Disagreements are inevitable.
People disagree about climate change, the best way to load the dishwasher, who should be president, March Madness bracket seedings, the efficacy of vaccines, how to eat fried chicken (fingers vs. fork), what to do about Vladimir Putin, and whether green beer should be served more often than just St. Patrick’s Day.
Because disagreements often lead to devaluing those who hold different views, some people have made up their minds never to disagree again.
In his book Jesus Among Secular Gods, cultural critic Vince Vitale reports a conversation that one of his colleagues, Abdu Murray, had with a student on an American college campus.
Student: I don’t prefer Nazism’s version of the truth, but I can’t say that they are wrong. My worldview requires that I don’t disrespect anyone by saying that they are wrong.
Abdu: Wait a minute, are you telling me that you can’t disagree with anyone?
Student: Yes, that’s right.
Abdu: Sure, you can.
Student: No, I can’t.
Abdu: You just did!
Avoiding disagreement is impossible. Trying to do so means we would have to say goodbye to meaningful conversation.
That’s because we all make exclusive truth claims, even if our truth claim is that we shouldn’t make truth claims.
In the midst of it all, however, even as we acknowledge that disagreements are inevitable, we can learn how to disagree well.
We can agree to disagree agreeably.
Vitale points out that disagreement is actually a compliment – a sign of investment in an issue (like the validity of moral values or the existence of God) that someone else thinks is worth questioning or considering. Post-modern thinkers may protest that differing views always end up being power plays. But disagreements are just as likely to provide an opportunity to listen, learn, and love another person who doesn’t see the world quite the way I do.
People reading the book of Acts for the first time may be shocked to learn that Jesus’ earliest followers didn’t always agree with each other.
Paul had such a “sharp disagreement” with his friend and mentor Barnabas that they dissolved their ministry partnership and went their separate ways (Acts 15:39). Likewise, the words used to describe the activity of the disciples in the book of Acts reveal their ongoing engagement with radically different worldviews and opinions. The early Christians involved themselves in reasoning, arguing, examining, debating, explaining, defending, refuting, convincing, and persuading. They clearly weren’t shy about disagreeing with the prevailing views of the ancient world.
In one ministry context after another, however, they became skilled in the fine art of disagreeing agreeably.
And what was the key to their success? It always came down to love.
Vitale concludes, “What we need is not the end to disagreement but the reality of a love big enough to inspire us to disagree without devaluing.”
We may not always agree about things – even things that matter immensely.
But we can agree to love and value each other every step of the way, knowing that God is the One who will ultimately make all things right.