Conflict and disagreeing opinions in themselves are not a bad thing. In fact, studies show these can have a positive impact, which means we may need to change the way we see disagreements as we try to create church environments where people can feel comfortable sharing their experiences and ideas.
Recently, a story was shared with me about an event that transpired in my ward’s relief society during a third-hour lesson that involved some conflict and tension. In that lesson, a sister expressed a non-orthodox opinion. In response to that non-orthodox opinion, a protectively orthodox opinion was stated. What is interesting about this event is that after the lesson, ward leaders sought out feedback from those in attendance, and here is what they took away from the feedback:
Some women stated that they felt the “Spirit leave” when the non-orthodox opinion was shared
Other women stated that they appreciated the non-orthodox opinion and felt that the protectively stated orthodox opinion led to the “Spirit leaving”
This story made me wonder the following questions:
- Should church be a place where conflicting opinions are shared and expressed?
- As members of the church, should we seek to draw out conflicting opinions?
- Is it possible for conflicting opinions and healthy cohesion to exist simultaneously?
- Should stake and ward leaders make efforts to help members feel more comfortable expressing opinions that may conflict with other peoples’ opinions?
- How should I view diverging opinions expressed at church?
Let me discuss each of these questions.
Should church be a place where conflicting opinions are shared and expressed?
One of the most famous studies on conflict set up a situation where business managers were put into groups (think groups of 4-5). For half of these groups, a confederate to the study was inserted and designed to play the role of devil’s advocate (the participants in the study were unaware of that confederates had been placed in their groups). Then, these groups were given a complex problem, and the quality and quantity of solutions were measured. What the researchers found was that the groups with the devil’s advocate generated higher quantity and higher quality ideas compared to the groups without a devil’s advocate.