Love and disagreement
Due to the probing nature of the book I am currently working on (Thinking Naughty Thoughts: On church, and why I think we need to change - see current projects), I have been giving a lot of thought lately about the social dynamics involved when people with various points of view disagree on a subject. I am by nature a harmoniser, someone who seeks to avoid conflict. But I am also a person who is drawn to ideas and the intellect, and as such I have strong opinions about certain things.
The following paragraphs, taken from Thinking Naughty Thoughts, shed some light on how I go about resolving the tensions caused by my personality that is both opinionated and accommodating.
"I honestly believe that there is not one of us, including myself, who can adequately answer these questions by ourselves without the insights and input of others. But we can and surely must contribute our voices to the conversations stimulated by such questions through our responses that continue to be forged through our own lived experience. What follows in this book are my own responses to these and other questions. They are by no means absolute answers; even so they are absolutely necessary, for mainly two reasons: one, I need to know what I am thinking (an often ignored fact in an increasingly insane and thoughtless world), and two, my thoughts and life are meant to contribute to the conversations and directions these questions open up in the communities of which I am a part."
"To disagree and to dialogue with someone who has a different point of view than our own without slandering them is the basis of civility. I find it strange that many Christians can't even be civil when in actual fact we are called beyond civility to Christlikeness. To follow Christ is to walk in love, and if that love cannot be made manifest in the respect we show to people who disagree with us, then what right do we have to identify with Christ in the first place? How we disagree is as important, if not more important, than reaching the conclusion that lies somewhere between our varying points of view."
"I think there are many reasons for our defensive attitude towards those who disagree with us, whether we find them amongst the fold or outside in 'the world.' I want to suggest that one of the biggest reasons we so easily take offense and become self-protective of our own beliefs is the fact that we practice and understand our faith in terms of institutional principles. Any institution has to safeguard its own interest against those who may potentially intrude on its turf. As such it has to find easy answers to difficult questions and formulate nice concise summaries of its core beliefs and practices. Institutions need these clear cut creeds and principles in order to cast an unambiguous vision and mission for its members to buy in to and follow."
"If and when discussions or disagreements regarding God's will and ways within a faith community do surface that need clarification, and a consensus of sorts needs to be reached, it is once again my sincere belief that it is better handled by a group of seasoned practitioners of the faith connected to and not at all removed from the rest of the community, who can show the way forward not because they are officially endowed with leadership positions but because their wisdom, selflessness and love are evident to all. Never, in my opinion, is it safe or biblically commendable to have one person or even a group of people vested with official authority regardless of their spiritual maturity make decisions that influences the lives of other Christians."
"When we touch God, who is pure Spirit, our first response is often that of wonder, silence, awe and humility. If our only or even primary response to a trans-rational Being is one of pure rationality, we will forever be lost in the labyrinth of never ending arguments and counter-arguments, giving birth to a culture of disagreement, divisiveness, stereotyping and violence."
Thoughts like this on the subject of the plurality of opinion have helped me to be a better human being as well as a better communicator. Above all, when I am engaged in dialogue with someone I disagree with, I try and remember the counsel of Paul in the book of 1 Corinthians:
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
When I disagree with someone I try and believe the best about them: there is a reason they believe the way they do, act the way they do and even react the way they do. To love them is to believe the best about them and to respect their point of view and the journey they have travelled to reach their current destination.
I don't have to agree with them. But act indifferently and disrespectfully toward them? Never.