Recently, I saw some words that would cause many Church of the Brethren spines to stiffen or to wilt in fear and anxiety–the gift of disagreement. A gift?!! Heavens no! We see how disagreement is handled in world, in our public institutions, in our homes, and in our churches, and all too often, the picture is downright ugly. When disagreement arises, each “side” can feel threatened or even disrespected. Disagreement can tap not only into the possible need to change, but also tap into our deep seated fears about our own worth, our own standing in the human community and with our God. We almost instinctively leap into defensive action to “prove” our point, to “prove” we are right, At times in the human community, persons go to incredible and awful lengths to make such a proof, even to making judgments that lead to cruelty and killing. A gift of disagreement? Hardly! And yet, there it was as a title at the top of my daily devotion, called Inward, Outward, from the Church of the Savior for Sunday, August 17, 2014.
The vision we have of the Reign of God would be when everyone is in agreement, there is no more mourning and crying and even no more disagreement. In our churches and homes and institutions and among the world’s peoples, we often fervently desire a state of complete agreement. My vision has changed over time, however, and I have come to think that, perhaps, the Reign of God which resides in us, can be not so much agreement as how we handle disagreement.
The first requirement for disagreements that might hide a gift in their inner being would be humility–the understanding that I am not God, and that God might use disagreement to enlarge our human understanding of who and how God is. And even in disagreement, I have worth as a child of God.
The second requirement for gifted disagreements would be respect, and may I say, Christian love, such as is mentioned in Colossians 3:12-17, in which we hold our brothers and sisters. Such love does not require agreement in all things to be true and beautiful. And with such love, I can be calm and peaceful and wholehearted in my regard for these children of God. I can state my opinions and ideas with quiet grace.
The third requirement for such a gift as disagreement might offer is an eagerness to learn, to expand our God-given minds and hearts.
So then, what might be the gifts that disagreement would hold out to us? If we use our “indoor voices” in humility, respect, love, and eagerness to learn, here are some of the gifts:
1. More compelling knowledge of what the deepest hopes and desires of our brothers and sisters are, as expressed by their stated convictions.
2. The chance to add new dimensions to our faith and the faith of our brothers and sisters. Our faith may gain new perspective, our faith may see better why we think what we think , or our faith may be made more tender and gracious as we interact. And the same may happen for their faith as well!
3. And the possibility of having an even deeper and more vital relationship with these sisters and brothers, based on who they truly are, not just on a facade presented to the world.
I have discovered that, far from being “contaminated” by disagreement, I am enriched in my own mind and heart, if the disagreement is handled well. My faith has been stronger and my life made better by the exchange of ideas and thoughts, hopes and dreams, and visions for our beloved Lord, for Jesus Christ, and for the Holy Spirit. The “gift of disagreement?” Absolutely! AMEN