Marilyn Fargo: Dialogue with an Adventist specialist in conciliation

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9, KJV).

Very few have translated the beatitudes into be-in-action. Marilyn Fargo is an exception. She is the education specialist for Peacemaker Ministries, and spends her time resolving conflicts and training other Peacemakers.

Marilyn attended church school and academy in Idaho and went to Andrews University, where she obtained her training in elementary education. She later completed a master degree and did postgraduate work in special education and counseling. At Andrews she also met her husband, Mumtaz A. Fargo. The couple moved to Utah where Mumtaz finished his Ph.D. at the University of Utah. 1968 brought them to Montana, where Dr. Fargo taught at the Montana State University-Billings until his recent retirement.

Besides teaching and homemaking, Marilyn has always been involved in the local church. She has also mentored university students and hosted Bible study groups in their home. In the 1980s she discovered Peacemaker Ministries which has its headquarters in Billings, Montana. The organization's textbook, The Peacemaker by Ken Sande, is available on line (http://Hispeace.org).

Today both Marilyn and her husband are Certified Christian Conciliators trained by Peacemaker Ministries. Their goal is to prevent or resolve conflicts in homes, schools, churches, businesses, and communities through the biblical principle of conciliation.

Marilyn, to begin with, how did you get your passion for peacemaking?

In 1982, Ken Sande, a young Christian attorney, was challenged to consider conciliation rather than litigation. In a group studying 1 Corinthians 6, he realized that Christian churches do not follow Paul's advice to resolve conflict within their local congregations. From that recognition he began Peacemaker Ministries.

I took one of the beginning Peacemaker seminars and realized how God has given us the tools to live in harmony through His Word. Peacemaking principles benefit all our relationships. Peacemaker training enabled me to admit, apologize, and ask forgiveness when I offended someone.

So you and your husband both trained to be conciliators.

We wanted to deal with conflict God's way at all levels. Peacemaker Ministries generates resources and seminars to equip Christians. As we shared these biblical principles, we needed advanced training and interaction with professional Christian conciliators. We felt God brought us to Billings for this experience.

I understand Peacemaker Ministries offers three levels of training.

Seminars introduce Christians to biblical principles and processes for dealing with conflict. These seminars equip people to address conflict in their own lives. God provides the homework.

Reconciler training provides the information and experience to teach the principles in Sabbath school classes, small groups, and church sermons. Reconcilers share resources and may mediate between individuals using the Matthew 18:15-20 process.

Advanced training and the certification program equip conciliators to help resolve disputes, address substantive issues, and restore relationships. Courses on counseling, biblical and civil law are part of the training and are utilized during the live practicum.

What training do church leaders and members need who are asked to participate in the process?

We study biblical processes and examples with each client or group. Most know the biblical references, but have not applied them in real life. Everyone involved signs an agreement that holds each party to confidentiality and Christian ethics. The process is specific, and the Holy Spirit guides through the stages of counseling--overlook, discuss, and negotiate. If that does not resolve the dispute, we move to the assisted responses of mediation, arbitration, and church discipline to restore broken relationships.

For example: A student at a secular university needs to take a class that meets on Sabbath. The student checks alternatives and prays for guidance. Then he or she asks the advisor about accommodations. If there are none, the student may seek help to negotiate a reasonable solution to meet requirements for the class and still keep Sabbath, such as taping the lecture, getting notes, or doing a project. A conciliator prays, counsels, and assists the student through the process.

Another example: A church elder is involved in an adulterous affair. One of the parties seeks conciliation. There is prayer, Scripture study, paperwork, and a goal to bring glory to God, serve others, and grow to be more like Jesus. This more complicated process includes counseling, confession, repentance, forgiveness, and redemptive discipline. With support and understanding, relationships can be healed, marriages saved, and the community of believers strengthened.

What kind of cases do you see most frequently?

Because I am involved with training for Young Peacemakers, I provide in-service training for faculty, parents, students, and churches. I also conduct practicums to equip others to be trainers.

I often deal with disruptive behaviors of students and help schools design rules and processes to promote peace and positive relationships. Peacemaker Ministries has developed a curriculum for grades 2-6 and is completing one for grades 7-9. I also work with families facing divorce, estate settlement, or workplace issues. We also draft conciliation clauses for contractual agreements.

