Society & Politics

Leadership Lessons from the Public Life of Jesus - Lesson 6 Part 2

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Preston Manning, Senior Fellow

This article is the eleventh in a series by Preston Manning on leadership lessons from the public life of Jesus. A member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1993 to 2001, founder of two new political parties—the Reform Party of Canada and the Canadian Reform Conservative Allianceand the Leader of the Official Opposition from 1997 to 2000, Preston works with the MI on the development and communication of faith-informed approaches to political leadership and public policy.


The Ministry of Reconciliation
(Part 2 of 2)

Introduction

In the previous article[1] in this series, we described the “Jesus approach” to the reconciliation of conflicting interests in contrast to the settling of conflicts by the judicial application of law. We described Jesus’ approach as an “out of court settlement” approach characterized by non-coercive, self-sacrificial mediation motivated by love whereby the initiator of the process and mediator pay the price of reconciliation on behalf of the estranged party.

We noted that the Jesus’ approach to reconciliation operates in two dimensions: the vertical dimension, whereby those who will avail themselves of it can be reconciled to God, and the horizontal dimension, whereby it is applicable to reconciling conflicts between human beings. We also examined two historic cases of its application in the horizontal dimension by the early followers of Jesus, in particular the apostle Paul: the reconciliation of Gentiles to Jews in the early church and the abolition of the master-slave relationship in the household of a slave owner named Philemon.

We then concluded with two questions to be addressed in this article: Is the Jesus’ approach to reconciliation relevant and applicable to conflict resolution in our time? Can it be practiced by Christians operating at the interface of faith and politics today?

Application of Jesus’ Approach to Reconciliation for Conflict Resolution in Our Times

As a Christian layman, not a theologian or academic expert in the interpretation of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, and as someone who has sought to relate my Christian faith in the complex and often confusing worlds of business and politics, I must acknowledge that my understanding and application of Jesus’ approach to reconciliation in such arenas is incomplete and quite likely flawed. But I have had enough positive experience in witnessing and attempting the application of his approach to some of the conflict situations with which I have been involved to come to believe that it is indeed highly relevant to conflict resolution in our time, and that a better informed and more rigorous application of this approach to contemporary conflict resolution would be well worth the effort, especially by those with Christian convictions already embedded (perhaps providentially) in such conflicts.

Early in my management consulting practice I sought to translate Jesus’ approach to reconciliation as described in the New Testament into a form that I could use in addressing some of the conflict situations we were encountering in our work. Those situations included our involvement in attempting to resolve actual or potential conflicts between energy companies and aboriginal bands, particularly in northern Alberta.

Our firm specialized in applying “systems analysis” to conceptualizing and addressing the problems and challenges faced by our clients, so I worked out (initially just for my own use) a description of Jesus’ approach to reconciliation in “systems terms”.[2] This involved stripping out all the religious language so that the engineers and executives I was largely dealing with would not even recognize its Christian origins unless they themselves were believers.

In identifying the key components and actors in applying this model to conflict resolution situations faced by our clients, man the sinner became the “alienated party”, God the Father became “the initiator” (the initiator of the reconciliation process), John the Baptist became the “advance man”, Jesus became “the mediator”, evil personified became “the opposition”, the scribes and Pharisees became “the agents of the opposition”, the Holy Spirit became “the facilitator”, the church became “the reconciled community” with a capacity to continue the reconciliation process, and so on.

Conceptualized in this way, the process of reconciliation, now described in systems terms, could be represented via a functional flow diagram (the kind that oil patch engineers and executives understand and love), with a series of boxes describing the key functions to be performed and linked with arrows and feedback loops.

