It’s Not Friendship if it Can’t Withstand Disagreement

It’s Not Friendship if it Can’t Withstand Disagreement May 6, 2014

The readings yesterday and today give us the martyrdom of St. Stephen, who made his audience so mad with his preaching that they stoned him to death.

That audience included the future St. Paul, whose conversion came while he was on his way up to Damascus for the purpose of finding more Christians to kill.  (Keep following along with the daily Mass readings, and we’ll be to that story shortly.  Meanwhile: If you think you know someone who is so far gone he’s beyond redemption, you are wrong.  Consider investing in a good pair of shades in case you’re present when the flash of blinding light comes.)

Meanwhile, a good friend sent me a heartening message on Facebook.  We haven’t seen each other in ages, but our friendship dates back to many years before she and I washed up on opposite shores of the cultural divide.  Despite our current differences, she was and remains one of the people who has had the most profound impact on my moral formation, in a very, very, very good way.  I wouldn’t be who I am today without the good example she put into my life.

The essence of her message: Just because you’re publicly wrong-headed, Jen, doesn’t mean we’re not friends anymore.  (She said it much more graciously than that.)

I was glad, since that means the feeling’s mutual.


Here’s the thing about family: No matter how wacky you get, if your family is doing what it’s supposed to do, you still get a seat at the table come Thanksgiving*.

That doesn’t mean the relatives are going to greet you with a giant banner that says, “I approve of every single thing you do!”  It doesn’t mean that everyone’s going to give a hearty, “Here here!” to your bizarre political opinions.

It means that you are loved and loveable despite all that.  Your worthiness of love is not about being this perfect person, it’s about being a person.  You belong not because you meet spec, but because belonging has nothing to do with meeting spec.

People have a hard time with this concept.   There’s a tendency to either mimic Saul the Persecutor, ready to destroy anyone who doesn’t meet approval, or to fear Saul around every corner, taking the least disagreement as a sign of outright rejection: If you don’t agree with everything I think, say, and do, you must hate me.  But after his conversion, what did now-Paul do?  He got out of the persecution game, and took to using reason — and love — to make his case.


In certain moral arguments, the Nazi at the Door scenario tends to surface.  Surely it would be okay to ___________ if Nazis were at your door, right?  It is, mostly, very bad logic: You might under duress do something you really shouldn’t, and we’d understand that you were under duress.  I have a hard time behaving even when I’m properly fed and caffeinated, it’s no surprise that I might resort to bad behavior in the face of a mortal threat.

But in the case of friendship, I think the Nazi at the Door scenario is just the thing: If the persecutors came looking for you, would I be willing to risk my own safety in order to get you good and hidden?  Even though you think wrong-headed things?  Would you do the same for me?  Even though I think wrong-headed things?

I can’t actually know how brave I’d really be until the henchman’s at the door.  But I can begin to measure my friendships by at least considering how brave I’d want to be.



*If you try to do things like kill your family, or molest the children, or go into a drunken rage at the sight of cranberry sauce . . .  they don’t have to have you in for dinner.  They get to love you from afar, in that case.  But let’s say you pose no threat to life, limb or sanity.


Artwork: By Jacopo & Domenico Tintoretto (Stoning of St Stephen) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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