King's honor: From confrontation to conversation
We are attempting a rather ambitious project at The King’s College: our community strives to live together honorably. It is by no means an easy endeavor. Honor requires--demands, in fact--a willingness to confront. But when most students hear the word confrontation, many immediately shirk away from the unpleasant task. Most would rather turn away and hope the problem goes away.
Yet it will not. A life of honor necessarily involves confronting others, though it need not be abrasive. In fact, biblical confrontation demonstrates love and care. Matthew 18 models this approach beautifully, and I would like to explore its practical implications for the King’s community.
Matthew 18:18 begins this way: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.”
Here, Jesus instructs us not to publicly air what might be but a private grievance. Gossip prevails otherwise, and that destroys relationships. As has so often happened in imperfect humanity, however, we too quickly resort to gossip and intrigue. One wrong leads to another.
How might this apply to the King’s community? Suppose a student finds a roommate wearing her clothes or taking her food without asking. The one who is wronged might complain to her friends or even report it to staff and House leadership. She could even try to retaliate by taking things that belong to the roommate. But none of these approaches reflect the character of Matthew 18.
Instead of avoiding the subject, this student might speak with the roommate and address the issue. Perhaps the roommate came from a background where the community shared everything. Perhaps she did not realize she was taking another’s items. Perhaps she meant to ask, but forgot.
Left unspoken, all one sees is the action. The story is never shared. Thus, Scripture tells us to speak with the other person first, for “if he listens to you, you have gained a brother.”
On the flipside, if that does not work, verse 16 says to “take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” This represents the second stage of confrontation. Notice that the Bible does not tell us to gather the entire assembly and demand recompense. Rather, verify the grievance.
Why? Other witnesses offer outside perspective and wise counsel. They could even help resolve the issue. At every step in the confrontation process, Matthew 18 reveals a care for the brother or sister at fault.
To take another example, suppose you find out that your roommates invite friends of the opposite gender to stay over. The correct response is not trotting out the rulebook, reporting the incident to the administration, and, like Pontius Pilate, washing your hands clean of the matter. Instead, if the roommates do not listen to you, bring another House member or someone in House leadership.
Now, verse 17 reads: “if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” At first glance, those appear like harsh words. But the words implicitly demonstrate a greater love – one for the community.
If, for instance, a student smoking pot or drinking underage refuses to listen to you or to house leadership, then the issue goes to the broader King’s community. At King’s, we bring such issues to the Honor Council. Composed of students, staff and faculty, the Honor Council hears the case and endeavors to render a just and fair verdict. At times, this demands disciplinary action. Other situations need grace. But this ought not be used as a first option, but rather as a last recourse.
The Honor Council should be convened only in the gravest of situations and after exhausting all other options. After all, students who fail to listen and comply might be dismissed from the college. The process nevertheless demands just such a resolution. If personal, group and community confrontation bring no change, then love dictates separation. The community would fall apart if the person remained.
Do we at King’s practice this perfectly? Absolutely not. But this cannot be reason to abandon the honor system. For nothing resembles the biblical model so faithfully described in Matthew 18. Though practiced imperfectly, honor calls us to love, and love well. Only out of a willingness to confront and converse does true community arise.