Have you seen friends and family experiencing division and even ‘unfriending’ one another over differences? Why is this happening, and what is the impact on our faith and leadership when we view disagreement as the enemy?

2 women sitting beside each other looking upset

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Disagreement does not have to be the enemy. Yet, for many in our culture and even in our Christian communities, disagreement is viewed as something to be avoided. And when we view disagreement this way, we react to it in unhealthy ways.

In this episode (part 1 of the conversation), I’m going to share 6 of the unhealthy responses to disagreement that I have seen take place in my own life as well as in the church and culture. I’m also discussing what happens as a result of these responses. In part 2 of this conversation, I’ll be sharing about how we can gain a different perspective about disagreement–one that reflects the love and light of Christ more effectively.

6 Unhealthy Responses to Disagreement as Christians

1. Isolation Approach

The isolation approach is usually an attempt to protect ourselves (or our kids) from false beliefs or from things that are not true. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. As a parent, I can relate with this desire to not allow all kinds of false things into my daughter’s heart and mind and soul.

In this approach, we don’t allow any differing perspectives or viewpoints into our lives. We don’t expose our kids to any different understandings of the world or we don’t talk to them about the different faiths that are out there. This results in a limited ability to discuss our faith in real world situations. We reduce the ability for us or our kids to practice discernment, and to learn how to defend what we believe.  

“Isolation results in a limited ability to discuss our faith in real world situations.”

2. Foolish Arguments

The second approach is getting into foolish arguments. Sometimes we don’t isolate ourselves from differing views. Instead, we spend a lot of time arguing with each other about secondary or minor issues. And by that, I mean issues that are not central to salvation and to the Gospel message.

There are people who will just get up in arms about every single little issue that’s out there–they will take disagreement to a whole new level, by pointing out how everyone else is wrong, and how they are right.

In churches, we can see disagreements–sometimes very harsh and heated disagreements–about things like musical styles, clothing choices, personality tests, participating in certain holidays, whether or not someone should consume alcohol, or participate in yoga… the list can go on and on. These arguments can and do divide us as Christ followers on a regular basis.

And if we think about it, they’re not actually central to the mission of the gospel. These arguments end up reducing our ability to effectively share the gospel and disciple people. These issues are not unimportant. But I think that some people can get really hung up on focusing on those issues rather than focusing on: How can I love God and love my neighbor, and get out there and make an impact in the world and show other people the love of Christ?

“Foolish arguments reduce our ability to effectively share the gospel and disciple people.”

Paul talks about this in his writings. He refers to some of these things as foolish arguments (2 Timothy 2:23). And my perspective is that when something is not a clear biblical mandate–meaning that there is not scripture that expressly dictates a certain way of living as a Christian–then I feel that it is a matter of Christian liberty, and a matter of personal discernment between you and God. And it’s not something that we need to spend a lot of time arguing about.

3. Demonizing doubt or differences

In some church circles, any whiff of doubt, or even a difference of opinion, can be seen as sinful or harmful. And expressing a different view theologically–even if it’s related to a minor or secondary issue–can be seen as dangerous and divisive.

In some churches, if you don’t immediately agree with the teacher, or the leader or the pastor, you might be seen as lacking faith or being spiritually immature. And in church leadership teams, questioning the status quo can be seen as subversive, and you might be at risk of losing your job. Now, again, I am not saying that this is the case in all churches, I definitely don’t believe that’s the case. But in some cases, that does happen.

In some situations, people don’t feel safe to share their doubts or differing perspectives. And I’ve talked about this, again, in recent episodes, when I was talking about bringing up feedback to your leader and receiving feedback as a leader. In those episodes, I talked about how we can create a safe space for our community if we are open to hearing feedback, and this is vitally important.

4. Generalizations and assumptions

Generalizations and assumptions are another way that we as a culture are handling disagreement. We make broad, sweeping generalizations about the people with whom we disagree. And it’s really easy to do this, especially when you haven’t had an actual conversation with them with someone who holds a different stance.

