I am always surprised by people who get uncomfortable or upset with disagreement. We have all seen those moments, we have all witnessed a disagreement change the dynamic of a conversation.
And no, I am not talking about conflict, but genuine disagreement. Imagine, three or four people having a conversation and a particular opinion or point of view is brought forward by one or two. Then someone says, “I disagree.” And the disagreement isn’t about conflict, but a difference of perspective. One opinion is put on the table, only to be followed by a contrary opinion. No fighting, no conflict, just two opposing opinions existing in the same space.
These disagreement moments make us uncomfortable. Often, we just don’t know how to move forward. Living in the tension of opposing opinions feels uncomfortable.
Many Christians suffer from being unable to live with disagreement. Many Christian groups go so far as to excommunicate those who disagree. Questions, differences of opinions, opposing views are not permitted. Towing the party line is expected.
And what this really means is a couple things. Different ideas are rejected with prejudice, or those who think or feel differently than the group are silenced.
The Lutheran body that I belong to has suffered with this inability to live with disagreement. As we considered allowing same-sex marriage in our congregations, many threatened to leave if an opinion different than their own was adopted. Individuals, pastors and congregations all threatened to sever relationships. Even though the new policies allowed for a difference of opinions by not forcing anyone to hold to views or perform marriages that they didn’t want to perform, many could not even remain in fellowship with those who disagreed with them.
The church that I grew up in, where my dad and grandparents were founding members, voted to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. They left not because they were being challenged to change their views, opinions, beliefs or practices, but because they couldn’t remain in fellowship with others who held different views, opinions, beliefs or practices.
The thing that bothers me about this refusal to abide disagreement, is that I find disagreement a beautiful thing. In fact, I cherish those who disagree with me.
That might sound strange, so let me explain.
Throughout my childhood, one of my primary relationships was with someone who could not empathize or sympathize with others. This person was, and continues to be, unable to hear or identify the feelings, ideas, views or opinions of others. In a relationship like this, there is no room for disagreement because all thoughts, feelings, ideas or opinions are rejected if they do not match. There is no hearing of others, there is no consideration of another’s point of view, there is no attempt to take seriously that someone else might have a valid difference of opinion.
In my adult life, I have learned that this is abuse. Relationships where there is no room for the other, where there is no room for consideration of another perspective is hardly a relationship at all.
Christians often draw the line there. There is no room for disagreement, there is only agreement or rejection.
Christians are taught to either go along unthinkingly with the group or leader, to suppress questions, to stifle alternate points of views, to only allow room for one opinion/way of thinking/perspective.
And when ideas, feelings, thoughts or opinions different than the approved ones crop up, they are rejected with prejudice. Rejected before any consideration is given, rejected as dangerous, wrong or harmful.
When members of Christian groups, particularly those on the margins or those without power (ie., women, minorities, those with different gender identities, etc…) bring up new ideas, different perspectives or alternate opinions they are accused of being divisive.
Again, this is abuse.
So often Christians reject and avoid disagreement at all costs.
And yet, there is also something beautiful and wonderful about disagreement.
Disagreement, initially makes many of us uncomfortable because we are not good at living with tension. Once we can settle our discomfort with the tension though, there is something about disagreement that we need as Christians, as human beings, to recognize.
In order to have someone disagree with you they must first hear you. Another must first take seriously your point of view. He or she must consider your opinion as possible and legitimate. As human beings we crave being heard by another. We need to know that we are not alone, and when someone truly hears us, we are not alone.
And it goes deeper than that.
When someone hears us, considers our ideas, thoughts, emotions, perspectives and opinions AND THEN takes them so seriously that they are willing to disagree… well that is someone who thinks we are incredibly important.
In fact, I think disagreement is at the heart of our relationship with God.
God is constantly disagreeing with human beings.
While we choose sinfulness, selfishness, violence, suffering and death, God disagrees and chooses life for us.
God takes us seriously enough to consider us, to hear us out, and then to disagree. God went so far as to become one of us in the incarnation, in Christ. God is serious about hearing us from our perspective.
And still, God does not agree with our choices, and nor does God reject us and cast us into the outer darkness.
God disagrees with our condition, with our predilections for death.
God disagrees with us and chooses life for us and for all creation.
This is why disagreement is beautiful. This is why Christians need to practice disagreeing with each other. Because we are transformed by our disagreement with God, and we will be transformed for the better through honest disagreement each other.
This is why Christians need to acknowledge the tension with live in. That we are justified sinners, we are the dead made alive in Christ, we are in relationship with God who disagrees.
Because when Christians demand agreement, when we threaten rejection, we are missing an inherent feature of God’s relationship with us – Living in the beautiful tension of disagreement.
So let’s start honestly disagreeing with each other, because it will change us for the better.
PS Sorry it has been a while since my lost post, I had surgery last week and I have been on the mend for the last 10 days.