Saint Paul the Apostle provides a roadmap to healing division in his letter to the Church of Corinth, which urges the congregation to counter discord with love.
by Neely Rentz Lane
As a part of my ordination journey, I attended a workshop guiding clergy in conflict resolution and mediation skills. Conflict is inevitable in every social system—families, churches, businesses, etc.—but it can be a healthy opportunity for growth. When our social systems are experiencing conflict, our goal should be to remain a calm or non-anxious presence to avoid contributing to the uneasiness. We can show up in the conference room, the zoom call or around the dinner table as a non-anxious presence in times of high tension. It is about entering into dialogue and actively listening to one another. Active listening involves listening as another person dives in, and it is a way of showing love.
Paul exemplifies this in a letter to the Church of Corinth in 1 Corinthians 13:1–13. The Church in Corinth was in a quarrel. The body was up in arms about how it was to gather and be a church. People had stopped respecting one another and letting everyone’s voice be heard around the table. They started posting about one another on Facebook and engaging in gossip while making assumptions about one another, so when the church gathered on Sunday morning, their worship space was disruptive and divided because they did not recognize one another’s gifts.
“Love is the willingness to engage in conflict mediation, resolution and transformation. Do we not need that more than ever in our society?”Neely Rentz Lane
As conflict mediator, Paul holds space for the divided and arguing congregation by urging them to engage in resolution on the basis of love—messy, hard, real, vulnerable, scrappy love. Paul writes to remind them that while they have different spiritual gifts, each comes from the same spirit—a variety of voices, beliefs, ideas and opinions, but one Lord. All these gifts are meant to come together in unity to glorify God, not to become the basis of division or separation.
Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Beloved children of God, have you forgotten the way of love? Have you forgotten what love looks like? What God’s love looks like? Because if you have forgotten, then your gifts don’t mean anything.” He is writing to the Corinthians to engage in conflict resolution by actively listening to one another so that the body could be who God has created and is creating them to be: the church. People of Newton County, we must remember what love is. Love is the willingness to engage in conflict mediation, resolution and transformation. Do we not need that more than ever in our society?
These past two years have been challenging. The temperature in our nation has been hot. The division is heavy, real and hurtful. We know it all too well. We can feel it when we walk into a room, only to be sized up and labeled. The conflict in our hearts, homes and nation can be felt when scrolling through your Facebook page, in our body language and in how we speak to and about one another.
We are not much different than the Corinthians. We are now the Church in 2022, and Paul is telling us to remember what love is.
Neely Rentz Lane is the senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Covington. For information, visit FPCCOV.org.