Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Dysfunction Disagreement in Christian Conversations

I had another one of those conversations recently. You know, the sort where I ask a christian friend (as gently as I know how) a question about the implications of a statement they've made. And the response leaves me feeling like I've crossed some invisible line that reads, "Heretics and other outcasts stand here." My question remains unanswered...

This type of interaction seems to happen all too frequently. I question something, or I say I see it differently, or I simply raise the possibility of an alternative viewpoint, and the wagons circle in polite silence until I find myself on the outside looking in, counting the cost of wanting authentic relationship.

It makes me think. (Sorry, I'm still unrepentant over that particular "sin".) And it seems to me that the institutional church sets us up for this dysfunction. It fails us when it silences our questions. It stunts our growth and sets us up to founder in the real world.


Too many christians have been trained in an atmosphere where the leader speaks, and the sheep bleat in unquestioning acceptance. "My pastor says x, so that's the end of the discussion." And then they tend to repeat their favourite leader's statements, expecting to meet with the same response they've seen those leaders receive in the church.

Unquestioning acceptance.

The only trouble is that outside the walls of that culture bubble live people who have either woken up and shaken off their stupor, or who never fell down the rabbit-hole in the first place.

So when it happens that christians speak their 'truth' and are met with questioning (or worse still, disagreement!) they are totally unprepared for the shock, and unequipped to deal.

I'm not talking about ad hominem attacks here. I mean genuine questions asked by people who are seeking to engage in actual dialogue in the hope that maybe both parties will learn something.

But so many of us were taught that we had 'the truth' and if we just presented it in a manner that was authoritative enough, 'the world' would "see the light". 'The church' failed us like a parent who hides their child away in a darkened room to keep them 'safe'. Such a child might look normal, but they will be incapable of healthy or mature social interaction with the wider world.

Sadly, many well-meaning christians who have been taught their church's version of "the Truth" simply regurgitate it and expect people to accept it as gospel. And when they are met with anything but absolute endorsement, they don't seem to know what to do.

Some go into attack mode, angrily fighting back against an unseen enemy. Some pull the heretic card, outraged because "the bible clearly says..." Some go off on a tangent, piling up enough red herrings to stock a fishmonger's shop. And some play the conspiracy game in which said christian assumes the position of 'persecuted christian'.

Whatever their reaction, what they all fail to do is engage in rational, reasoned, grace-filled conversation. But I guess people can't do what they've never been taught or seen modelled. And for multitudes of otherwise intelligent people, the church has not only failed to provide a safe place to practice diversity of thought, it has actively discouraged it.

17 comments:

  1. this was good.. well said..

    i once had a pastor fond of saying let's agree to disagree when faced with any personal challenges to his biblical position on things.. his employing this saying, of course, was as antichristian as it comes.. for he used it as a deflective shield in order to shut down any conversations that surely would have worked toward effecting a mutual understanding and corporate unity of mind on things.. given the space and time.. which, of course, would inevitably involve the pastor sitting down and shutting up for a spell.. moreover, as a model of things right this teacher offered up this shutting down the conversation expression as a spiritually legitimate option for others to use as well..

    i personally never agreed to disagree, that would have put me at odds with God's Word (Phil. 2:1-2 makes this most clear), but the pastor was in the power position so it all issued and ended with him.. this sort of headship over the church, by whatever name, is the position of the antichrist, exalted as such by the institutional system that has put him in such an adversarial role.. but who's to know this unless the body of Christ begins to entertain such contrary questions in safe and healthy places outside the church?? for the archons and the powers of the church won't allow such conversations..

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    1. I can see why you don't like that phrase! It can be uncomfortable to engage in real discussion about a difficult subject, but it is both healthy and mature to do so. Using a position of power to silence others is neither of those things :(

      Personally, finding safe places to engage outside the church has been a life-saver for me :)

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    2. The "agree to disagree" has its place, sometimes you don't have the time, it's not the right place or whatever, but when you are holding all the cards it's a pretty cowardly thing to say. You don't have to agree because you don't need to let anyone know that there is a disagreement.

