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Understanding Faith-Based Mediation: A Multidimensional Model

Understanding Faith-Based Mediation


This paper reflects on the necessity and efficacy of a Faith-Based Mediation approach for Dispute Resolution, and intends to answer three leading questions: First, why is Faith-Based Mediation necessary for the religious communities and people? Second, what are the fundamental referents of a Faith-Based mediated process?  And third, how can a Mediator be useful in Faith-Based Mediation? This essay constitutes a broad view on an alternative conflict resolution method, which is the preferred option for significant numbers of religious communities in different world regions. Even though it reflects primarily the vision from Christian communities in the United States of America, it also considers some references to other cultures, races, and countries.

A multidimensional model.

Faith-based mediation is a complex process that dynamically integrates three dimensions: the technical one, involving knowledge and skills for the mediation element itself; the humane one, which is based on the ability to recognize personal, emotional, and relational elements in the conflict, to promote better understanding between the conflicting agents and foster solutions seeking; and the transcendent one, which relies on the religious belief system and pursues divine intervention into the dispute to move the parties from conflict to reconciliation and peace-making.

The three-dimensional model (3D FB/Med) proposed here is a poly-chronic, multi-active, and high-context one. It is fundamentally supported by a technical platform upon the humane and transcendent components work and can be successfully used. The necessary triad must be patiently and cautiously built as the process evolves. There is not a single straightforward approach to a faith-based mediation process. This model requires not only knowledge, skills, and experience in the mediation arena, but also a sincere and honest deep-faith nature in the participants. This is the essential component and determining factor for the sought outcomes to reach.

The Technical component.

Based on STAR model developed by Straus Institute for Conflict Resolution at Pepperdine University School of Law, the technical component of the 3D FB/Med can be represented in a matrix of five stages (S) and their associated tasks (T), actions (A), and results (R). The stages are: Convening, Opening, Communicating, Negotiating, and Closing.

The Faith-based mediator can opt to follow the stages in a sequential way or commute among them according to the process evolution, but shall maintain direction and control as to reach the targets. Each stage demands the clear definition of specific tasks to answer a “what” question (the target you are trying to accomplish), and actions, aimed to determine the “how” element (the way you are to reach your goals). The results to obtain for each stage are the willingness to participate in the mediation process (convening); a sense of safety and hope for reaching a desired result in the opening stage; the right environment and convenient procedure to express every party’s reasons, motives, drivers and expectations from the process in the communicating stage; flexible, creative, and innovative stances for the negotiating one; and, the capacity to make an informed decision in the closing element of the model. Clarifying the issues, interests, and drivers, as well as drawing the navigation chart are the fundamental goals in the technical dimension.

The Humane Element.

Mediating in the Faith-based field is a delicate and sophisticated process that requires artistry to be carried on. The purpose is beyond helping the parties to understand better the nature of the conflict they are living in, or to find solutions and reach a settlement. In Faith-based mediation, the main and most desired outcome is to reconcile people in a transcendent way, moving ahead from conflict and looking forward to a restored relationship, enriched and fortified by the experience.

The mediator is the causal agent to promote a renewed desire in conflicting people to try to understand each other better, and to learn from the other party’s perspective how the conflict was formed and in what ways can be resolved, while both parties grow and thrive from it. The art of sensing and identifying the real, and commonly unperceived or distorted elements in the conflict, helps the mediator to discover what is important for the relationship and what elements must be addressed to promote people’s healing and relationships restoration.  The reconciliation outcome is the final goal to achieve. Helping to move suffering people from a damaged relationship towards a solid and long-lasting one needs that people dare to trust again, to believe again that sharing feelings, emotions, stories, and reasons for getting involved into a conflict can be re-interpreted and redirected to a constructive conflict management approach to understand each other, to trust each other, to reunite beyond the dispute.

To be effective, the mediator must promote open and sincere communication, identify the deep causes of the conflict, seek to create a just outcome, ask the disputants to examine their own contribution to the conflict, and stimulate the offering of sincere and sound apologies to promote forgiveness and reconciliation. The offender and the offended must be helped to reach a sensitive state to honestly connect their feelings, satisfy the need for validation and reassurance, and to move ahead in a new harmonious and restored relationship. Approaching, communicating, and connecting people are the key components in this dimension.

The Transcendent factor.

Religious belief-system in the Faith-based mediation field is the essential and transcendent factor. It serves as the context, the method, and the medium to develop the mediation process. It defines the whole set of values that may move people to know, understand, apologize, forgive, and reconcile. 

The mediator in the Faith-based process is necessarily a deep-faith person, with solid and extensive knowledge on scriptures, sacred texts, and religious references to apply for helping the disputants to better understand what the divine expect from them, how the conflict damages the inner self and the relationship to other creatures of God. The mediator is helpful in the process by promoting education and reflection on the necessity of being in full harmony with God and her creation (other people). The mediator is successful when reaching the deepest feelings in the conflicting parties asking them what role’s God is in the conflict and how they may invoke his divine intervention to help them to forgive, restore the relationship, and move ahead. The Faith-based mediators are not only third neutral facilitators for settling the dispute; their major role is to serve as a connecting agent between the distressed people in conflict and the divine. The way to promote and reach this goal is by praying, fasting, reflecting, and rediscovering within the disputant parties that God made his creatures to love and thrive, not to fight and annihilate each other. 

