|Cannibalism is typically viewed as a heinous crime. The idea is repulsive to the majority of humanity. Unfortunately, what is true regarding the physical body is not always equally true of another’s emotional and/or spiritual identity.
A friend recently recounted going to a family reunion years ago. It was his first time to be with his new wife’s extended family. Later in the day, as different relatives left he became uneasy. With each departure the remaining family members began to talk about those who had just left. Everything that was said was disparaging. After this happened several times he informed the group that to keep from being talked about, he and his wife were going to be the last ones to leave. They laughed, but hopefully it gave some reason for pause.
The biblical record indicates that churches are susceptible to spiritual cannibalism. Paul warned the Galatian believers, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Gal. 5:15). Some at Corinth were even willing to cannibalize one another in the court system (1Cor. 6:1ff).
The godly solution to this problem is not to attempt to avoid conflict. It is not to become a doormat for others to wipe their shoes on, either. Healthy conflict resolution is what’s needed. Jesus directed his disciples to go to the person and try to work it out, just the two of you. Then take someone else if that doesn’t work. As a last resort you bring the group into the situation.
Yes, Paul tells the Galatians about the time he confronted Peter in the presence of other people (Gal. 2:11-21). But there is a context of Peter’s actions already leading those other people into improper behavior. Peter’s hypocrisy was so influential that “even Barnabas was led astray” (2:13).
Few of our conflicts are parallel to Paul’s with Peter. Even then he did it face to face with Peter. Backbiting is eliminated when we address our disagree-ments directly with one another. I personally believe that nothing will be more helpful to churches becoming maturer than learning and practicing healthy conflict resolution skills. Conflict always happens when people are in community. The issue is how we will seek to resolve it.
John Kenneth King