Disagree without being disagreeable

The Standard January 29, 2020

One of my biggest projects in college was a paper for Judicial Process. I had to research the backgrounds of the Supreme Court justices who ruled on a certain split case and determine what outside factors might have contributed to their different perspectives. Of course, justices on the highest court in the land are given lifetime appointments to guard and interpret the Constitution of the United States as objectively as possible with the goal of equal protection under the law. Although narrowly decided Supreme Court cases receive the majority of the press, the most likely result is a unanimous decision. From October 2000 to June 2018 an average of 36% of all decisions were unanimous. Approximately 15% were 7-to-2 or 8-to-1. Only 19% of the cases resulted in a 5-to-4 vote.  In the 2016-2017 term 57% of the decisions were unanimous but that dropped to about 34% in the 2017-2018 term. Even amongst judges from the best law schools in the country with the most spectacular resumes, our top experts, there is some disagreement as to the interpretation of the Constitution. It makes one wonder if people ever can distance themselves completely from ideological or political leanings or the experiences that have shaped their thinking.

While most Christians agree on the essential tenets of the faith, there are many gray areas that potentially could divide us. Ideally, we will choose to concentrate on God who brings us together. When it comes to interpreting the Bible and discerning important things, believers are given the Holy Spirit. “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2: 12-16)

Many Christian beliefs and practices seem foreign or foolish to the world but even within the family of faith there are extreme differences of opinion. We should not shy away from doing the hard work of study and examination of the Bible and relevant societal issues. Never will we all agree on everything but we must be quick to listen to others and to treat them with respect. Christians need not be invisible in the public arena, especially regarding important matters. We must stand up for what we believe is right and just, but must do so with proper motives and a good nature.

Ron Sider recently wrote in a blog post, “It seems to me that the church should be the best place for modeling that kind of respectful listening and dialogue. Christians know that Jesus should be Lord of every part of our lives, including our politics. Christians know that our oneness in Christ’s one body is far more important that political disagreements. Christians remember that our Lord prayed that the loving unity of his disciples would be so visible that the world would believe. Today, tragically, our harsh disagreement and unfaithfulness make many turn away in disgust.”

Years ago pastor and author Rick Warren said, “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” It is okay to disagree. It is okay to express disagreement politely.  In Romans 12:18 Paul wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

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