Lastly, I identified 30 operating principles or guidelines for the application of the model so I could consider their relevance and application to at least some of the conflict situations I was encountering in my consulting practice. This is not the place to fully list or elaborate on these, but the principal ones included the following:

  • The model is particularly applicable where there have been previous reconciliation attempts (especially via legal or jurisprudential means) that have failed. In fact, the model requires a previous and failed reconciliation attempt in order to be operationalized.
  • The objective of the reconciliation process is not to achieve a compromise between the parties, but to establish a new relationship between them superior to any relationship that may have previously existed.
  • The reconciliation action is ideally initiated by the “offended party” rather than the “offending party” and must be rightly motivated. (expressing “love” in systems terms was a challenge).
  • The reconciliation process is persuasive but non-coercive, respecting the freedom of the alienated party to accept or reject the reconciliation initiative.
  • The mediator is not independent of the parties to the conflict but is intimately related to both and internalizes the conflict between them.
  • Constituting and positioning the mediator is the most time-consuming aspect of the reconciliation process.
  • The most dangerous agents of the opposition are those drawn from and loyal to the institutions established and processes employed by the previous reconciliation attempt.
  • The mediator is willing to sacrifice his or her own position and interests in order to establish the new and reconciled relationship between the initiator and the alienated party.
  • The implementation of the reconciliation process is extremely costly. The costs are not equally distributed among the parties, but are borne primarily by the initiator and the mediator.

Illustrative Applications

To illustrate the application of this approach to reconciliation in real world situations, allow me to share some of my own limited but relevant experience with the attempted application of Jesus’ approach to conflict resolution in the business and political world. In doing so, let me also urge each of you, particularly if you are a professing Christian, to think seriously about more faithfully and systematically applying Jesus’ approach to some of the conflict situations in which you may find yourself.

A Business Application

I once observed a Christian executive mediate a strained relationship between a financially distressed company and its creditors in such a way that it reminded me of how Jesus might have acted in such a situation. The company was in the home building business but had fallen into financial difficulties when the market collapsed and interest rates skyrocketed. Its largest creditors were a bank and a lumber supply company. The bank proposed to the supplier that they cooperate in putting the homebuilder into receivership, close down its operations, and sell its assets while they were still of sufficient value to at least cover its obligations to the bank and the supplier. If this plan had been followed, the owners of the homebuilding company, its employees, and its other creditors would have been left out in the cold.

One of the executives of the lumber supply company was a Christian gentleman named Gordon. He was uniquely positioned to be a mediator because he had a close relationship with both the bank and the homebuilder and was trusted by both. Gordon volunteered that he, rather than some distant and indifferent third party, be appointed as a “friendly receiver” to see what could be done to reconcile the interests of all concerned. This offer was accepted—the homebuilder had little choice—and Gordon moved into a small office at the headquarters of the homebuilding company, acting and appearing to outsiders as if he were just another member of their executive team.

He had all the powers of a receiver, and had the lumber supply company decided to take over the homebuilder, Gordon would have been appointed the president and CEO. Instead, Gordon simply positioned himself as the comptroller, with the blessing of the bank and the principal creditors, whose job was to rectify the homebuilders’ financial affairs if he could. He was in constant communication with the homebuilder, the lumber supply company, and the bank. He gradually implemented measures that eventually led to the financial recovery of the homebuilder and the satisfactory retirement of all its obligations. In the process, which took years, Gordon sacrificed his own opportunities to secure a more prominent executive position and to earn the increased compensation that would have accompanied such a promotion. When the homebuilder was eventually restored to financial health, Gordon, at the homebuilder’s request, remained in his comptroller position, serving the company which he had rescued from bankruptcy in that capacity until his retirement fifteen years later.

If you asked the owners and senior employees of that home building company, as I once did, why they thought Gordon had acted the way he had, they simply replied, “We think it had something to do with his Christian faith.”

A Political Application

In the 1990’s in Canada (for those not familiar with our politics), a concerted effort was made to “realign” the conservative side of the political spectrum at the national level—an effort in which I was very much involved.[3] Growing disillusionment with the governing Progressive Conservative (PC) Party of Canada, particularly in western Canada and among fiscal conservatives, led to the formation of the Reform Party of Canada with myself as leader.

