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01 March 2009

Why is there so much fighting?

Why is there so much fighting?

The Alliance's director for Northern Ireland, Stephen Cave, tries to get to grips with a world at war...

"History teaches us nothing except that history teaches us nothing." There is some debate about who actually said it, with general opinion being that it was George Bernard Shaw paraphrasing sentiments expressed by the German philosopher Hegel. Whatever, it still may be true.

We have left the 20th century, christened by some as the "Century of War", behind, but arguably the world is more violent, insecure and wracked by war than ever. The so-called "war on terror" rumbles on with no sign of abating with the daily tragedy of more deaths in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Pakistan and India are still uneasy in the aftermath of the Mumbai explosions. Russia and the Ukraine have been at loggerheads over gas supplies. And 2009 started with the horrific events in Gaza played out on TV screens across the world.

Of course my own part of the world, Northern Ireland, can't hold its head too high when it comes to conflict. The fighting may not be over here, but at least it is now done primarily with words as opposed to bombs and bullets.

And community tensions still run high in other areas of the so-called United Kingdom. In January, a woman in Scotland was beaten savagely just because she happened to "sound English". And while it was encouraging to hear Trevor Phillips, head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, acknowledge that the police in England could not now be accused of institutionalised racism, the sad fact remains that far too often we still see shameful divisions and attitudes held towards those who are different.

Then there's the tragic breakdown of family life all over the UK. It would be too easy to make sweeping generalisations, and we need graciously to acknowledge that wherever people are involved there will always be struggles, but is it not fair to say that even in families we do not work as hard at our relationships as we should? We are too quick to fight and separate, instead of doing the hard work of understanding, listening, forgiving, accommodating and moving forward. Perhaps one intriguing consequence of the economic crisis will be that couples will work harder at staying together because they can't afford the cost of separating.

And the media is in on this. It seems that those in charge of our radio and television programming think that good media equals a good fight. From radio phone-ins to reality TV, and even supposedly more serious broadcasting, we have succumbed to sound-bites and bitter arguments instead of constructive conversation. I have actually turned down a few media opportunities because I felt the programmes merely wanted to get Christians on air fighting with each other.

Why are we not good at building relationships that can handle differences?

Treating each other well

The Church cannot stand idly by and shake its head, for we are just as guilty. Think of how much division is regularly reported within and between churches and denominations - how we cannot manage to treat each other well, or disagree agreeably, even though we are all well aware of Christ's heart for the unity of His people.

As a broad family, the evangelical Church seems to go through its fair share of controversy; it appears that each year another "test of orthodoxy" emerges, as one group or another looks for an opportunity to break ranks and have a pot-shot at others while they do so. How often are doctrinal differences aired on websites, blogs and Christian magazines with little or no attempt at private discussion or friendly encounter?

Maybe I'm just getting old and tired; maybe I'm losing some of my ideals or deserting my principles, though I hope not. But I am becoming increasingly frustrated by humanity's willingness to fight about everything. What is it about us that makes us want to fight? Why are we not good at building relationships that can handle differences, and then learning from and appreciating those differences? Why do we run so quickly to conflict or choose to disengage rather than work at it, whether that's as nations, people groups, churches or even within our families?

These issues run right to the heart of our ministry as an Alliance. We are passionate about unity and relationships, and many of our members, individuals, churches and organisations are at the forefront of the building of relationships in a huge range of contexts. There are those committed to the building up of family life whilst others are working tirelessly in broken communities, bringing healing and hope to those on the fringes of society. Meanwhile, the Alliance's Don't Be a Stranger campaign has highlighted a range of positive examples of relationship building and community cohesion.

Ours is a conflict-ridden world at every level and, as followers of Jesus, we must take up the challenge of changing that culture of conflict that seems to be all-pervasive. After all, isn't He the one who called us to unity together and to be peacemakers and agents of reconciliation in His world? I, for one, am tired of the fighting.

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