The seminar seems like something we could all benefit from. Is it recommended for assistance in our private lives?

Exactly. The seminar opens with the "slippery slope" concept, explaining how people react to conflict with escape or attack responses. Scripture offers resolutions beginning with overlooking an offense (Proverbs 19:11), through the steps of Matthew 18:15-20, and ending with redemptive church discipline by "treating the offender as an unbeliever." That last step means that the person "doesn't get it," and we start all over.

Tell us what you mean by conflict.

We define conflict as a "difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone else" as described in James 4:1-2. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin (John 16:8) and a conflicted person will realize that genuine peace may be found only through Jesus Christ.

How do you educate people about reconciliation in a troubled congregation?

We begin with a seminar and invite all members and require leaders to attend. We also invite non-attending and former members. Concurrently, we may also have a Youth Peacemaker program. We then schedule interviews and encourage reconciliation through mediation. We usually have a board meeting to discuss the ongoing application of the principles. We like to end with a church family "Celebration of Reconciliation" that includes communion. I write a spiritual report detailing the process, list recommendations, and keep in contact during the year to support and encourage accountability.

How do most people respond to the process?

I know churches and organizations that have peacemaking seminars and small groups to train members. They encourage confession, repentance, and forgiveness to heal relationships. Each leader and member is held to a high degree of accountability.

We find that most need information and direction about this process and are grateful when they experience God's peace in relationships. Christians should be encouraged to take unresolved conflicts to the church family.

Peacemaking also has political aspects. How can citizens anywhere in the world bring these principles into use in their secular communities?

When people study God's way of dealing with conflict, they immediately find opportunities to address issues. Micah 6:8 gives an answer to a Christian citizen's role: "To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God" (NIV). War and conflict in the world had its root in Lucifer's assault against God's government. God urges His followers to seek peace. The Great Controversy model shows how God deals with conflict. He did not abuse His authority. He offered reconciliation. Through Christ, He gave us the ministry and message of reconciliation. We are His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

Peacemaking principles are crucial in every aspect of life. A common source of conflict is rebellion against authority in the church, government, family, or workplace. All legitimate authority has been established by God for the purpose of maintaining peace and order (Romans 13:1-7). When a person in authority instructs you to do something that you believe is unwise, unfair, or sinful, it is appropriate to make a respectful appeal and negotiate solutions (Esther 7:1-6; Daniel 1:6-16).

If our witness is to be effective, we should have something to show the world that it does not possess. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spelled out the differences between worldly troublemakers and Christian peacemakers. The Golden Rule is still valid: "'So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you'" (Matthew 7:12, NIV).

Should peacemaking be taught in Adventist schools?

Teaching students to respect, work with each other, and address issues is the foundation for their leadership. Those schools that are beginning to teach and implement these principles are being blessed.

I believe we should offer more training in conflict resolution with biblical peacemaking in our colleges and universities. Most graduating students don't have the skills needed to deal with inevitable conflict they will face in their professions. As a result, we have people moving out from jobs, localities, and even the ministry. Through this training we learn to prevent and resolve issues such as abuse, domestic violence, adultery, and divorce. Yes, it will be a good thing to teach students in our institutions the biblical way of conflict resolution.

Many Dialogue readers may be interested in being peacemakers. Any advice?

Peace is the essence of God's character, and He gives it to those who follow Him. Peace is about working with the Holy Spirit and being committed to applying God's Word to everyday situations. Those who want to work in conflict resolution must have a daily, meaningful walk with God, and have the desire and the will to help others in problem situations.

How can interested readers contact Peacemaker Ministries?

The headquarters address is Peacemaker Ministries, 1537 Avenue D, Suite 352, Billings, MT 59102, U.S.A. Phone: 406-256-1583. E-mail: mail@Hispeace.org Website: http://www.HisPeace.org

My address is P.O. Box 976, Sandpoint, ID 83854, U.S.A. Phone/fax: 208-263-2020. E-mail: mafargo4peace@msn.com

Interview by Ella Rydzewski. Ella Rydzewski is the editorial assistant of the Adventist Review.