In the 1993 federal election, the PC party’s representation in the House of Commons was reduced from 156 seats to 2. The Reform party elected 52 members, but vote splitting between the federal PC’s and Reform greatly assisted the Liberal Party of Canada to form a majority government. Over the next four years, Reform continued to grow, the federal PC’s continued to stagnate, but the 1997 election produced very much the same results. Reform won 60 seats and I became the Leader of the Official Opposition, the federal PC’s increased their representation to 20 seats, but vote splitting still kept the federal Liberals in power.

By this time many of our party members, many federal PC members, and members of provincial PC parties were becoming tired of the vote splitting and losing seats by default to the Liberals because of it.  So my colleagues and I launched what became known as the United Alternative initiative. It involved organizing a steering committee to define the common ground ideologically and policy wise between Reform and the PC’s, and a step by step consultation with our own grass roots membership on ways and means to create a “united alternative” to the Liberals.

Eventually this effort produced a proposal to create a new federal party to be called the Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance, which former Reformers and Progressive Conservatives were invited to join in support of agreed upon principles and policies.

Because this effort had been initiated by Reform and myself, many PC members were suspicious that it was simply a thinly veiled takeover initiative and were reluctant to endorse or support it. Some means had to be found to convince them that it was a sincere effort to reconcile the differences between us and establish a new, more politically effective relationship.

One approach might have been to keep compromising the principles, policies, and structure on which the alternative was to be based until it finally won acceptance. But this would have produced an unprincipled union of expediency unlikely to attract public support and still would not have addressed the suspicions of a takeover.

The other approach was for me to put the leadership of the whole enterprise on the table and to encourage several prominent personalities from the PC camp to contest it. This idea was strenuously resisted by some of my key advisors who feared we would lose control of the whole united initiative to which we had thus far given direction and had worked so hard to facilitate. But I felt that running the risk of losing the leadership was preferable to sacrificing the principles, polices, and opportunity that the united alternative initiative was designed to advance, or to allowing the whole effort to stall because of suspicions that could not be alleviated in any other way.

So to make a long story short, I put the leadership of the Canadian Alliance on the table and encouraged two prominent provincial Progressive Conservatives from Alberta and Ontario to contest it along with myself.[4] I subsequently lost the leadership and was replaced by Stockwell Day, a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister from Alberta. But the Canadian Alliance became a reality and the differences between Reform and many provincial PC’s were essentially reconciled.

Because the leadership of what was left of the old federal PC Party still refused to endorse or join the Canadian Alliance, the vote splitting at the federal level continued in the 2001 federal election. The Canadian Alliance remained the Official Opposition but was still a long way from forming a government. But then the leadership of both parties changed again. The new leaders, Stephen Harper for the Alliance and Peter McKay for the federal PC’s, reached the same conclusion that we had reached earlier—that to stop the vote splitting yet another entity had to be created to which both Alliance and federal PC members could come without losing face or sacrificing principles and policies that they held dear. As a result, the new Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) was created, with both Harper and McKay having to put their leadership on the line and contest the leadership of the new entity. Both did so. Stephen Harper then emerged as the new leader of the CPC with Peter MacKay in a subordinate position, having sacrificed his leadership for the unity cause.

And so, after much effort to reconcile the conflicting interests that divided the federal conservative camp in Canada, a new, reasonably united, conservative political party was created at the federal level. The Canadian electorate found it increasingly attractive. The vote splitting stopped. The CPC formed a minority federal government in 2006 and a majority government in 2011 with Stephen Harper as Prime Minister.

In the Christian model of reconciliation, sacrifice, in particular on the part of those desiring the reconciliation, is an absolutely essential feature. My point in giving this lengthy recitation of the effort to reconcile conflicting interests at the federal political level in Canada is to show that some sort of sacrifice was also necessary to achieve the desired result in that instance. When the choice is between achieving unity by sacrificing the values and standards of the initiating party, or sacrificing the personal interests of the mediating party, the Christian thing to do is to sacrifice the latter rather than the former. I think this was easier for me to do because of my Christian understanding of reconciliation and commitment to the Jesus model than it would be for someone with no such understanding or commitment.

