Agree to Disagree

As thoughts turn to reopening churches, I have been thinking less about the logistics of that (although I know that matters a lot) and more about what it means to “agree to disagree” as the church. How can we do that well as Christ followers? How can we do that well with our fellow Christ followers? Agreeing to disagree also affects how we respond to and interact with the folks who are in our community but not part of our church.

Before I type much more, I think I should say that I am not sure I have a lot of solid answers here. My goal is to get us all working on this one and mulling over some ideas. This is not an official statement from some director guy at some headquarters place. It’s me thinking out loud.

The reason I wonder about this is because I can imagine it becoming a thing when we start gathering again.  I’ve thought of a couple of extreme situations.

Extreme #1: our church feels like closing was an overreaction to events. We went along with it, but we weren’t happy, and now we are glad we can get back together and worship. Then on that first Sunday somebody shows up in a mask and asks about our cleaning procedures and safety protocols. What do we do with them?  

Extreme #2: our church is hesitant to reopen. We are being very cautious and going over and above suggested health and safety guidelines. We have clearly and carefully communicated our plan and preferences. Then on that first Sunday somebody shows up and doesn’t want to wear a mask.  What do we do with them?

There are plenty of things to disagree about besides masks. What about opinions regarding funding law enforcement agencies? Thoughts on protests? The role of government?  Firearm legislation? The list could goes on and on, and that’s just from recent headlines. 

Any of these could turn it into a huge argument, but I am not sure those are great long term options for unity in the body of Christ. I also don’t think it is helpful to adopt the stance that, “If they don’t like it here they can go someplace else.” I think we are called to do better than this as the people of God. So what should guide us? James, the brother of Jesus, suggested that we should be quick to listen and slow to speak. That might be a good place to start.  What if our goal became gaining understanding instead of winning?

Scripture also talks a lot about loving each other, the other, and the enemy which is pretty much everyone – even people who disagree with us. Love one another is a part of a list of “one anothers” that are meant to talk about how we relate to each other as the people of God. What if one another became our main focus instead of being right and getting my way? Living out those two Scriptural principles could help conversations and  disagreements happen from a much better place, and then maybe we (the church) will end up in a much better place.

Personally, I am not sure I want to attend a church where everyone thinks exactly the same way as me on every point because (and don’t tell anyone this) I am pretty sure I don’t know everything. It is even possible that I may not be right about everything because I don’t have all the information or don’t understand all the aspects of any given issue. I need folks who will talk to me, listen to me, and help me shape my thoughts and ideas so that I can be more like Jesus and I hope to contribute the same to their lives, but that’s not going to happen if I have to be right and win all the time.

None of this is new. The first church had disagreements. I guess I am just thinking about it again because we find ourselves in a unique place. Life and circumstances are coming together to give us all a chance to work on this stuff again. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity.  Let’s pray together that God helps us (not them) get this right.

Marc McAlister

Director of Leadership Development and Church Health

Free Methodist Church in Canada