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Dissecting The Anatomy of Peace

Tomorrow, my husband Clint and I fly to Alaska for the Alaska Annual Conference in Seward, the first of three in the Greater Northwest in the next few weeks. I invited members at all three Conferences to read The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict.  The book was recommended by the Commission on A Way Forward and the Council of Bishops, as a tool to help people know each other at a deeper level, so that they might discover a way to live together peacefully, despite deep difference. As a church, we are seeking a unity that is deeper than our differences.

Last summer, during worship at a training event when the leader asked us to “turn to your neighbor” and share, I met United Methodist pastor, coach and trainer, Brian Brown. Brian said he wished that every clergy person was introduced to The Anatomy of Peaceat the beginning of their ministry. I learned that he was a passionate evangelist, and certified teacher of The Anatomy of Peace. I bought the book that day, read it immediately, and later invited Rev. Dr. Brian Brown to teach and lead us into the practices of The Anatomy of Peacefor our annual conference sessions in Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest. Rev. Donna Pritchard will be leading a condensed workshop in Alaska.

Last week a controversy erupted over the book, when Rev. Hannah Adair Bonner blogged a provocative critique of The Anatomy of Peace, unmasking issues about its sources that are hidden in shadows. Why is the author listed as the “Arbinger Institute?” Why aren’t they transparent about the authors? Why is it written as if the people and situations are real, when they are fictional? Are a group of mostly white men competent to give advice about how to resolve conflict among people of diverse ethnicities and cultures, some of whom are oppressed by systems of injustice?

I asked similar questions in the early 2000s when I first read Leadership and Self Deception, also authored by the Arbinger Institute. I liked the book, but I felt queasy, so I did a little online fishing and discovered that the Arbinger Institute was founded by Terry Warner, a scholar and member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. I used the insights of the book personally, but was reluctant to share it with others, not so much because of its source as the lack of transparency. If there’s nothing to hide – no deception – why not reveal? I’m not going to presume to know the answer, and I’m not going to make excuses for the people who made these decisions.

In her blog, Hannah seems to imply that there are original sins of deception and racism that disqualify the book for our use. So, do we reject The Anatomy of Peace? Or, with awareness of its limitations and flaws, is it still a useful tool? Can we use it to invite newer, deeper understandings between people? Does it offer a way for conflicted United Methodists to venture beneath the surface of our set positions, seek a deeper understanding of one another, and explore how we might live together as we continue to journey together toward the fullness of God’s mission?

I find the book’s approach useful. Written in a narrative style, The Anatomy of Peace is an easy read and helps me see how, acting from a “heart at war,” I sometimes shut down relationships, or put others in a limiting “box” of my own creation. Instead, it helps me see that I can learn to act with a “heart at peace” to go deeper with a spouse, an undocumented immigrant, a transgender co-worker, or a United Methodist who likes a different style of music, to listen and understand.  This kind of curious, humble, respectful conversation is at the core of Christ’s teaching that we should love neighbor as self. And I trust Brian Brown and a host of others who have practiced what The Anatomy of Peace offers and found it to be helpful for individuals who are stuck in conflicted relationships. It’s one way of striving to better love God, and neighbor as self.

Frankly, I can’t wait to see United Methodists leaning into a small circle of colleagues, listening, clarifying, and seeking new understanding. We don’t have to love the way the tool was produced, or apply it where it might do harm. But, where two or three are gathered . . . peace can break out.

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