with Dr. Bruce Hartung
Q: Is it possible to do the right thing in the wrong way?
I ask because some things in my congregation are troubling me – not because I disagree about them. People are not being treated right, and it’s about the new hymnal. I will explain.
My pastor, the elders, the worship committee, and the voters’ assembly have all decided that we should get copies of the new hymnal once enough money is raised to buy them. I happen to agree.
But there are people in our church who do not want to do this. I think they have a right to their view, but they have been singled out by others as renegades. Some — including the pastor, I am sorry to say — have said that these people are not mature in their faith. Others have said that they are on a control or power trip.
It has now come to a personal level, all because there was a difference about the hymnal.
I hope you understand my question about doing the right thing the wrong way. Basically, I think that getting the hymnal is the right thing to do. But because people are being attacked, I think it is being done in the wrong way.
Does doing this right thing justify doing it this wrong way? I don’t think so. But maybe you can set me straight.
A: I don’t believe you need to be “set straight.” As a matter of fact, I think your instincts are excellent. Yes, I think you realize it is possible to do the right thing the wrong way, although there are people who do not believe this.
There is an old phrase I have mentioned before in this column suggesting that the ends justify whatever means are necessary to achieve them. Some folks even use this to justify behavior that’s outrageous and harmful to others.
That may very well not even be happening in your congregation, since you have not mentioned people justifying their actions after being confronted about their behavior.
I do believe, however, that sharing your observations with the people — especially congregational leaders including the pastor — whom you believe are attacking others is an important first step. See if they can understand and accept your feedback. The next steps to follow will come from the response to this first step.
You might begin by saying something like, “I am concerned that we are taking our differences about the hymnal and turning them into personal conflicts. This is not a good thing to do, and I think we should stop doing that.”
If those you approach cannot accept your feedback and agree to work toward change, the issue is deeper and darker. When a conflict such as this begins to take on such personal turns, then significant trouble may be present. You may need to seek outside help from someone qualified in conflict resolution.
If your feedback is accepted, more attention begins to be paid to the impact all this has on people. It’s an important and healthy step. Then you might continue with, “I am concerned about the personal effect that this conflict is having on our members, especially those who disagree. I think we should talk with them about how they are handling all this.”
With such an approach, this becomes a personal outreach that shows a serious and abiding concern about the welfare of people, including those with whom you disagree.
All of us have times when we get absorbed in the content of a conflict and fail to see the personal and emotional impact it is having on the people involved. When that happens, the people involved are more likely to get hurt.
Continue to work to strengthen your perceptive observations and concerns! Would that all of us were so perceptive!
Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is an associate professor of practical theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted June 5, 2006