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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 22.02.2024

February 22nd, 2024

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.

Any person in leadership will encounter conflict. I’ve been a Bishop for nearly 10 years and have observed a wide variety of conflicts and people’s response to them. Many of the international conflicts that blight our world are larger scale versions of the ones we are familiar with. Conflict is inevitable because we are all different and have different preferences. Our personality type and life experience predispose us to accept certain arguments more than others. We rarely make decisions on the basis of cold rationality.  Gut and emotions play an important role. Christians are no different from anyone else in that regard. But we have a specific vocation to be peacemakers. It’s a key characteristic that distinguishes the values of the Kingdom in Matthew Chapter 5.  This can be a very demanding calling which takes courage and emotional intelligence. We need to have insight both into ourselves and others.  Over the next couple of videos, I want to share some reflections on peace making.  Before I start, I advise that any examples are altered to protect the innocent, but they are real!

We begin with ourselves. We must be aware of our own motivators and unconscious biases. A colleague from a former diocese worked as a civil servant in the House of Lords before ordination. Prior to a major debate, he was asked by three different peers: conservative, labour, and liberal-democrat for help with their speeches. He was somewhat bemused when during the debate his three contributions were used verbatim by the respective peers in their speeches.  My colleague simply put himself in their shoes and wrote accordingly – rather faithfully to the political spirit of each. Its fairly easy to predict where political preference will take you; much less so for our own prejudices.  A peacemaker needs to be attentive to these, otherwise they will give a preferential hearing to one over the other. We cannot escape our unconscious biases. They are wired into our brains as a survival mechanism. But unless we are aware of them they will control us without us realising it.  Its not the crass ones but the subtle that are the most dangerous

A good peace maker starts from a position of humility.  I remember an exercise on a Bridgebuilders course where we were invited into a negotiation in a large group where only compromise would allow us to come to a lucrative conclusion.  Even with the prospect of financial reward, the different methods presented meant the conversation very quickly became tetchy. Egos came to the fore and no agreement was reached in the time allowed.  Indeed, the prospect of agreement became more unlikely the longer the process was allowed to continue.  It was a scary illustration of how well-meaning people, with high functioning social skills (we were all clergy) can get into quite serious conflict very quickly. Peacemakers are only too aware of their own propensity to get themselves into the same scrapes they are trying to solve. We never help to resolve disagreement from a place of superiority.

Peacemakers need to attend to their own insecurities.  Jesus was so rooted in the affirmation of his Father that he didn’t need it from others. Jesus interactions in the Gospels are striking for their lack of expediency. He told it like it was, whether people wanted to hear or not. We, on the other hand, tend to want to be liked too much. In conflict resolution it can lead to both parties in a dispute thinking that you agree with them.  Although silence doesn’t imply assent, the little comments in normal conversation driven by our need to be accepted can prevent a critical engagement.

Finally, for this week, we need to be aware of projection.  All of us have had some bad experiences in the past, be they of bullying, or rejection, which cloud our ability to read situations accurately.  We read things through those past experiences and magnify issues, subconsciously adding in our own baggage.

So, peace making is complex! Even as I’ve been putting this video together I’m aware of my own weaknesses in all these areas. All of us seeking to bring conflict resolution and peace need the insight of the Holy Spirit to expose our own sins.  Forgiveness is freely available in Christ and the promise of insight in the midst of intractability.  We live in such a fractured society, with such low emotional intelligence and the relational carnage that results from it. The Gospel of grace, forgiveness and transformation feels like something we could offer as a gift. Perhaps we need to get our own house a little more in order first.


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