I’m sure some of my secular political friends and advisors still think I was crazy for allowing “theological considerations” to play any role whatsoever in deciding whether or not to risk my political leadership position in this way. All I can say is that his ways are not our ways and in the end the conflicted interests were reconciled. Hopefully this illustration may be helpful to others: in particular other Christians involved in reconciling conflicting interests in the political arena when they are confronted with choices as to “what to sacrifice”—their values and principles, somebody else’s interests, or their own ego driven interests—in order to bring reconciliation about.

An Oil Patch Application

As previously mentioned, our management consulting firm became involved in trying to improve relations between energy companies and aboriginals in the province of Alberta. I chaired a group consisting of representatives from a dozen companies that met once a quarter to discuss ways and means of increasing native employment by the companies and their purchases of goods and services from native owned businesses.

One of the member companies in this group had a heavy oil pilot plant in north central Alberta in close proximity to an aboriginal band with 3000 band members. Relations between the company and the band were becoming increasingly strained and it was decided that the company needed to hire someone to act as an intermediary to improve relations and resolve some of the conflicts between them.

The man in charge of this process was a hard boiled petroleum engineer named Norm whom I greatly respected and admired, except for one trait.  Norm swore like a trooper on almost every occasion and at any provocation, one of his most frequent utterances being “Jesus Christ!”

Norm asked a number of us familiar with the situation to put forward our suggestions as to what type of a person his company should be looking for to fill this mediatorial role. I suggested “someone who incorporates the perspectives and values of both sides, the oil patch and aboriginal community, and can live and operate in both worlds”. I actually had someone in mind, a Metis[5] business man who lived in the area, who had successfully done business with the oil company for years, but who also hunted, fished, and lived with members of the band in question. I presented Norm with all the reasons why this person would be the best hire if the reconciliation of the corporate interests with those of the band was the objective of the exercise. Norm also received alternative suggestions from others knowledgeable about the situation, including from his company’s legal and public affairs departments.

Eventually the day came when Norm was to announce, in his usually colorful manner, his decision as to what kind of person the company should be looking for:

“Our legal beagles think we should hire a lawyer of some sort who is familiar with the treaty rights of the band and all the legal aspects of our relationship with it. The PR people want me to hire some pretty face who will look good and convincing on TV explaining our positions if and when we get into disputes with the band. And Manning here … (Norm paused for effect) … Manning wants us to hire Jesus Christ!”

He then went on to say, tongue firmly in cheek, that perhaps the company should take all the candidates for the position down to the Athabasca River (which bisects north central Alberta) and hire the first one that could walk across on top of the water.

It was all said in jest, but I found it significant that somehow hard boiled Norm seemed to recognize in a job description calling for “someone who incorporates the perspectives and values of both sides, …. and can live and operate in both worlds,” a likeness to Jesus Christ. If the reconciliation of conflicting interests was the goal, his assessment of the type of mediator required was perhaps more insightful than he knew.

Future Applications

Our world abounds in conflicts. Conflicts between husbands and wives, parents and children, labor and management, the rich and the poor, resource developers and environmentalists, public and private interests, Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, Israeli’s and Arabs in the middle east, tribal groups in Africa, Islamic extremists and the west … the list goes on and on. In every instance there is a need for “the reconciliation of conflicting interests”.

In Canada, the most tragic and longstanding conflict situation in need of reconciliation and healing is that involving the relationship between our aboriginal peoples and the rest of Canadian society. In recent years, the past and present status of this relationship and how to achieve reconciliation has been the subject of a massive Royal Commission study and report,[6] public apologies by the Government of Canada[7] and Christian leaders for past wrongs inflicted on aboriginal peoples through the residential school system, and most recently by the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission[8] headed by Justice Murray Sinclair.  