There is no standard procedure to move people’s feelings by touching their hearts, but the Faith-based mediators know that their call is to promote an illuminating process for people living in the darkness of conflict and despair. Compassion, caring for others, loving ourselves and others, are relevant elements in the healing process, but, eminently, loving God is the most solid way to find common ground and surpass the barrier of conflict, a barrier that prevents people from fulfilling and transcendent lives. Invoking divine participation and enlightening in the process is a fundamental component in seeking for the desired outcomes. Going back to basic texts, commandments, and teachings are powerful tools for better interpreting what conflict means and how it affects divine creation. The fundamental components in the religious belief-system provide not only common ground but also the most meaningful understanding for a shared vision, which commonly open ways for restoring relationships.

Appeasing primitive emotions, promoting reasoning and fairness, touching hearts, and re-connecting people through the gospel and revealed divine purpose is the way to finally orchestrate a three dimensional dynamic process, which starts with a navigation chart for turbulent waters, moves on to the deeper artistry of understanding people’s nature and behavior, and goes higher to reconnect nature and nurture, material and spiritual spheres to the divine creator. Every Faith-based mediator must discover how to approach and touch, how to lead and reach the greatest goals for deep, honest, and sincere believers: be one with the creator and her creatures.

Dealing with religious conflicts, conventional mediators may face a situation in which their professional background would be not enough to fully understand the parties. Expertise may not compensate the lacking of religious participation and acknowledge of feelings, needs, expectations, and spiritual disturbances on the disputants. Compassion and empathic involvement are generally more useful in religious conflicts, than extensive and intensive legal knowledge. Emotions, creeds, empathy, and deep understanding, are key concepts in this field. Communication is also fundamental to understand the nature of conflict, the issues at conflict, the feelings and desires of the disputants; and for finding paths to allow people to move away from negative-destructive (or conflicting approaches), to positive-constructive (or transformative and self-transcending) ones (Bush and Folger, 1996, p. 66).

The principal role of faith-based mediators is to act as facilitators of positive conversations between the conflicting parties, “asking proper questions, in the right way, at the right time . The challenge is to be an interested being to assist the troubled persons to reflect and meditate, to understand and empathize, to move from a destructive path to an enriching and transcendent one; to drive suffering and pain to flow away, and fill the void with healing, through forgiveness and reconciliation: “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3). To gain trust form the parties, faith-based mediator must speak truth in love and encourage participants to do so, and exercise imagination in constructing a new and shared story from the joint effort of the disputant parties. Engaging people into a common envisioned understanding -and possible outcome- is a powerful tool for them to move ahead (Nagao and Page, 2005).

According to Justin Barret, author of Born Believers (2012), “several studies indicate that commitment to a religious belief system and participation in a religious community is associated with many positive outcomes. Actively religious people have been shown to enjoy more mental and emotional health, recover from trauma more quickly, have longer and happier lives; are more generous, volunteer more, and actively contribute to communities more than nominally religious or nonreligious people do.”  For religious-community members, dealing with conflicting needs, demands, and desires, keeping in mind that they are members of a religious community, and taking into account the shared reference value-system, promote a well-being status that empower a person to deal with conflict in a more harmonious way. It helps to stay away of conflict in a first level, and to deal with conflict and recover from the stress that it produces, in a better way. 

Faith-based mediation brings freedom to disputant parties, and freedom is one of the most appreciated values for both, a person and a religious community; freedom as the natural state of not having unbearable burden, pain or suffering. “God wants us to be free because he himself is free. Whatever other benefits mediation may bring, it brings freedom. It is a kind of truth that is making us free, to quote St John: a truth going beyond simple dialectics of right and wrong, justice and injustice, or winners and losers” (Fielding, 2010).

Additionally, faith-based mediation is especially useful to keep disputes in the private domain; brings a sense of intimacy, understanding, and confidentiality superior to other mediation approaches; fosters openness in communication by offering attentive, active and interested listening; is not driven for a strong commitment to reach a goal, but for seeking the adequate rhythm and pace to keep parties conversant and looking for common ground, and swiftly move ahead. The process itself constitutes a high-value outcome. Looking backwards brings comprehension and clarifies reasons; looking forward draws the pathway to reestablish damaged relationships and heal. Every person is a creature of God and deserves respect for that single notion .

Abrahamic religions share a fundamental belief in a supreme entity, God, which is the only one, the creator of everything, and the leader of her creatures’ lives. God is the pattern, the reference, the moral code, the arbitrator, the final judge. From God to God is the cycle of life. Everything starts with God, in God, and everything returns to him. 

Religions and religious communities are social constructs that function as society builders. They link people through a shared belief-system and teach people to behave and function as responsible community members; they help people to bear pain and suffering that comes with life, and assist people in distressing moments. Religious communities are the closest representations of societies, connecting families to states and nations. Through religions commandments and commitments, people can more easily -and clearly- distinguish between right and wrong, and learn to get along and thrive.  Faith-based mediation is oriented to a “being” culture, in which peace of mind is cherished, and seeks to regain harmony in the person and the community, not to render a verdict of dominance or victory of one party over the other. The main purpose is to transcend from a “me”–“ you” conversation, to an “us” one. It is essentially reunifying in character, getting people back as one with themselves, one with other community members, and one with God. Forgiveness is the source of peace, because is a condition for reconciliation, a source of re-empowering the injured one, and a way to move ahead, overcoming suffering and harm: “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” (Romans 14: 17-19).

Mediating a conflict in a faith-based environment represents an opportunity, a challenge, and a gift, because the dispute can be converted into a process of revelation and love, as referred by Gustafson (2012, p. 300), quoting the words of the German philosopher Schelling (1809): “Every being can be revealed only in its opposite. Love only in hatred, unity only in conflict.”

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Ricardo Padilla

Ricardo Gutierrez Padilla is a Mexican citizen with an extensive experience in public policy design, implementation, and evaluation in his native country. He has served as Vice President of the University of Guadalajara (the second largest university in the country), as member of national commissions for the design of public… MORE >

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