I think it is possible for people with profound disagreements to get along. We can be congenial while we argue. We can even be friends while we fight. Like after a good mixed martial arts match, we can hug and pat each other on the butt and say “Good fight!”.
I’m observing something that is happening online, especially in blogs and social media like Twitter and Facebook. It seems that there are two majority opinions about disagreeing with others that ends up dismissive in their reactions.
- You’re stupid: If you disagree with another person in another camp with an opposing view, then you’re wrong and obviously stupid. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I encountered this reaction from my post, John MacArthur Sends 5,000,000,000 Charismatics to Hell. Because I’m just a small fish who took on a big one and because I didn’t quote scripture or use theological jargon and because I threw a cartoon into the mix, I was dismissed as someone not to be taken seriously. You can read the over 300 comments just on my blog post to see what I mean. I’m not asking to be taken seriously. What I’m addressing is the tendency to draw lines and dismiss those across them as unqualified and stupid. It’s hard to love your enemies.
- You’re mean: If you disagree with or challenge someone who is roughly in the same camp as you, then you’re considered competitive and mean. It’s one thing to disagree with an enemy. But with a friend? I was interested to watch Jay Bakker’s video, No One Wins in the Hierarchy of Suffering where he expresses his weariness with the competition and is tempted to remove himself. The same with Tony Jones’ post, Various Thoughts and A Request from an Enneagram 8, where he wonders whether or not to blog about controversial topics or to focus on serious issues because of the backlash he’s getting. Some call it “infighting”. It’s hard to be corrected by friends.
To me it’s fascinating because I love a good fight. With friend or foe. But it’s got to be a good one. Not a bad one. I disagree with friends. I disagree with enemies. Lisa and I are so in love and we have great fights. I can’t see having one without the other. So here’s my list of things to remember when you engage in a discussion:
- We’re on the same team: This is what some don’t realize and what others forget. I believe as a Canadian I have certain rights and privileges in Canada. A Chinese person living in Canada waiting for citizenship doesn’t yet have these same rights and privileges. A Chinese person vacationing in Canada has even less. A Chinese person living in China less still. MacArthur acts as though he has all the rights and privileges since he’s the perfect citizen in his perfect country, while Charismatics don’t because they are not citizens of the country he created and rules. There is now neither Jew nor Greek, which means there are no longer any borders. God without borders! We are all citizens of the same country. We are on the same team. My default philosophical position is that we are all one, united, and that this is a reality which is up to us to make manifest and where theological compatibility is not a prerequisite. Perhaps we possess profoundly differing and even opposing views, but we’re on the same team. Like nakedpastor, when players like Stephanie Drury take on anyone, there is the risk of feelings getting hurt. But there is also the risk of taking it to improve the quality of community. Even if I disagree with a friend, this doesn’t mean that I’m benching this person or excluding them from the game. It just means we are disagreeing about something that needs discussion if we want to enrich our fellowship and reach our common goal of truth and the manifestation of unity.
- Anybody can play: Social media has leveled the playing field. I would never have been able to challenge MacArthur’s ideas some years ago the way I did last week. And people from all over the world could challenge my challenge. Here’s the thing: when we use social media to propagate our ideas, we have to expect responses on the same platform. If I use my blog to argue with MacArthur, then people can use their blogs to argue with me. It’s frustrating for some that anybody can enter into the fray, but that’s the way it is now. Some people are frustrated by the rapidly increasing number of voices crowding in. But I love it. It’s democracy at work. It’s equality expressed. This is why I feel I have the right and responsibility to use my online presence to react to MacArthur’s online presence, and why I believe people who react to my online presence have the right to do it online. This is the playing field. Social media got my little voice out there, so I’m going to be the last person to complain about its leveling power.
- Embrace creative chaos: I believe good fighting can be very creative. Some of the best advances in Lisa’s and my relationship have been because of good fights. Jim Collins in Good to Great writes about the chaotic staff meetings of great companies where there was yelling and complete mayhem. But once an agreement was made there was peace, solidarity and teamwork. Collins’ concludes that great companies are made up of great relationships that necessitate great and often heated discussions. I know from experience that this is true. Just because Lisa says to me, “Hey! That was sexist!” Or I tell a friend, “You kind of sounded racist when you said that!” Or if I write a comment to another progressive blogger, “You seem to under-appreciate the level of pain of the spiritually abused. You expect them to get over it and not complain. That’s not fair!”, that doesn’t mean I think the guy’s an idiot, that I’m better than he is, and that he should be removed from the game. I was raised a misogynist and through education and being married to a strong woman and having strong and vocal female friends, I’m learning how to not be one. This is called participatory progress. I want to improve. So bring it on!
- Learn as you go: I haven’t arrived yet. I’m in process. One of the things blogging taught me was that I had to let go of my fantasy that I was a static being just divulging facts about my glorious self. I had to embrace vulnerability and transparency and let people watch me progress, as messy and confusing as it is. People watch me change in public. I’ve learned a lot from my readers. I have been attacked, and justifiably so. I’ve had to change my thinking. Iron sharpens iron. I know when I press “post” that I’m opening myself up to criticism. I used to fear it. I still do sometimes. I got one response yesterday to my MacArthur post and I was terrified to open it. But I took a deep breath and opened. It helped me correct something about my blog that was inaccurate, misleading and therefore unfair. Sure, it hurt. But I’m a better man for it and nakedpastor will be a better blog because of it. It’s like when Lisa says we need to talk. I hate those moments. It’s like surgery without anesthetic. But I’m always glad I had it done.
- It’s just a game: I mean, it’s a serious game. Some would say life and death. Because we’re after what is true. Like war. May the best side win. But please: let’s enjoy this! What I mean is nobody needs to die. Nobody’s going to Hell over this (sorry to disappoint you Mr. MacArthur). Even though the arguments that take place between Lisa and me are very serious, it’s not the end of the world. Even if she’s pressing me to face my own male privileged attitudes and I want to go bury myself in a hole because I’ve been such an idiot, this doesn’t mean I’m a monster who deserves to be tortured, executed and burned. This is all taking place in the context of a loving, mutually respectful relationship. I strongly disagree with MacArthur, but I don’t wish him ill. I strongly disagree with fellow-progressives, but I don’t wish them to become disheartened. Let’s not condemn each other, but please let’s correct each other! Even though I received some pretty good blows from supporters of MacArthur, I generally enjoyed the fight. Even though some fellow progressives are wondering if they want to keep playing, I wish they would continue because they help make the fight interesting. Keep your dukes up! This is too important to stop playing now. Like Barth suggested, theology is a beautiful field where theologians should play with joy. Let’s go the full 12 rounds!
Those are my five simple suggestions. Get some rest. See you on the field!