To address the reconciliation challenges presented by any and all of the above conflicts, a variety of arbitration, dispute settling, peacemaking, and reconciliation models and processes are available for application. They make up the reconciliation “tool kit” available to any peacemaker, but especially those of us in the political arena, and include:

  • Separation models in which the disputants go their separate ways. The conflict is reduced or eliminated by absence of contact, and “peace” is achieved at the price of the relationship.
  • War models in which the disputants fight it out until the strongest or the smartest prevails. The conflict is “resolved”, temporarily and usually with much bitterness, when one party is able to impose its will on the other.
  • Dictatorial models whereby an authority superior in strength to the disputants enforces settlements and “peace” is established at the expense of freedom.
  • Surrender models in which interests and positions are surrendered by one or the other of the disputants “for the sake of peace” or in the hope of “surviving to fight another day”.
  • Educational models in which disputants, with the help of sympathetic counseling, are urged to seek accommodation through increased understanding and appreciation of their own interests and those of the other side.
  • Transactional or bargaining models such as occur in the market place or in labor management arbitration whereby conflict resolution is achieved through mutually advantageous tradeoffs and compromises.
  • Jurisprudential models in which the conflicts between disputants are submitted to judicial authority or independent third parties for binding arbitration.
  • Political models which in democracies involve the submission of conflicts to a representative assembly in which the disputants have the freedom to make their case but must submit to the will of the majority with respect to a settlement.

Whereas applications of the separation, war, dictatorial, and surrender models are ultimately destructive to the achievement of harmonious relationships, there is certainly merit in applying, where appropriate, the educational, transactional, jurisprudential, and political models to conflict resolution. For the Christian, however, is it not our responsibility to bring the “Jesus approach” to reconciliation to bear on those conflicts in which we are involved either as disputants or as mediators? Is this not the approach we should gently but firmly commend to our secular friends as “the model of last resort” when other approaches to conflict resolution have been tried and found wanting?

The apostle Paul, who sought to follow Jesus’ approach to conflict resolution in both its vertical and horizontal dimensions, once wrote that it models and foreshadows the method and the means whereby the Author of our existence will ultimately “reconcile all things to himself”.[9] And to those of us who seek to apply it to the conflict situations in which we find ourselves embedded, there is the great hope and encouragement offered by Jesus himself, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” [10]


[1] Faith and Politics:  Leadership Lessons from the Public Life of Jesus, “The Ministry of Reconciliation, Lesson 6 Part 1”.

[2] For a more detailed description of this model see, With Heart, Mind & Strength: The Best of Crux 1979-1989, Volume 1. (Langley, BC: Credo, 1990), 237-253.

[3] For a more detailed description of this effort from my perspective see Think Big: My Adventures in Life and Democracy (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd., 2002).

[4] I should make clear that, not withstanding the necessity of “putting the leadership on the line”, my colleagues and I entered the contest with every intention of winning it and made a very strenuous effort to do so. I personally hoped that, in the end, no personal sacrifice would have to be made although in order for the overall enterprise to succeed we had to be willing to take that chance.  The believer when confronted with the demand for personal sacrifice may also hope that what God really wants is the willingness to render it and will provide an alternative to self- sacrifice once that willingness is established. This was the case when Abraham was confronted with the demand that he sacrifice his son Isaac. (Genesis 22:1-19) It was also the hope expressed by Jesus in his garden prayer (Matthew 26: 36-39) before his arrest and crucifixion, although in his case there proved to be no alternative but self sacrifice and he ended his prayer with the words, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

[5] The offspring of a North American aboriginal and a white person, especially one of French ancestry. In my experience, people of “mixed race” can often play a key role in reconciling the conflicts and tensions between the racial groups from which their own lives are derived.

[6] Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Government of Canada, 1996

[7] Indian Residential Schools Statement of Apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, 39th PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION, EDITED HANSARD NUMBER 110, Wednesday, June 11, 2008

[8] Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Government of Canada, 2015

[9] Colossians 1:20

[10] Matthew 5:9

Source: Marketplace Institute



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