No matter what we believe or what we stand for, someone will invariably disagree with us.
Sometimes it’s over petty life stuff. Obviously the correct way to replace the toilet paper roll is OVER — it’s just common sense — but there are strange folks out there who think that the proper way to replace the roll us UNDER. It makes for a frustrating bathroom experience when visiting the home of UNDER people.
Sometimes it’s in the classroom. Professors put out an idea or an issue, and everyone has an opinion about the context and history of the thing or how to go about addressing it. Sometimes the rigorous debate sparks better teamwork and greater relationship. Other times, disagreements are simply expressions of who’s corners we’re standing in and, how in our stubbornness, we refuse to leave.
Sometimes we disagree because we really don’t understand where the other person is coming from. We might speak the same language or attend the same church or work in the same office space or have similar stages in life, but we were both raised very differently. The person in front of me had an alcoholic father and I never did. Sure we both had dads and can relate on some aspects of being kids to dad. But on other levels, no matter how hard I try I have to concede that I have no idea what it means to be the child of an alcoholic. Yet when I insist on not just trying to relate my own experiences but equating my experiences, I create a breeding ground for disagreement.
Plus, my actions aren’t a reflection of truly wanting to understand. I’m only waiting in line for my life to be patted on the head while the other person is trying to share something precious with me.
Sometimes we disagree because we have been taught that disagreement is a fundamental part of being a Christians. We aren’t to be of this world. In it, yes. Of it, no. Greco-Roman style apologetics that have been taught to many of us since childhood kick in, and we try to point out the flaws of the other person’s arguments.
We aren’t seeing that we’re actually pointing out the flaws (or perceived flaws) in the other person as a human being. We believe we’re doing them a favour offering the kinds of help that we do, when in reality we’re pressing on them a belief system that wounds far more than it heals.
Sometimes we disagree because what we once believed no longer holds credibility or water. So we walk away, and in our need to heal both from damaging teachings and the loss of friends and colleagues that came with this kind of break, we aren’t terribly loving towards our past.
Here’s where I find myself.
I know I believe in the power of Love, and that God is Love, and that Love is far more than the Disney-fied tripe we’ve been fed in cartoons. But when people start demolishing LGBTQ+ people, or people of colour, or using the Bible to justify any stance that dehumanizes another people group, the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
I get afraid.
That fear often masks as anger.
These are the people who are supposed to be loving, patient, kind and keeping no record of wrongs. And yet like our predecessors who used scripture to justify chattel slavery, marital rape, terra nullius and Manifest Destiny, the tradition of using the bible to condemn other groups marches on.
But aren’t I doing the same thing when I refuse to engage people I disagree with?
Perhaps. I try not to use scripture while keeping my distance. I’ve written before about how I try to keep away from picking scriptures to pad an argument. Even now, as I wander through a seminary that believes that scripture is not infallible and that inerrancy does not mean “without error” (in fact, that definition of inerrancy is a relatively new one produced during the Great Reversal of the early 20th century), I encounter classmates who “prove” what God really said using scripture taken out of context.
That’s my experience. I’ve done it, and it’s been done to me both.
Again, I feel the fear squeeze my heart and breathing becomes shallow. Instead of trying to find a way to love my enemies, anger seems to bubble forward instead. I try to prove with words how wrong my fundamentalist friends are. But in reality, I’m only using the same patterns of behaviour I’ve learned since bible college (and before) to demolish the argument of another person to prove their error. Once I’ve dominated that corner, I win.
Because they’re wrong.
But do I win?
The more difficult challenge over and above proving someone else wrong, even if it’s in the name of trying to show the humanity of oppressed people, is loving my enemies. Why?
- Christ said so (yes, I still do return to Scripture in discussion now and then), and
- My enemy is my family.
Perhaps that’s why the hurt we cause one another wounds us so deeply. Our enemies are our family. They are our brothers and sisters. A faceless attacker may wound us deeply and leave tragic spiritual scars, but family…?
A family member who dominates us or shoves us down again and again with proofs of what God really intends?
Those injuries spear far deeper. The scar tissue is much thicker. The rehab afterwards takes far longer. We’re aghast that our family would hurt us that much, and we’re astonished that our spirits would be hurt that deeply by someone we love so much. And yet we’re expected to turn around and love these people?
I know I expect the people I’ve hurt to love me and forgive me. Our shared life together might not look like what it did before I caused damage, but if I’m honest I want those people to still consider me “friend”, or “sister”, or “colleague” or “equal”.
When I feel less than human — less than a creature who could possibly be loved by God — brought on my doctrines preached from family-at-large I disagree with, I don’t feel particularly loving. You see, people condemning LGBTQ+ people still have the power position. People might not like them for their stances, but it’s welcome in the public sphere, and a certain spin of scripture justifies (even glorifies) the way people apparently don’t like them propelling the cycle even more. They are free to “agree to disagree” without fear of significant reprisal.
But the Other still has had their personhood denied them — a God-given creation within all of us. Taken. Gone. Crushed. “Agree to disagree” around who God loves and doesn’t love, or condemns and doesn’t condemn only props up the power-wielder.
And where’s the love for such people?
I want it. I can say that with honesty. Am I “there” yet?
Some days. Some days not. It’s on the “not” days I feel most justified in my outrage and sense of injustice and woundedness. Can’t they see what they’re doing? Can’t they see the blood?
But then I wonder: are they asking the same questions of me?
Will I change my beliefs about certain things? I certainly hope so. I hope my theology and spirituality are continually challenged so that I keep growing instead of dying. Part of learning to love my family — all of my family — is a step towards that growth I seek.
Wherever you are with trying to love people with whom you disagree, I hope there’s something soothing in “Brother” from The Brilliance. Love never said it would be easy, and we were never told that once Love entered we would never have to work at life.
Let’s raise a glass to working at life, and working it out together. In love.