November 1, 2012

"Can't We All Just Get Along?"

An incorrect photo was used in the article “Can’t We All Just Get Along?” on page 26 in the October 11 issue of Adventist Review. The correct photo of the students at Colegio Adventista de Sagunto is posted here. The photo printed with the article is of the students on the La Sierra University Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) Team who presented a team report on its bullying prevention project at the National SIFE competition. Our apologies for this oversight.—Editors

Flaring tempers, discord, misunderstandings, controversy—these catalysts of conflict disrupt board meetings, pervade communities, and decimate families. Are they also realities within the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Sadly, even a cursory review of Adventist Church history compels a resounding yes; and those today who serve on boards or other church groups can attest to tensions that sometimes increase to the point where projects must be discarded in order for peace to ensue. But is there another answer?

2012 1528CalledTogether INBOXThe Center for Conflict Resolution at La Sierra University’s Tom and Vi Zapara School of Business in Riverside, California, embraces a mission of peace that encompasses various forms of conflict resolution. Officially organized in 2009, the center’s goal is to help resolve conflicts and effect positive outcomes by becoming involved in tense situations as a mediator or coach. 

“When we’re called in to assist with resolving a conflict, we first have to determine where in the process the conflict occurred,” says Dulce Pena, a La Sierra professor, an attorney, and a conflict resolution trainer and facilitator for the center. “If you attempt to resolve the conflict too soon, the tensions will continue beneath the surface. Sometimes we first have to help things calm down so rational thinking can take place. Often that involves a discussion about communication, forgiveness, mission, and values.”

Pena says that one of the first questions she often asks those involved is: What have you personally done to contribute to this conflict?

“It’s a powerful question that when honestly answered can make a big difference” in the outcome of the

Areas of Conflict Resolution

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Mediation Team: Students at Colegio Adventista de Sagunto in Valencia, Spain, who work at the school's mediation center pose together.

According to the center’s director, Richard Pershing, he and his team focus on five areas of conflict resolution: negotiating; coaching; mediating; facilitating; and restorative practice, in which the person or parties involved in a conflict are “restored” to the rest of the “community” after the conflict is resolved.

“We train ombuds—completely neutral individuals who have conflict-resolution skills and experience that can help organizations resolve internal conflicts and disputes,” says Pershing, also a practicing attorney. “If someone at a church or school or conference is experiencing a severe conflict and needs assistance, they basically can just call us at the center and say, ‘Send us somebody.’ ”

Conflict in the Church?
Some question the need for professionals trained in conflict resolution when dealing with church organizations. They reason that when Christian hearts are committed to God and the presence of the Holy Spirit is solicited, there shouldn’t be conflict. But nonetheless, Pershing says, the need is there.

“The Adventist Church began in conflict and is perpetually in conflict,” he says. “One of the first conflicts among church members was regarding the Civil War. Do we endorse it? Do we allow our young men to go off to war? We had a tremendous struggle over that, and there have been innumerable conflicts since then. . . .

“We have to learn the skills of conflict resolution, because the church can do more harm to itself than the antichrist can ever do,” he says. “By fighting with each other, we will destroy each other. Either we learn the skills of conflict resolution, or as a church we die.”

Pena notes that conflict exists because each individual sees life through different lenses, and various cultures shape attitudes. “Sometimes there’s an inability to open up and allow for a different opinion—to open up and listen,” she says. “We at least need to treat others whose opinions differ from ours with respect and not demonize them.”

Instructing the Young 
Training youth and young adults in the skills of conflict resolution is a prime goal of the center, because that’s the way long-term change is accomplished, Pershing says. The center conducts mediation training not only with physicians, educators, and lawyers, but also with students. This includes all the students working in various campus services at La Sierra, as well as students in Adventist middle schools in Tennessee and California.

The center’s principles of conflict resolution are also being implemented as far away as Spain. In 2007 Maria José Jimeno Garcia, a professor in the Counseling Department at Colegio Adventista de Sagunto in Valencia, Spain, and Susana de Madariaga López-Cortón, a former professor at the school, trained students in conflict resolution and developed a mediation center. Students involved in conflicts now can ask the on-campus center for assistance.

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(From Left): Maria Jose Jimeno Garcia of Colegio Adventista de Sagunto in Spain; Dulce Pena, a conflict resolution trainer and facilitator; Debra Pershing, an Olweus certified trainer; center director Richard Pershing; and Adventist Review features editor Sandra Blackmer

“We wanted to promote a culture of peace and conflict resolution,” Garcia says, “so we went to every class and asked the students if they wanted to help change things. We chose 30 students from the many who responded, and spent several months training them. They now are the ones who provide mediation assistance among the students—and the results are tremendous. Our school is now a more peaceful place. We still have problems, but we now know there is an appropriate way of solving them.”

Young children are also being reached with the message of peace. Adventist Risk Management developed the Peace Maker Pathfinder Honor for the 2009 Camporee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to teach Pathfinders the skills of building successful personal relationships and dealing with confrontational situations in a biblical manner. 

“ARM believes the lessons taught in the Peace Maker Honor are essential skills for one’s personal safety,” ARM vice president Arthur Blinci says. 

Funding the Program
Versacare, a lay Adventist nonprofit organization, provides funding for the center’s initiatives. Versacare board member and North American Division vice president Debra Brill describes the center’s conflict resolution initiatives as representative of the foundation’s values.

“Versacare’s mission statement emphasizes human health, dignity, and the search for knowledge,” Brill says. “When we think of the dignity of an individual, the Center for Conflict Resolution’s focus—particularly its bullying project (see following article)—really goes to the heart of Versacare’s mission. It’s very substantive, and we’re happy to offer it our support.”

To learn more about Versacare and to review a list of other recent Versacare projects, go to For more information about the Center for Conflict Resolution, go to

Sandra Blackmer is an  assistant editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published October 11, 2012.