Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Collaborative Process: A Christian Response to Conflict Resolution

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

As new creations in Christ, we have different obligations in times of conflict. Christians are called to recognize the power of conflict to transform lives. Christ himself recognized that conflict is inevitable. After all, we are fallen creatures. As such, we are broken. The remarkable thing about being a Christian is not that we are without conflict, but that we understand that our Lord and Savior can use conflict to change us, and through us to transform others. In Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen articulates that our lives are to be taken by God, blessed by God, broken by God and then given by God. It is from our brokenness and in our brokenness that most conflict emerges: whether it is the broken marriage, the lost job, the failed business, the suffering pain caused by someone else’s negligence. Physical, mental or emotional pain surrendered to God is experienced in ways radically different from physical, mental or emotional pain lived without surrendering such pain to God.[1] For the Christian, conflict stemming from brokenness becomes an opportunity for transformation. For the Christian, inter-personal conflict is almost always a spiritual issue, and sometimes a spiritual issue involving legal issues.

When the conflict involves spiritual issues with legal ramifications, many Christians turn to the judicial system to work out those issues. However, in a traditional litigation process, it is most likely that the spiritual issues will be neglected in the process. The judicial system, while very effective at creating enforceable court orders, is not effective at handling the spiritual issues underlying the conflict. However, conflicts with legal ramifications are unavoidable. Therefore, Christians must have a process for resolving conflict that does not run the risk of bankrupting their lives.

What would the dispute resolution process look like if in fact we abided by the teachings of Christ and his apostles? It is likely that such a dispute resolution process would bear fruit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Galatians 5:22. Does the traditional litigation process leave litigants with a sense of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control? Think of the traditional litigation process in the case of divorce. The litigants are more often than not left feeling out of control, more resentful, angrier, with their lives in more turmoil than ever before.

There is, however, an alternative that is radically different than the traditional litigation process. This process is known as the Collaborative Process. The Collaborative Process is a non-adversarial dispute resolution process in which parties commit themselves to collaborate in order to reach a mutually acceptable agreement without court intervention. The Collaborative Process is attributed to Stuart Webb, a family law attorney from Minnesota who searched for a better way to resolve conflicts in divorce matters. The Collaborative Process is seen by many in the legal profession to be a “revolutionary process.”[2]

Many in the legal profession like to think of the modern litigation process as “evolving” into this revolutionary process known as the Collaborative Process. However, Christians recognize that this process is akin to the process the Apostle Paul envisioned nearly two thousand years ago when he advised the Christians in Corinth to settle their disputes without going to court. Their society had set up a legal system for disagreements to be resolved. However, according to Paul, disagreeing Christians should not have to go to secular courts to resolve their differences. “If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?” 1 Corinthians 6:1. In fact, as Paul addressed his congregation in Corinth, he advised these Christians to find other Christians to assist with the resolution of their dispute.

Jesus advised his followers to “come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” Matthew 5:25-26. Indeed, taking matters to court runs the risk of leaving litigants bankrupt, both financially and spiritually. Even the Old Testament advised against taking matters to court: “If a wise man goes to court with a fool, the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace.” Proverbs 29:9.

Therefore, a Christian model of dispute resolution would encourage parties in conflict to find resolution outside of the courtroom, with other Christians assisting in the resolution process. A Christian model of dispute resolution would yield the fruits of the Spirit. A Christian model of dispute resolution would provide Christians with an opportunity to not only resolve conflict, but to forgive wrongdoings and reconcile relationships. A Christian model of conflict resolution would result in the parties being able to move forward in peace. “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.” Proverbs 16:7. Ultimately, a Christian model of conflict resolution would result in lives that grew closer to God in the midst of conflict, instead of turning away from God out of shame and pain.

The Collaborative Process provides a Christian model for resolving disputes (though, of course, not exclusively reserved for Christians). Through the Collaborative Process, Christians are given a forum for allowing the Spirit to transform the conflict into love, joy, peace, endurance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Through the Collaborative Process, the professionals involved and the parties in conflict are given an opportunity to experience the true peace that passes all understanding. Through the Collaborative Process, we are given the opportunity to follow more nearly and dearly our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
[1] Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved, p. 98
[2] Chip Rose, “The Collaborative (R)evolution” published 2003 on

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