We can make these generalizations without having conversations. When we do that, we don’t have to understand or wrestle with what the other person actually believes, or with the idea itself. Instead, we just make an assumption in our minds about what they think about their motivations or the state of their heart. And then we make statements that may or may not actually be true about them based on what we have created in our head.

I really want to encourage us to think about this and to pay attention to how we’re talking about others–are we making assumptions or generalizations about other people? It’s very easy to do this. And like Shannon Popkin shared in our conversation with her, it’s especially easy to do this when you spend the majority of your time with people that you already agree with.

5. Outrage

Outrage is the new norm. When it comes to disagreeing with the culture, Christians are masters at this. And it’s not surprising that we disagree with a lot of things in our culture, because we live in a postmodern and post-Christian culture, where Christianity is not the norm.

We as Christians can become really righteously upset about what is going on in our culture. And that is not wrong in and of itself. It’s not wrong to be sad or, or heartbroken about what we are seeing in our culture. But what can be wrong is our response and behavior towards the culture around us.

Recommended reading: Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is at Its Worst by Ed Stetzer

It is not wrong to be upset or to take a biblical stance on the cultural issues that are happening. But we need to remember that we cannot expect people who are not followers of Jesus to live and abide by the standards of God’s word. We cannot think that they are going to care what the Bible says, or what God’s perspective is, on these issues, if they don’t value God.

We also need to remember that Jesus told us that we would be hated by the world, so this should not be a surprise. He showed us throughout scripture that we Christians are called to live according to a different standard than those who are not followers. And so we should not be surprised that we disagree with our culture on moral, ethical or spiritual issues. But rather, we should be prepared to address these differences in a way that reflects the love of Christ.

“We should not be surprised that we disagree with our culture on moral, ethical or spiritual issues. But we should be prepared to address these differences in a way that reflects the love of Christ.”

6. Equating love to agreement

Another unhealthy approach to disagreement is when we take the perspective that loving someone else means agreeing with them. In this view, any form of questioning or disagreement is seen as an attack on the other person. And to take it even further, if you don’t agree with a particular view, then you might be put into a group of people and you may have some kind of negative term attached to you because of your viewpoint.

According to our culture right now, if you love someone, you need to agree with them. And if you don’t agree with them, then you probably should stay silent, so that you’re not lumped into that category of haters.

Equating love to agreement is particularly harmful because it leaves no room for questions or curiosity. It’s simply: “If you don’t agree with my view on this issue, you don’t love me.” And that’s the end of the conversation. So the only choice someone has in response to this is to be out of relationship with the other person, or to fall in line and agree, even if they still have questions.

“Equating love to agreement is particularly harmful because it leaves no room for questions or curiosity.”

Now, this view is pretty close to what we talked about earlier with the concept of demonizing doubt. It’s just that demonizing doubt happens more within the church world, and equating love to agreement happens more in the broader non-Christian culture.

The result of these 6 unhealthy approaches to disagreement

What happens when we take any of the above approaches to the issue of disagreement? The ultimate result is ending up having a belief bubble or a bias bubble. When there’s no room for disagreement–when we see disagreement as the enemy–we tend to shut out any views that are different from ours or we try to shut them down.

This often produces a self righteous attitude about our particular perspective, or our particular denominational view, or anything that we see as the ultimate truth. It creates an ‘us versus them’ stance that we see happening in the media; it leads to unfriending people on social media because they voted for someone different than you.

When we see disagreement as the enemy, we create a world in which we are right and everyone else is wrong. This is different from disagreeing with someone about a particular topic, and vocalizing that disagreement in a way that discusses the issue versus demonizes the person.

Remember: this does not mean that we stay silent about our disagreements. And I’m not saying that we need to compromise on truth. Truth matters and we need to hold the truth in high regard.

But when we encounter disagreement, we should not view it as the enemy. Instead, we need to view it as an opportunity.

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