From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 07:36:12


                         CHURCH CONFLICTS 
                        by Adelle M. Banks 
                      Religion News Service 
WASHINGTON--When an Asian-American congregation on the West Coast 
faced a difficult conflict, a denominational executive came in to 
help them.  They sat in a circle, shared their feelings and, in the 
end, thanked the consultant for his suggestions. 
     The next day the church voted to disband. 
     The consultant couldn't understand this unexpected outcome.  
The hospitable church members showed him respect, but baring their 
feelings was so damaging the congregation could not go on. 
     The lesson from such experiences is basic, but one only now 
being discovered in church circles: Asian-Americans do not settle 
conflicts in the same way Anglos do. 
     These differences were the focus of recent research by an 
Asian-American team for the Alban Institute, a Bethesda, Md.-based 
organization that consults with congregations.  The team found that 
Asian-Americans, concerned about preserving the dignity of everyone 
involved, often will not deal with crises head-on.  Non-verbal 
communication may be used because once something negative is said 
it cannot be taken back. 
     Typically, when an Anglo congregation has intractable 
conflict, the church will pay a mediator to visit, analyze the 
problem and give solutions.  But Asian-American congregations may 
be less likely to pay an outsider unknown to them to help solve a 
problem they'd rather keep to themselves. 
     "Nobody likes to hang up dirty laundry, but especially in an 
Asian community they would like to see these things resolved from 
within," said the Rev. Bert Tom, associate executive of the 
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Presbytery of San Francisco and 
convener of the Alban Institute's Asian American Action Research 
Team.  The team focused on mainline Protestant congregations made 
up of Chinese-, Japanese- and Taiwanese-Americans. 
     Denominational leaders cannot simply shape their Western 
approaches to Asian-American culture, the team members concluded. 
     "It's not simply a matter of taking a Western concept or a 
Western approach, finding the corresponding term or phrase in 
Japanese or Chinese or Korean and saying, now that you get it, 
let's do it this way," said the Rev. Virstan Choy, another 
Presbyterian member of the team and professor of ministry at San 
Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, Calif. 
     Choy said Asian-American congregations are more concerned with 
"saving face" -- or preserving dignity -- than solving a 
disagreement quickly.  A decision may be deferred or left ambiguous 
-- even for years -- to maintain good relations among congregants. 
     "If we go face to face, I might lose face, you might, we both 
might or by the grace of God neither of us does, but that's only 
one out of four," Choy said. 
     Likewise, Asian-Americans may avoid verbalizing their 
differences.  Thus, mediation that emphasizes verbal cues, a common 
Western approach, might not be effective in an Asian-American 
church setting. 
     One way to help relieve problems and be sensitive to the 
Asian-American culture is to do "shadow consulting," said Choy.  In 
one case, he met with a pastor in a restaurant a distance from his 
church to brainstorm on how to improve understanding with the 
pastor's church board. 
     Another option is to seek assistance from someone in the 
cultural community of the congregation who may be respected as a 
mentor and a neutral third party. 
     Researchers say church leaders unfamiliar with Asian culture 
must shift their thinking about how tensions can be relieved. 
     "Maybe you don't have to settle in black and white terms a 
particular issue," Choy suggested.  "What level might people be 
willing to live with and keep the congregation going even though 
it's not totally resolved?" 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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