Agree to Disagree
Today’s question strikes very close to my heart. We have lost the ability to disagree with one another and yet stand together. This inability makes me lament. The founder of the denomination I serve is credited with being the first to print the phrase “agree to disagree,” but we have thrown this right out the window. Now our view is to agree with me or die to me. No middle ground.
And I hate it. I really, really hate it.
The questions posed for today’s post comes from two members. The first question captures a broader question while the second is more specific to United Methodism. The first question is “where do we draw the line or is there a line when it comes to living at peace with everyone?” The second question is “do you foresee a big pending split in the United Methodist Church over social issues?” For my short answers, skip to the bottom. Otherwise, here we go!
Our society is one of increasing polarity. As Bill Bishop shows in his book The Big Sort, this venture into more polarized stances and opinions have been in the works for decades. People in the USA have slowly, but surely, moved into “like-minded” neighborhoods and communities. It is not uncommon to see families move across their own city to be in an area that reflects themselves politically, theologically, ethically, and otherwise. The increase of homogeneity in our society has bolstered the growth of things like mega-churches, larger shopping malls, some civic groups, etc.. It has also increased passion in various areas.
But there is a negative result from sorting ourselves into like-minded groups as well.
We have lost the ability to have conversations in the midst of disagreements and those differences are tearing us apart.
As republicans and democrats, rich and poor, religious and non-religious move into like-minded areas, the conversations between the differing views have become fewer and farther between. Once there were discussions and debates between differing stances. Now there seems to be arguments and yelling matches. Rather than hearing the opposite side from us we immediately label those with whom we disagree as incompetent, bigots, idiots, and the full range of negative insults. We have lost the ability to have conversations in the midst of disagreements and those differences are tearing us apart and ripping apart the ability to work together.
A Biblical Case
The increasing division in our society is not unlike the factions Paul addresses in the churches at Corinth. In the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul appeals to the members of the church at Corinth to be united. It is clear that people had divided themselves in factions where some followed Paul, some Apollos, some Peter, and others claiming to only follow Christ. In these cases, it became clear that each faction was unwilling to work alongside the others. This disunity threatened to crumble the very foundation of the church at Corinth.
Paul spends considerable time in his letters discussing the importance of being united in Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12 he describes the Church as the body of Christ. Each member is important and if it were to be divided it would not function as well as it could. I preached a sermon a few months ago related to these passages that you can listen to here.)
Other Biblical Evidence
But it’s not only in 1 Corinthians. In Ephesians 4, Paul tells the church at Ephesus to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” He writes to those in Rome “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Again, in Titus 3 Paul even teaches, “as for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, know that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” And in Galatians and Colossians Paul eliminates the labels of Jew, Greek, gentile, slave, free, etc. and writes that Christ is all, and in all.
It’s not just Paul. Jesus said in Luke & Matthew that “every kingdom divided against itself” will fail. And perhaps more famously, John 17 records Jesus’ desire and prayer for all his followers, “that they may all be one.”
The Spirit’s work seeks to bring people back to God, united as one, leading toward a common purpose in working toward realization of the in-breaking kingdom of God.
And there’s more. Pentecost flips babel on its head and brings those who are scattered back together. The Spirit’s work seeks to bring people back to God, united as one, leading toward a common purpose in working toward the realization of the in-breaking kingdom of God. The Eucharistic prayer, The Great Thanksgiving, even asks God to “make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world” and the bread and cup point to our unity in Christ. Through and through, the scriptural witness and work of the Church is about reconciliation, restoration, unity, peace, and love in the name of Jesus Christ.
And yet we are unwilling to work with another Christian down the road because they let women preach. We are unwilling to work with another Church because we think their means of baptism is inadequate. We reject entire churches and denominations because their atonement theology is not in line with our own. We choose to lump ourselves together with like minded people, assert how much better and more correct we are than others. We seek to prove our dominance over them.
And it is disgusting.
Christianity is about coming under the lordship of Jesus Christ. We have made ecclesiology and protection of our own egos, safety, pride, and selves more important than following the one whom we confess as Lord.
Christianity is not about dividing ourselves. Christianity is about coming under the lordship of Jesus Christ. We have made ecclesiology and protection of our own egos, safety, pride, and ourselves more important than following the one whom we confess as Lord. It pains me. It makes me mad. It makes me cry. It makes me shake my head in frustration. It makes me ask God, “why?”
Anyway, my answers to the questions:
1) Where is the line for living at peace with another? There is no line whereby we stop seeking peace. If lose our lives in the process, we ultimately will find life.
2) Do I see a big split in the United Methodist Church pending decisions regarding social issues? Probably. But I hope not. To know why, simply read the post above or this post from nearly a year ago: When United Methodists Became Untied.