Unpublished: Disagreement in Community

The rupture between Catholicism and Protestantism occurred when Martin Luther said this:
I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.
I'm Protestant enough to think everyone has a Martin Luther line in the sand. Even Catholics. There are issues of conscience where you can no longer fellowship with a particular faith community.

However, not everything should or ought to become an issue of conscience. We can't do community unless, at a variety of critical locations, people are disagreeing yet staying in communion. Yes, there will be locations of rupture. But agreement isn't what ultimately what binds the community together.

Disagreement is what makes community a real community.

--from an unpublished post arguing that we need to tolerate more disagreement within faith communities

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10 thoughts on “Unpublished: Disagreement in Community”

  1. Good words! Indeed, there are some religious communities who take such hard stands that they shut others out; yet, if we start avoiding all with whom we strongly disagree, then we leave ourselves cold and lonely.

    For example, I would not be able to worship with a church that judges Gay human beings. However, I know of people, Gay as well as straight, who are hard and fast economic conservatives, full blown, unchecked capitalists, whose desire is to climb as fast and as high as they possibly can within big business; and if that means cutting payrolls and salaries along with raising health insurance premiums, even for the low level workers of the company, then, for them, it is only business. So, should I avoid a faith community to which these people belong?

    This is just one of many upon many complications of living and worshiping with people that are not easy to work through. They make each day a challenge; yet, challenges give birth to life and love. Because, maybe the best any of us can do is to, like Jesus, meet people where they are, being the best healers we can be. Yes, some will walk away, as did the rich young man. But, I believe, I must believe, that the one touch we offer today still has a tomorrow to affect a healing.

  2. Both yesterday and today's posts are helpful to me - in part because they show me how raw some of my feelings about church are.

    I have some questions on "lines in the sand," but first wanted to illustrate a typical reaction of mine. When I read yesterday "Most churches have some sort of baggage that disqualifies them given the 'must have' checklist we bring to the table as we shop around. No church is perfect," what I hoped to read was "Most churches have some sort of 'must have' checklist that disqualifies us given the sort of lifes and even baggage we bring to the table." I am not trying to be "cute" with the words of an excellent, I am trying to be honest. To my great surprise, I may even be "seeking advice."

    I suppose some of my lines in the sand (some of which I feat have turned into battle trenches) include the following discontinuous line segments:

    - I do not need people and especially "leaders" to involve themselves and, worse, to feel entitled to involve themselves, in my finances, schedule, occupational choices, politics, reading choices, and (unshared) opinions.

    -I do not need them to micromanage my devotional life; that time is threatened enough as it is.

    Most churches I've visited in my areas trip these wires in conversation and/or their bulletins, within the first 10 minutes of my attending. They expect not just my attending, my building relationships of trust and mutual, consensual assistance, but my subscription to a God-endorsed, horribly reductivist, one size fits all, suburban, bright, happy, and beautiful "Total Life Package!"(c), (all rights reserved).

    Maybe I am simply trying to sanctify a bad attitude with the following references ("Brother, that 'just' bitterness!"), but:
    -where is the fellowship I read about in Bonhoffer's "Life Together?"
    -where is the approach I read about in God's plan for the new covenant, where it is believed that we are each capable of knowing him, from the least to the greatest?"
    -and where, (where where where where where) are there Christians who really believe in planks vs specks, or a little privacy, or the wisdom that says, "If you have no or little experience with life-shattering experiences A, B, or C, it is ok to sit down and stop expounding on it. God "might" be able to move and meet the need in ways that hush us all in wonder."

    So here's where my "bitterness" ends and my question begins: I left the church, and often stay away from it, in hopes of salvaging my relationship with God. I look for and sometimes pray for, the kind of fellowship that I dream of, a group of people mutually supporting each others (maybe varied) attempts to love God and others. (Makes me sound far nobler than I am; sorry, in a rush). I dont want a church where everything is settled, everything is easy, everything is bright. I feel that for church to transform life, it must first bear some of the hallmarks of life (not live out a "Hallmark" life).

    Am I missing something huge? Am I "just" blinded by bitterness? Am I speck-hunting with plank goggles on? I'd welcome input on these questions, especially from this community on Richard's blog, which comes so close to what I've always sought. My apologies if my expression above was too emotion-laden. In the other hand, as I mentioned, these two posts bring home to me how raw some of those emotions (still) are.

  3. It is very hard to worship with people whom we seem to disagree about everything important, to stay in a faith community where it is a continual effort to find common ground. But I think the church has always been this way. Even at the very beginning, Jesus called a tax collector (government supporter) and a zealot (revolutionary) as disciples. The commitment to the "bride of Christ" has to trump our disagreement. One thing that I have found that helps me with theological disagreements is to hold theological ideas rather tentatively knowing that today we only "see in part" or as a friend once told me one of the few things to be sure about when we get to heaven is everyone will have to revise their theology.

  4. Good post, to the point -- and correct.

    "Rupture" -- status confessionis -- is a possible "location" for faith. But where? Where the issue is idolatry (e.g., anti-Semitism and racism: thus the Barmen Declaration's Nein! contra the Third Reich and the Kairos Document's "No!" contra apartheid South Africa).

    However, apart from the boundary situation of idolatry, church communities wrestling with theological diversity are not only possible, they are inevitable, and, indeed, desirable (a) because claims to possess absolute knowledge are themselves idolatrous, and (b) because it is only via theological diversity, pluralism, and -- yes, disagreement -- what John Franke calls "manifold witness" -- that the church abides in the truth towards which the Spirit is leading us.

    The unity of a community that is dependent on agreement, it seems to me, is a unity based on theological purity, which is finally a form of intellectual works-righteousness.

  5. I went to a talk by Judith Butler not long after Occupy Wall Street started to die down and a member of the audience asked her what she'd say to people who considered Occupy a failure because of its participants' inability to agree on a particular platform. She said much the same that you wrote; I remember writing down a particular phrase: "Unity is struggle." If people are arguing, it means no one has decided to walk away.

  6. I know the feeling. My church, the Church of England, seems to be able to live with disagreement on such trivia as the presence of Christ in Holy Communion, veneration of Mary and the saints, divorce, the number and efficacy of the sacraments, vestments, you name it, we've disagreed about it and still do, but gays are beyond the pale of disagreement.

  7. I'm Catholic and a conscientious dissenter on a number of questions of doctrine. I stay because I mostly agree on the fundamental principles, just not their interpretation or application; I stay because it's my home and history too, no less than it belongs to the members of the magisterium; I stay because I don't have anywhere else to go; I stay because people are needed to make the case for change from within; and I stay because it seems to me that the essence of being Catholic is, above all, being anti-schismatic. We're the ones who stay.

  8. Some of my church brothers and sisters will have a major adjustment problem seeing and hearing harps (Rev. 5:8).

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