Why Can’t Churches Deal With Disagreement?

Why Can’t Churches Deal With Disagreement? August 24, 2015

livingliminalby Living Liminal cross posted from her blog Living Liminal

Yesterday I sat in the school car park being entertained by the behaviour of the man who had desperately wanted to be ‘king’ at my ex-church. He had to walk right past my car to get to his own, and I’m afraid I couldn’t help laughing quietly at his determined attempts to appear unconscious of my existence. (On the upside, at least I find it amusing these days rather than deeply painful like I used to.)

For a moment, I contemplated winding down the window and asking him if he’s ready to deal with things between us, but then I realised he’d probably just give his ‘deer in the headlights’ impression and walk away. I’ve pretty much given up hoping he’ll ever meet with me to discuss (and deal with) the issues between us as I’ve come to believe he’s not actually capable of entering that space.

Needless to say, I found it extremely interesting to read an article this morning which talks about the need to make difficult conversations a part of everyday ‘church’ life.

The author, John Pattison, talks about the wedding of friends which he recently attended. He shares:

“When they got married, my two friends made a covenant with each other, before God and their community. That covenant doesn’t exempt them from difficult conversations — it sanctifies those conversations. The covenant relationship binds them together, even during the inevitable hard times. Their covenant keeps them mutually accountable to the health of the relationship. And it makes it safe to disagree, even profoundly disagree…because they know the other person isn’t going anywhere.”

He then suggests that this same approach is what we should be aiming for when it comes to relationship in the church family – that “having hard conversations needs to be part of the day-in-day-out life of a Christian community.”

This is obviously a man who understands the importance of engaging together, even when it’s uncomfortable. And he comprehends the necessity of the church being a safe place for that to happen. I felt like standing up and applauding!

Because sadly, my experience in various churches has generally been typified by the “my way or the highway” approach. It’s certainly what happened in my ex-church where I was ‘advised’ to submit or resign. What they were saying in effect was, “You either shut up, or you leave. There’s no place in this church for anything other than compliance with our will.” And as this seems to be a fairly common reality, I can only lament that John Pattison’s view of things seems neither widely shared nor highly regarded in the institutional church.

But it also leaves us with the question of why churches can’t seem to deal with disagreement? Why do they too often mistake uniformity for unity? And why do so many seem to worship this supposed “unity” at the cost of relationship?

I am not suggesting I have the answer to that dilemma, but I do wonder how much it has to do with the fact that the IC system perpetuates the mindset that “some animals christians are more equal than others”… and that it’s the ‘more equal’ ones get to set the agenda. Thoughts?

(Just for the record, when the author uses the word, “covenant”, I am reading a heart attitude, not a legal document.)


Living Liminal lives in Australia with her husband and three sons, and she is learning to thrive in the liminal space her life has become. She writes at Living Liminal. 

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