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Do We Need to Disagree?

This is thought dump from brain to blog without passing through any filters.  This means it may be twaddle.

As I was thinking about the Trident debate, and the differing views I'd heard expressed by two Christians, I also visited a friend's blog and left a mischeivous (in my view) comment to his post on the same topic.  He was rightly observing that this issue gets discussed at denominational level but he wondered how many local churches even considered it.  I commented that I wondered if those at denominational level were aware how many of their members were employed in this industry.

All this had made me think - a bit - about the importance of hearing diffenret views.  When you write undergrad essays you are expected to have read a variety of views on whatever you are studying, when we get out into the (relatively) real world, do we continue to do so, or do we just pick those with whom we intuitively agree?

When denominations endeavour to express views on issues, do they really explore both/all/as many as possible sides of the debate, or do they just develop an argument for the one that those in the relevent departments hold?  I don't know the answer, but I suspect it is is far easier to start from the assertion 'x is right' or 'y is wrong' and set out to support it theologically than it is to start with a more honest and open question of 'what might be a Christian response to z?

As I read lovely dusty 17th century books full of name-calling and mud-slinging by Baptists of opposing views, I begin to realise that what we have to learn from them is far, far more than processes, methods and types of resources (though all of these are good) but actually that it is important to disagree, and to disagree enough to REALLY do the work to make our case. 

Way back when I was a teenager doing Duke of Edinburgh's Award, one of the courses involved a group debate on whether or not alcohol should be served at sixth form discos (some things just don't change!).  Each half of the group was assigned a case to put - our group the case FOR, even though all of us intuitively opposed it - what creeps we were!  What we discovered was that it was actually quite easy to develop a case we did not support, and more importantly, that in doing so, we understood our own stand point better.  Now there's an interesting idea for our ethicists and denominational greats to consider, if they don't already.

I meet lots of minsters with whom I have interesting debates on all sorts of issues.  Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don't,  sometimes one or other of us acts the advocate of the 'dark side' just to make the debate more fun.  These discussions never do any harm, indeed, so long as each person is willing to enter the debate with a degree of honesty, openness and, hmm, what is the word? - humility? provisionality? each can grow in understanding whilst retinaing their disctinctive perspectives.

So, I think I'm saying that disagreement is important, but it needs to be employed creatively.  Too easily we descend into 'dissing' that with which we do not agree, and those who feel persecuted or undervalued in turn become the persecutors or devaluers.  The old rabbinic question 'what does it say, how do you read it?' used by Jesus himself, seems to be a lovely openning for honest exploration: it does not say 'I am right, you are wrong' instead it opens the way for deabte, discussion - even disagreement.

My little sister hates the phrase 'creative tension' with a passion, whilst I love it, because for me it expresses a healthy openness to listen to the 'other' and somewhere between them to find new insights.  Yet she and I can agree to disagree over the words, whilst sharing the growth such debate/tension brings.  The key is in creativity - when it degenerates into plain old tension, it's time for coffee/chocolate/large double whatever.  She may be a misguided URC while I'm a whacky Bappy, but the banter we exchange actually affirms each of us in our denominational allegiences (though I obviously pray that one day she'll see the light and join the one true church!  Not).  Maybe humour, even as batty as mine, is part of the key to healthy disagreement?

Of course, time and resources inevitably impact our ability to enter thorough-going exploration of complex issues, and in the end we have to trust those who, we have appointed to get on with the job but I do wonder if we perhaps lose out if we make life too smooth?


  • Disagreement is important? How can you possibly think that?



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