimes confront their former abusers. These processes sometimes include the hope of forgiveness for past crimes and the hope that society can thereby be healed and made whole again. The public reconciliation process is sometimes praised for offering a path to reconciliation, and sometimes criticized for promoting impunity and further traumatizing victims.”  Churches face the same task of creating ethical mechanisms for dealing with matters of conflict and justice. The adoption of Biblical templates for the purpose of reconciliation may be optional for the larger society but not so for the church. The following three processes from the book of Matthew provide a helpful and practical template for a pathway to resolution in most conflicts.
1. Assertiveness: In most conflict situations, assertiveness is required especially on the part of the offended. Assertiveness is the ability to ask for what one needs and to express to another what one feels or have suffered because of the acts of another. Jesus instructs, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one” (Mt. 18:15). The ability to break the silence is the first and most difficult step for most individuals involved in a conflict; often, the fear of reprisals and intimidation make it difficult to break the silence.
2. Mediation: "Mediation" in its broadest sense may be defined as the act of intervening between parties at variance for the purpose of reconciling them, or between parties not necessarily hostile for the purpose of leading them into an agreement or covenant. The mediation process as we can see in the Matthean instruction is not without limitations and is effective only if the offender is willing to listen. Assertiveness and active listening skills require training and discernment, and, in many situations, individuals resort to “cutting off” the other and the conversation ceases. The sin or offense will need to be brought to the church and may result in excommunication. (Mt.18:16-17)
3. Forgiveness: Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance (however justified it might be), and with an increased ability, wishes the offender well (Google Dictionary). According to Worthington, there are two types of forgiveness in scripture: decisional and emotional forgiveness. In the instruction on prayer, we are taught to pray for forgiveness as we forgive others (Mt.6:12 ). Peter reaches out to Jesus on the issue of forgiveness and asks the question we are all faced with at times when trying to resolve long standing and repetitive offences. ‘Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times”’ (Mt. 18:21 NRSV). According to Worthington, to forgive on this level has societal implications. The Biblical understanding of forgiveness is a costly one and requires both the emotional and decisional response. The task of conflict resolution is a difficult one in any context: to be the “salt of the earth and the light of the world” means to be like Jesus the reconciler of all the world “People who have been sinned against in any conflict find grace to forgive by experiencing the grace of being known intimately and forgiven themselves.”
Approaches to conflict resolution abound, and we owe much to the men and women who have changed the future of our world by stepping into the fray of conflict. The task is still not an easy one, the wisdom of the Apostle Paul to the Roman church is good advice for us today: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18 NRSV). The heart of God is for humankind to be reconciled to God and to each other; the motif of love throughout the Bible consistently reminds us to care for the other. When questioned by a lawyer about the greatest commandment: “He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’” (Mt.22:37-40). The work of conflict resolution requires internal and collective transformation through the blood of Jesus. Paul reminds us of this possibility in his letter to the church at Colossae: “through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross (Col. 1:20). We can approach each conflict with the knowledge that through the power of the cross, we can be assertive in the face of opposition. We can seek the wisdom of a mediator and the chief mediator Christ himself, and we can forgive as we have been forgiven and bring glory to the cross.
. Truth_and_reconciliation_commission, 8 November 2019, at 21:47, accessed November 27, 2019, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth_and_reconciliation_commission. Reconciliation.
. Everett L. Worthington Jr., A Just Forgiveness: Responsible Healing without Excusing Injustice (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2009).
. Brenda Salter McNeil & Rick Richardson, The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2009).