Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Friendly Disagreements

Many years ago I heard a Donald Miller say, “If you surround yourself with people who agree with you, you don’t have friends, you have a support group.” When I began to take relational inventory I realized that is exactly what I was doing. I was surrounded by people who affirmed my theological, political, and sociological points of view. I also soon realized that some of these people were just mean and I really didn’t want to be around them. I discovered that we were “friends” simply because
we agreed on key issues related to faith, politics, and life. I made the determination that I was going to expand my relationships to include people who disagreed with me. Since that time my world has gotten bigger, my perspectives have broadened, and my spiritual and thought life is much richer than I ever imagined.

I believe that we all need friends who will push our boundaries without judgement or condemnation. I also believe that we need to be those people who can disagree on issues and still love our neighbor as ourselves. There are the three reasons I befriend, listen to, and engage in deep, rich conversation with people that I do not agree with:

  • Balance: Having friends who see the other side of issues brings balance into my life. Several years ago at the Catalyst Conference when Andy Stanley  spoke eloquently about how so often in life there are tensions to manage rather than problems to solve. So often in life we look at people that we disagree with his problems to solve. We view them as objects or opportunities to convince them to think our way, to believe in our creeds, and to adjust their behavior to our norms. The reason that I befriend, listen to, engage in conversations with people I disagree with is that it gives me a more balanced view of the world. This is not always been the case. When I was young and ministry, brash and arrogant, I believed it to be my calling to show others where they were wrong. I often saw people that I disagreed with as my enemy. There was no love in my self-righteousness, just the desire to prove that I was right and they were wrong. Funny thing is no one is every argued into changing their views. All I was doing was living into their stereotypes.
  • Assumptions: Secondly, having friends who disagree with me forces me to challenge my own assumptions. Rather than assume that I am always right, I have begun to realize that there are nuances to every issue and idea. Similar to the recent controversy over the gold and white versus blue and black dress argument I have come to appreciate that everyone sees the issue or idea from their particular viewpoint view through the lenses of their life story. By having those deep, rich conversations in the context of a safe and sacred relationship I have had my previous assumptions challenged, and sometimes my opinions changed (gasp!). However, most of the time my mind is not changed, but my heart is wedged a bit more open to accept others without judgement or malice. 
  •  Humanize Issues: Lastly, and most importantly, by actually engaging issues and ideas that I may disagree with it causes me to humanize the people who see the world differently. Years ago when I was in debate club, we were taught tactics including the “straw-man defense.” The “straw-man defense” is when you strive to set up your opponents argument in the weakest way possible, then seek to blow it down. The next step is do demonize those who hold these views as either “uninformed” or “ignorant.” “If they only knew what we knew they’d believe what we believe.” By seeking to make the “other” less than a person, it is easy to fling accusations and make radical assumptions and then seek to destroy the person, not simply disagree with the issue. By having friends on almost every side of an issue, suddenly the concepts take on a very real, personal face. It is not some distant enemy that has this belief, but somebody I know and care about. I can see the pain that they endure and the struggle they face. Now the issues aren’t ideas in a void, but they have “skin on” and they matter.
I am United Methodist. One of the many reasons I am United Methodist is because we have, historically and traditionally, sought to find the via media, the middle way. Our umbrella is large and there are people I love on nearly every side of every issue. While I will continue to hold fast to what I believe is true, I will also continue to have deep, rich conversations with people who believe differently than I do because I want friends, not an ideological support group. I remain:

Consumed by the Call,
Marty
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