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Be angry, but do not sin. (Ephesians 4:26)

There is a difference between feeling hurt and anger, and feeling hate and bitterness. We need to ask for forgiveness for times when our anger has led to us behaving hatefully. Such apologies are necessary and helpful.

But we only confuse the issues if we assume that feeling hurt or anger is the same as feeling hate and bitterness. Feeling hurt or anger is unavoidable, and such feelings are not wrong in themselves. Sin only results when we do not deal with our hurt in a Christian way.

There is a great need to learn how to listen to people with whom we disagree. We need to make an effort to see things as they see them, and to genuinely appreciate what was going on in their head when communication broke down. But in our listening, we may also hear things that indicate that they do not want to solve the problem.

Something that particularly impressed me with some Quaker writings that I have been reading lately is that they did not try to pretend that strategies such as listening sympathetically would work in every situation. They confessed that communication does really require a certain amount of willingness from both parties. If you do all you can to extend your hand, open your heart, and listen sympathetically, and if the other party still chooses to spit in your face, then sometimes it becomes necessary to simply walk away.

Obviously, when that happens, the original goal (i.e. continued dialogue in the hope that differences could be resolved) becomes frustrated, and must be replaced with other approaches to the problem. Both sides are more or less left free to develop their various "monster" theories about the other side. And this is why it is so important to do all you can to salvage the relationship before you walk away from it.

There is, however, still one thin thread of hope that can sustain us even after we have walked away, and that is to hang onto some possible explanation for why the relationship must be put on "hold" for a period of time. Such an explanation will, by its very nature, generate cognitive dissonance. It seeks to believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that the other party does not really want to hurt us. Because separation and continued hurt seem to contradict this theory, it will not work indefinitely or in the face of continual assault. At some point you may need to fully accept that they want to be your enemy, and then just try to love them anyway.

We have, for example, often entertained the theory that God himself might actually engineer situations where he pits one Christian against another, in an attempt to see if they are both willing to forsake the other in preference to following him. In such a situation, you "forsake" the other person, but you still maintain the thought in the back of your mind that the whole exercise may just be a test. You remind yourself that the other person could possibly be thinking that he or she is "doing God service" by attacking you. And if this is the case, then there is still the hope that they will pass the test, and then God will allow you to be reconciled with them.

Jesus may have been illustrating this approach when he said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," as soldiers drove nails into his hands. (Luke 23:34) He had convinced himself that the soldiers were acting ignorantly, and that they did not have personal feelings of animosity toward him and what he stood for.

However, there are limits to such an approach. Jesus also said, "Get behind me, Satan!" when Peter argued against him going through with the crucifixion. (Matthew 16:23)

During negotiations between two parties in a disagreement, it is necessary to exercise the hard line and the soft line both at the same time; but the emphasis needs to be on the soft line (i.e. believing the best about the other person) for negotiations to proceed.

If negotiations break down, and open hostility breaks out, the emphasis will almost always shift to the hard line (i.e. that the other person must be approached with caution), even though you must still stay open to the possibility that you have misunderstood their intentions.

In other words, during negotiations, you do not lose track of the fact that there are differences (and that the other person could be totally insincere); but you shove that to the back of your mind and concentrate on what you have in common. If, after you have tried everything you can to patch up the relationship, and there appears to be no opening for negotiation, then your differences move to the front. You begin to accept as fact that the person really is hostile. But even then, you should do what you can to retain the possibility (in the back of your mind) that you still may not have understood something, and that they may still be sincere.

I have noticed a subtle but important difference between the articles on management, conflict resolution, etc. that are put out for the business world, and the principles which I have learned from reading the Bible. In fact, I have even come to see how it may have actually been a blessing that I did not go through system training in management before beginning to lead this community.

The system, for example, does not have any equivalent of Jesus' explanation for one type of rejection. He said, "If they reject you, know that they rejected me first." (John 15:20)

The system management theories emphasise that everyone is right in their own way; that you must appeal to the selfish instincts in all of the parties, by showing them what benefits they can get personally from resolution; that you don't deal with the whole person, but just with those aspects of conflict which are making them dysfunctional in your work place; that you don't get too black and white about right and wrong, etc.

There is some truth in all of this management theory, and we have tried to take it on board. Even with the statement by Jesus (that they're only rejecting us because they rejected him first) we must be careful that we do not assume wrongly that we have perfectly represented Jesus in a particular situation. When we feel that someone has rejected Jesus, or that they are rejecting our peace offers because they are afraid of the truth that we represent, we must still stay open to correction.

But there is truth in what Jesus said about rejection. Notice that a sincere person will be constantly saying, "Lord, is it I?" The last disciple to ask such a question was Judas himself. (Matthew 26:25) He didn't need to, because he knew the answer. He knew he was the guilty culprit, and such a question was the last thing he wanted to ask. A similar attitude prevails amongst the insincere.

If you are involved in a conflict, keep asking yourself, "Lord, have I missed something? Could I be the one in the wrong?" At the same time, notice that people committed to being our enemies never ask such a question. It is unthinkable for them that they could be wrong, and it is a terrible sin for anyone like ourselves to even secretly think of them as being wrong.

When you are wrong (and when you are not prepared to change), the one possibility that you cannot afford to consider is the possibility that you may be wrong. Your whole case would collapse if you did. So you must run away from the negotiating table. You must hide yourself and your followers from the truth. And you will not be satisfied until you have totally silenced the one who dared to consider that you were wrong in the first place.

This is what we have experienced over and over with people who are blindly opposed to the truth that we stand for. It is why they almost never come out in the open with the specifics of their grievances against us, or to publicly discuss differences in a setting where we would have any right of reply.

There is nothing in what we have experienced of religious bigots which seems to indicate humility before God. In fact, it really is not very often that God even gets a mention. Check it out. Their reasoning is all based around system lies that defend wealth, the government, educational institutions, big business, and various churchy traditions and doctrines, all of which have the effect of tossing out the teachings of Jesus. You never hear a religious bigot arguing in defence of Jesus or his teachings.

The Bible says, "If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged." (1 Corinthians 11:31) Keep examining yourselves, and keep praying for your enemies. Keep looking for ways that you can understand their position. But do not become discouraged if that in itself does not solve all of your problems. Sometimes you just have to "be angry, but not sin" as the verse at the start of this article said.

There is a time and place for ending negotiations, if we can do so without sinning. Their actions may make us angry, but before God we must be certain that we do not hate them or wish revenge on them. We should also keep asking God if there is anything that we can do to bring peace between warring factions. After you have done that, just leave the rest up to God.

(See also Wise Doves.)

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