Conflict Resolution Strategies
You may have at times needed to mediate in a dispute between two parties, calm down a crowd, or help an individual resolve an internal conflict. The bible provides guidance on conducting mediation, through several successful examples. We discuss a few of the examples to understand what they did and from them learn how to prepare for, and the approach to conducting, a mediation.
The first example comes from a city clerk defusing a mob in Ephesus during Paul’s mission with Silas. A large crowd had gathered in the city theater and threatened to riot. The city clerk calmed and dispersed the crowd by explaining the facts in a way to convince them the riot was not necessary. We will also look at King Solomon’s mediation of a dispute between two ladies over a baby and commander Joab helping King David resolve an internal dispute between David the father and David the king. We use these examples to learn the Christian basis for, and approach to, mediation. The study is presented in two sessions. This session focuses on using the Scriptures (e.g., Christ’s teaching on seeking peace and Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians) to understand the city clerk’s successful mediation in Ephesus.
Riot in Ephesus
The threat of riot was started by a silver smith Demetrius that generated business making shrines of their goddess Artemis. He called together craftsmen and other workers associated with the business and told them that Paul’s preaching against human-made gods threatened to destroy their trade by discrediting Artemis. The incitement was successful as the crowd became furious, shouted slogans, and galvanized almost the entire city into an uproar. They seized two companions of Paul and dragged them into the city theater. A large crowd gathered in the theater and people were shouting slogans, including several people that didn’t know what was happening or why they were there [Acts 19:24–34].
After about two hours of the commotion, the city clerk controlled the crowd and addressed them as follows [Acts 19:35–41]. First, he said there was no need for any action to defend Artemis because the whole world already recognized Ephesus as the center of her worship and guardian of her temple. Second, he noted that if Demetrius and fellow craftsmen had legitimate grievance, they could press charges through the court and the proconsuls were available to hear their case. Third, he cautioned that the men they arrested had not done any wrong. Fourth, he advised that anybody that had a problem should take it through the city’s established legal procedures. Fifth, he warned that the gathering was not justified and could be in violation of the anti-riot ordinance. His speech satisfied the people that the gathering was unnecessary, and they dispersed.
Acceptable as Mediator?
The Ephesus event illustrates the first step in a mediation is to be accepted as a mediator by the disputants. Paul had wanted to step in but was dissuaded by the disciples and friendly officials of the province [Acts 19:30–31]. Since he would have been considered the reason for the commotion, his appearing to the crowd could conceivably have driven the situation in the wrong direction. Also, an attempt by some Jews to take control was unsuccessful. They wanted to use an unknown person, Alexander, but his attempt to control the crowd failed when they realized he was a Jew [Acts 19:33–34]. In contrast, the city clerk gained control of the crowd because he was generally known to them, had no part in the dispute, and was expected by virtue of being a public official to be knowledgeable about city laws and procedures. He was credible, and, therefore, accepted as a mediator.
Approach to Christian Mediation
In a mediation (also, conflict or dispute resolution), one intervenes in a dispute with sincere motivation to make peace among the disputants. The motivation is consistent with Christ’s teaching in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” [Matthew 5:9]. A child of God is led by the Spirit of God [Romans 8:14], which manifests through attitude that conveys the image of God as Paul describes in his letter to the Galatians [5:22–23]. Therefore, Christian mediation begins with a desire to make peace that is guided by the Holy Spirit. The mediator seeks to guide the disputants to a clear and peaceful understanding of the facts and relevant circumstances.
The mediator first assesses the situation to determine the facts and circumstances that may affect how the disputants view the facts. Then he/she needs to devise a way to communicate the facts to the disputants clearly and in a way that encourages them to seek a peaceful resolution. The mediator should seek to modify understanding as necessary to reduce misconception that may have contributed to the dispute, identify give and take options, and define potential consequences of proceeding with the dispute. In the Ephesus example, the city clerk took some time to assess the situation, probably consulting quietly with several people to understand better. He determined that people believed they gathered to protect their goddess Artemis, were incited by Demetrius and other craftsmen, had no real need to defend their god or Demetrius and his people, had arrested two people without cause, and could be in violation of the city’s anti-riot ordinance. He presented the facts to them clearly to convince the people there was no need for a mass protest.
Please join us next week as we look at the example from Solomon and Joab’s mediation of “father David versus King David.” We will draw lessons from the three examples regarding the Christian basis and approach to mediation.