I’ve had some experiences of disagreement recently. This happens in all of our lives, of course, but I find that this is a season when it’s happening more and more for those of us who have undergone a shift in our theology or in our politics. These are difficult days for many of us as we figure out how to follow Jesus or be faithful while the culture is changing and church is shifting and politics is enraging and the world seems on fire. How do we disagree well? How do we continue in relationship with people when we profoundly disagree? I don’t know all the answers here and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments but here is something that has helped me out in this process. (And this kind of disagreement is not the same thing as ugly places where the disagreement sucks the life out of us or abuses us or are unsafe for our souls or our bodies.)
In the early days of any awakening or shift, we’re often excited and opinionated. That’s normal. The temptation though is to turn each other into caricatures or demonize the place we have shifted FROM or people who think differently than us. We’ve awakened and how is it possible for everyone to be asleep! – or so we think.
In our opinions or beliefs, we are often like that the Pharisee who prayed in the temple “Thank you God, I’m not a sinner like THAT GUY OVER THERE” while That Guy wept and repented. I’m usually the Pharisee in that scenario: encountering a splinter with my pious “thank you, God, I’m not as bad as THOSE PEOPLE” while I have a plank in my own eye. Ugh. I hate this about myself. We can be harder on our old selves (and the people who walked with us in that season) than anyone else. And sure, there’s something to be said for internal family criticism as helpful for reformation.
However one thing Jesus keeps bothering me about is this: EVEN IF I am positive that I am right, EVEN IF I know that I know that my opinion on something is the right one, I don’t get a pass on my discipleship or on embodying the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).
It’s not like Jesus is standing there like, “Yes, you’re right, so please go be judgemental and prideful and cruel and divisive in an effort to make sure everyone sees it. I could really use some more defending in the public square and the best way to do that is with your ALL CAPS on and a stereotype.”
So when I’m in disagreement with anyone, I still am covenanted and committed to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. I won’t use the old tactics of the empire – bullying, violence, cruelty, mocking, silencing, etc. – and think that somehow I can baptize those things for sacred purposes. Rats, right?
Instead, we learn from Jesus who taught us about praying for those who persecute us, praying for our enemies, loving those who are most unlovable to us.
It seems Jesus kept wanting us to hang around with the people we most wanted to leave out.
It seems Jesus was more concerned about our trust and our love and our wholeness than our “right answers.”
And so I keep trying to find ways to disagree that are consistent with the fruit that the Spirit is bringing to bear in our lives: disagreement that is characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and even yes self-control. I have had to learn this one the hard way, I’m afraid, as I did not always do this very well.
And this doesn’t mean we suck it up and stay silent out of “love.” Nope. We still rise. We still speak truth to power. We still proclaim the ways of the Kingdom. We still challenge the empire. We still seek to teach good true things, to undermine the evil. We still push back against the darkness with stubborn light. We still teach, we still preach, we still declare, we still proclaim.
But we do it like a disciple.
This is one of the lovely and frustrating things about following Jesus: we don’t get to be complacent for long. There is always a new challenge, a new refining, a new way to practice the ways of the resurrection in our lives. I don’t now if I do it well now, to be honest, I’m still learning this one. I think that’s why it’s so helpful that Wendell Berry called our lives the “practice” of resurrection: I’m always practicing it over and over.
It’s also been helpful for me to remember that this whole thing – whatever the thing is – didn’t start with me and it won’t end with me but I get to participate in what Jesus is doing in the world, bringing life to the places of death.
I am also regularly reminded of very STRONG opinions I held not to long ago – opinions that I would have gone down swinging for (and did) – and those very opinions have changed or become more nuanced. I have been wrong. Profoundly wrong. And I am likely wrong about something right this second and in this post. None of us have the market cornered on truth. A bit of humility is probably healthy for all of us.
And the other thing I have found very helpful is to also cultivate the places of hope. To find the people who are living out the Gospel and to apprentice myself to them, to be encouraged by how they live out the Gospel, to see life brimming in unexpected places. The disagreements are not the whole story of the Church or the world: we have so much more to love and to celebrate. Keeping my eyes on the bigger story of what God is doing in the world helps me to remember that even when I am discouraged by disagreement or conflict that this conflict is part of the story and the rest of the story testifies to abundant life and Gospel goodness.
So sure, we disagree. And watch us practice how to disagree beautifully, how to disagree like a disciple, how to disagree with the big picture of the kingdom of God before us, how to disagree with a winsome holiness of mischief, how to be gentle with our old selves, and maybe even our disagreement can be an invitation because it changes the terms of the fight.
It’s not always about winning the argument, after all, it’s about following Jesus. God didn’t call me to succeed in making sure everyone agrees with my way of seeing things but instead to be faithful to Jesus.