I have often said that if two people always agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary. That is not to suggest that any person is expendable but simply a way to express the fact that all people do not or should not think alike. No one has all the right answers.

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It is not a bad thing for people to hold different opinions. In fact, differing perspectives are healthy and helpful. Unfortunately that is not always understood and appreciated. Persons with different opinions are often ridiculed and disrespected. Expressions of disagreement are sometimes unkind and damaging.

In our current environment, civil and respectful discourse are often lacking when significant issues are the topics. Hurtful and disparaging words are frequently heard in public discourse. It seems that we are yelling at each other more than talking with one another.

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John Wesley suggested a better way than argument and debate to approach issues on which we differ. He believed if people would confer with one another they would make better choices and come to reasonable conclusions. Thus he admonished the early Methodists to engage in Christian Conferencing. Wesley expected Christian conference to shape people’s lives.

Christian conferencing is sometimes called “holy conferencing.” Steve Manskar says, “The phrase is typically employed ‘to encourage people to have polite conversation with each other, particularly around issues where people are going to disagree’.”

United Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck said that “holy conferencing is not limited to a specific topic or a specific venue for decision-making. It is also not a strategy to shut down conversation or stifle impassioned speech. It is a means for staying connected to each other in spite of our differences.” In a study guide she wrote to assist churches and groups she offered eight principles for constructive dialogue. I share them with you as a better way of dealing with difficult issues as well as daily affairs.

  1. Every person is a child of God. Throughout the scriptures, we are reminded that to love God is to love our neighbor. “If anyone boasts ‘I love God’ and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both” (1 John 4:20-21, The Message).

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  1. Listen before speaking. This means that you suspend judgment about the other. Welcome with open arms others who don’t see things the way you do. Do not focus on convincing others that you are right. Instead, listen to others so that you can understand better why they hold their opinions.
  1. Strive to understand from another’s point of view. Bishop James S. Thomas said that the truth was clear to him when he was thinking his own thoughts by himself. It was when he was in the presence of others that it all got confused! In other words, he had to confer with others to see more sides or angles or perspectives on whatever the matter was at hand.
  1. Strive to reflect accurately the views of others. To strive to express accurately others’ views is a matter of honesty, not to mention integrity. If we skew, or cast the worst light on another’s viewpoint, and give it a spin that is not accurate, then we are being dishonest.
  1. Disagree without being disagreeable. “Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say.”  (Eph. 4:29 CEB)

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  1. Speak about issues; do not defame people. Calling people names defames them and is inflammatory. The simple moral fact is that words kill. Words that defame kill both the spirit and the reputation of others.
  1. Pray, in silence or aloud, before decisions. “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). Praying for those who disagree with us is hard to do because it challenges our prejudices, anger, and malice.
  1. Let prayer interrupt your busy-ness. Praying in the midst of our disagreement might actually bring out the best in us and for the common good! It’s always appropriate to call for prayer and also to be in an attitude of prayer in the midst of discussion about weighty, divisive, and important conversations.

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Bishop Dyck concludes her study guide by saying, “In order to confer with others who disagree with us, we need to practice our faith in ways that challenge us spiritually as well as relationally. To love God and our neighbor requires nothing less.“

Jamie Jenkins

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