Division is a cancer in a community, church, or family. And you need to know exactly how to stop it.
I was only a child. My family was fighting as every family does. Charged words were yelled. Doors slammed. Walls, both physical and unseen, went up in a family that had been united.
How many of us have experienced this same crushing effect in our families, communities, or churches?
Sides drawn, relationships redefined, issues etching their deep lines in a group of previously close loved ones. People divided.
This is one of the most common causes of problems, prejudices, and strife among God’s people. It’s also what causes hate in a secular community.
And it can start over anything — what type of church service to offer, how to spend money, a look someone gave and how it was interpreted, a perceived injustice, unfairness between parents, misunderstandings between cultures, differences in income gaps, and as we all know, police conflicts and social justice.
These wounds can engrain so deeply they become permanent boundaries etched in the soul of a family, church, or community. We will not cross here, the line has been set.
But there is a way to stop it, and perhaps more importantly there is a way to heal a community, church, or family, no matter how deep its division runs.
This post is about exactly how to do it.
The Secret to Preventing Division: A Soft Word Spoken
When I was a kid and my family went through those horrible fights that seemed at the time to threaten to tear us apart, I used to pray Jesus would be in the middle of us. That he would actually stand right there, binding us all together. I believed wholeheartedly that Jesus did this, and I still do.
But I also know something has to be done to heal the fresh wounds that threaten division and creating permanent scars. I remember thinking during a fight, sometimes I was a part of and sometimes not, “Oh God, please help me not to have to be the one to say something.” I knew someone had to step up and I wanted so badly for someone else to do it.
I think a lot of us are in that place during a conflict.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
The one who has to be the first person to apologize or bring words of healing is always YOU.
Every time. There’s no avoiding it, much as we’d like someone else to do it. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way — not in real life. The person who has to walk over to the door of the person who’s hurt and whisper through it, pick up the phone, or stop a disgruntled acquaintance at church, and softly, sincerely speak words that will mend the relationship is you.
But look at what an effect it has:
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15.1)
Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. (Proverbs 16.24)
The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life. (Proverbs 15.4)
That is the secret to preventing bitterness and causing division to raise its walls.
A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel. (Proverbs 15.18)
Notice how it is the opposite of what caused the problem?
The secret to healing a conflict is the opposite of what caused it always brings healing. Soft words of asking forgiveness or mending another’s wounds must be spoken. And YOU have to do it.
Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city. (Proverbs 16.32)
Going to battle over the conflict will NEVER work. The warrior who tries to take the city back inevitably leads to its downfall. It is only patience and gentle words that heal relationships.
The secret to preventing division is soft words spoken.
The Secret to Healing Division: An Act of True Love
However, when division is already deeply rooted, words aren’t enough. The rift is so deep they won’t be taken to heart or they’ll seem shallow and insignificant.
Words alone cannot heal division once it is rooted.
At that point, as cliché as it sounds, only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart.
Please listen carefully. This is the secret to healing division, no matter how deep it goes.
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you. (Proverbs 25.22)
This is not just a Christian principle. It is a life principle that will succeed 100% of the time when it is used in a setting in which humans are involved. The reason is, even if we tried, we cannot deny the power of acts of love. They are the antidote to hate, a warmth to bitterness, and a salve to injustice.
It is a secret weapon we are powerless against, a core design flaw in our genetic code, an irresistible force we are engineered at heart to bend to.
That is why Jesus says,
I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. (Matthew 5.39-41)
Do you remember the riots in Ferguson months ago after a black teenager was shot by a white police officer?
The moment I heard how the police department responded I knew without a doubt they were doomed to fail.
Because they responded as one who takes a city, as warriors, and the only balm for such a deep cultural wound was patience and acts of kindness. I thought about emailing the Ferguson police department — that’s how sure I was that I knew a plan that would’ve devolved the riots within a week.
Instead of adding riot gear and bringing in more troops and tanks, a sign of war to the citizens of Ferguson, the police should’ve set up booths next to the picket lines and handed picketers free Big Macs and waters. As an expression of love to a hurting community. They should’ve responded with empathy, listening to their complaints, giving audience to their pain, no matter how inappropriate or dangerous they thought the situation was.
Had the police gone out of their way to accommodate the picketers, even to do acts of love for them to reverse the voltage of anger, I believe the riots and picketing would’ve been over within the week.
Instead they became a breeding ground for every bitter, young African American to come join the fight.
Their response, which certainly was textbook, unknowingly fueled the riot, rather than solving it. And fine speeches, no matter how genuine (even by an African American police captain they brought in) wouldn’t change a thing. The only answer was an act of love.
An act of love is the only power that can heal a deep wound.
Some cultural conflict will happen again, and when it does, this secret weapon is the only answer.
It is the answer for a church divided, for a family, and even for a community.
Chic-fil-A reveals the power of it. Remember when they were black-balled by the media for their unpopular opinion on the most controversial hot topic in our society — gay marriage? A couple weeks later, the issue was totally gone from the media. No articles instigating social attacks, swinging the pendulum of public opinion against Chic-fil-A. How did this happen? It wasn’t a show of support by thousands of Christians who bought Crispy Chicken sandwiches on one highly publicized day. It happened because a little news article you probably remember was published: a Chic-fil-A manager walked out to the LGBT protestors outside his store and offered them free sandwiches. That act of love, and a few others since, fizzled the attacks, warmed them to the core, and they ended.
People on the offensive ready themselves for the next wave of attacks — in a community, in a family, and in a church — but they are completely taken off guard when you offer love instead. There is no defense for love.
Division is a cancer. You have the cure. You have to choose to be the one, but if you counter hurt with patient words, if you disarm bitterness with acts of love, no weapon formed against you will prosper. In fact, the only weapon that ever defeated hatred was love.
Jesus stands right there in the middle of it.