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    3. this is what i'm thinking, Dallas.. when it comes to ekklesial matters.. and a desire to remain faithful to Phil 2:1-2.. then such thinking doesn't have a place for me.. if pressed for time i can say something like, "let's agree to engage more on this later," but never, "let's agree to disagree on this matter".. the first response, in my reading, violates Scripture.. the second, i believe, is in line with what we're called to do as a community of believers.. to have the conversations, however long an difficult, that encourage us toward being the faithful Bride of Christ.. now i have to run.. got an "emergency" phone call.. which means my evening now is no longer my own.. later

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    4. short emergency..

      so in my estimation and among those of us in Christ, i see both answers as evasive maneuvers running counter to God's Word.. i.e., the mandated "let's agree to agree" and the less coercive "let's agree to disagree" statements.. they both work against the conversations needed for us to mature in the understanding of God's Word and for the unity of the Spirit such endeavors manifest..

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    5. I don't think that it depends on what you are talking about. I think that part of being of one mind and one accord is being able to say that, "hey we have a lot of common ground, but it doesn't look like we are going to agree on this one, but that's ok". I don't think that we need to feel the need to agree on everything, but all need to be pointed in the same direction with the same ultimate goal in mind.

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    6. That first don't shouldn't be there. Started writing, left, came back, and had flipped my train of thought.

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    7. agreed, Dallas.. keeping in mind the ideal for this exists outside the false authority structures of the church.. where the Word of God is recognized as the sole authority for our faith and practice.. not some book of order or pastor or counsel of elders.. we only look to what Scripture says for our agreement on things.. some things are mandated for agreement.. like in Galatians, for instance, the rule of the gospel that Paul laid out there.. but most other things and especially eschatological realities are a bit like looking through a mirror darkly.. as this side of the Parousia our understanding of most spiritual things is partial.. we beware of those presumptuous church leaders who mandate we bow to their doctrines that squeeze God into a ball and say there is our exclusive Truth..

      i don't remember anywhere where you and i don't see eye to eye on the Word of God.. certainly there are a few areas.. and every time we have encountered differences in reading.. it makes me happy.. cause most often it means i missed something and you're helping direct my sight with proper focus.. and even when we don't end up seeing things completely the same.. it's cool.. it means we're our own persons.. and if one of is off on something.. it's only a matter of time for the Spirit to bring us around.. He has His means.. and we are teachable..

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  2. I think that you are spot on here. At best a church might teach an argument for different questions that they might come across, but being able to thoughtfully consider different issues is rarely broached. I really don't think that there is any easy way to skip past wrestling with different issues, you might be able to gain a little knowledge that way but nothing in the way of wisdom.

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    1. "...a church might teach an argument for different questions that they might come across..."

      I had to laugh at that, because I've experienced it myself and know how unhelpful it is. It leads to the use of cliches and pat answers being trotted out as a one-size-fits-all solution to any issue that is raised. No thought or nuance needed.

      It reminds me of a non-alcoholic drink called "Claytons" which was advertised as, "The drink you have, when you're not having a drink." To me, those sort of 'answers' are what I call Calytons answers :P

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  3. What I find interesting is whether it is other Christians or the so-called shepherds of the flock, who do they think they are? Do they think that there is some unwritten rule that they should not be questioned by anyone? Truely, they are lost on a cloud somewhere!

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    1. Peter, it certainly does come from 'the top' in my experience. The rule may be unwritten, but it is extremely well enforced. So those 'under' them quickly learn not to question.

      Of course in some church circles, that law is literally taught as correct theology - and the only way to please God!

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    2. I don't know how tight these networks are, but as far as these unhealthy leadership models and spiritual abuse, I can't recommend enough the free book at

      http://www.redlandsbook.com

      Very informative and encouraging in its way. Very much recommended.

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    3. Thanks Dallas! I'll check it out :)

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  4. An interesting website that you might find interesting is called wickedshepherds.com

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    1. Thanks very much Peter. I'll pay it a visit :)

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