Guest Post: Revolutionaries and Resolutionaries
This is the first in a series about conflict resolution, dialogue, mediation, justice, and how these concepts might advance the conversation about Mormon feminism. With the Church’s March 17 letter to Ordain Women, I began to analyze the conflict as a case study and consider the measures that, as a mediator, I would recommend. I want to emphasize that this series is an attempt to analyze and mediate and I am deliberately trying to avoid taking a public position in the conflict or on ordination.
A note on vocabulary: Church—in this essay I am referring to Church leadership and the majority of members who do not support women’s ordination. This is not intended to send the message that supporters of ordination are not part of the Church or that their needs are not important.
Conflict—while conflict usually has a negative connotation, it is important to recognize that conflict is continual part of human interaction and that it has potential to be constructive.
Advocacy—may take many forms, but I believe the best definition is that it is about speaking from one’s own point of view.
REVOLUTIONARY VS. RESOLUTIONARY
“I never saw an instance of one or two disputants convincing the other by argument.” -Thomas Jefferson
People who work in conflict resolution believe that conflicts don’t just happen. They are the products of actions and groups to move into adversarial positions. Similarly, conflict resolution doesn’t just happen. A conflict will either enter a static state, end with one party being annihilated, or end with a restructuring of the relationship and usually a shift in the balance of power. One could say that the excommunications of feminists in the 1990s were an attempt at the second option and its failure would hopefully indicate that the Church does not want to repeat that strategy.
This series of posts intends to focus on the social conflict between Church leadership and OW. Social conflict means that two or more groups or individuals “manifest the belief that they have incompatible objectives” (Kriesberg 2). Whether or not OW intended to enter the public sphere in a position of conflict with Church leadership is less important than the fact that an adversarial relationship has developed through actions and reactions from both groups. The letter released on March 17 escalated the conflict by positioning OW as part of the anti-Mormon demonstrators and by sending the message that Church members must choose sides.
The Church’s willingness to escalate the conflict was hard to read for many of us who are ambivalent about ordination but believe in the need to address women’s concerns in the Church. The reaction to the Church’s escalation was immediate and intense. Social media was flooded with appeals for submissions to the OW website and greater numbers of people to turn out for the Conference event. On the other side, Church members who support the status quo hurled angry vitriol on Facebook and blogs. While the escalation prompted many feminists to decide to submit profiles to OW or walk with them in April, my training in conflict resolution pushes me toward a different path. I am inherently a resolutionary rather than a revolutionary. I once had the fire of an activist (enough of a fire, at least, to get called into the BYU Student Association’s office and be accused of being an environmental terrorist*). But as I came into full adulthood, I realized that I am more of a bridge builder than a barn burner.
What are the similarities of revolutionaries and resolutionaries? Significantly, advocacy and mediation share the goal of “restructuring unpeaceful relationships” (Lederach 9). Their activities can be complementary and mutually supportive (14). Indeed, if mediators sacrifice justice (which is the best recipe for sustainable peace) in quest of temporary peace, they have failed. Although restructuring a relationship occurs most often through confrontation and advocacy (consider day to day interpersonal conflicts), justice does not automatically follow activism. Mediation can facilitate a mutually acceptable option (14).
There are some important differences as well. Advocacy takes one side while mediation “chooses to stand in connection to all sides.” Advocacy chooses confrontation, which usually increases the level of conflict. For revolutionaries, conflict is a vehicle “to move from silence and complacency to awareness and change”. Resolutionaries, aware of the potential violence inherent in conflict, seek to “increase mutual understanding while reducing adversariness.” While on the surface these activities seem to be at odds, as one pursues activities that will increase conflict and the other seeks to decrease it, a sustainable peace depends on seeing them as mutually interdependent (Lederach 15).
While advocacy is about speaking from one’s own point of view, I hope to use this series to engage in a dialogue. Dialogue is about engaging in “a conversation with a center, not sides.” Its intention “is to reach new understanding. . . . We do not merely try to reach agreement, we try to create a context from which many new agreements might come.”
The word dialogue comes from Greek, meaning “through (dia) word (logos)”. However, an even earlier meaning of logos was “to gather together” and it invoked relationships. Therefore, when the Book of John begins “In the beginning was the Word [logos]” it may have meant, “In the beginning was the Relationship.” Dialogue is “a conversation in which people think together in a relationship.” Vitally important to dialogue is that “you no longer take your own position as final. You relax your grip on certainty and listen to the possibilities that result simply from being in a relationship with others” (Isaacs 19). Rather than trying to change one’s partner in conflict, dialogue asks that we listen better and suspend judgment of the other.
Do you see yourself as more of a resolutionary or a revolutionary? Why?
NEXT INSTALLMENT: The progression of a conflict, how to move from confrontation to negotiation, and what would possibly change the Mormon feminist activist—Church leadership relationship from unstable to dynamic.
(MargaretOH earned a Masters degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution, with an emphasis in refugees and human rights, from American University. She is currently a stay-at-home mom with two young children and the Art Editor for the Exponent II magazine.)
*The environmental terrorist thing is a true and hilarious story. If the chance presents itself, I’ll share it on this blog sometime.
Kriesberg, Louis. Constructive Conflicts: From Escalation to Resolution. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. Print.
Isaacs, William. Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together. New York: Currency, 1999. Print.
Lederach, John Paul. Preparing for Peace: Conflict Transformation Across Cultures. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University, 1995. Print.