mjkimpan  —  December 5, 2012 — 19 Comments

‘the doctrine of the incarnation contains at its heart the divine welcome of the Other; and embodying that same welcome is at the heart of our obedient response to God’s grace. the God who is for us and with us in jesus christ incites us, by the work of the spirit, to be for and with one another.’
–william stacy johnson

it’s been a rough week in the blogosphere.

so many of the church’s words and so much of its demeanor concerning people with whom we disagree (in doctrine or practice) are profoundly contrary to what the gospel proclaims.

i’ve been following a handful of discussions in the past week, each from different perspectives on various topics that led me to a similar (and familiar) conclusion  ::

• tony jones asking for women to speak up created quite a stir on his blog. he was praised by some and attacked by others, had his intellect challenged and was repeatedly called defensive. from my perspective, tony responded quite graciously, despite his well established ‘brand’ of provocation and argumentation.

yet that didn’t stop his readers from going toe-to-toe in the comments.

• another article forwarded to me by a friend made a point of saying name calling is used in disagreements simply to discredit others without ‘carefully considering a fellow believer’s contentions’.

the author then proceeded to do just that in his post, questioning the motives and integrity of his adversaries across the aisle.

• yet another series of posts from timothy dalrymple posed the question ‘is it time for evangelicals to stop opposing gay marriage?’ – maintaining a (staunchly!) traditional and conservative theological position on the subject, only to be met with hundreds of dissenting comments – some denouncing tim for even approaching the topic.

so here’s my conclusion ::

there is an ever-increasing need for peaceful and productive dialogue with those with whom we disagree, without declaring them anathema. but when disputes dissolve to name-calling or include demonizing and polarizing language, these disagreements can unintentionally lead opposing worldviews toward hatred and disrespect.

both conservatives and progressives are guilty of this collapse in conversation. to be sure, this discourse goes both ways. there are angry birds on both the right and the left .

i just don’t see the polarizing, back-and-forth rhetoric very helpful.

the truth of the matter is we struggle to ‘put skin’ on the words and message of jesus with anyone who thinks differently than us.

and yet, that is precisely what took place in the incarnation. rather than losing our civility in the dialogue, perhaps it would behoove us as followers of christ to welcome and embrace even those with whom we may disagree. perhaps, one might suggest, the very act of solidarity with the marginalized and the Other-ed can serve as an act of worship and obedience as we love our neighbor as ourselves.

too often, we demand conformity prior to connection. yet when we approach one another as brothers and sisters – image bearers of the God we claim to serve – and celebrate the humanity which we hold in common, we better position ourselves toward peaceful and productive dialogue in the midst of disagreement.

i wonder if we have a better chance of living out our calling as agents of reconciliation if we not only tolerate diversity but actually welcome disagreement – seeing it as a necessary part of healthy and robust dialogue, acknowledging that opposing points of view bring about a prism of perspective which can potentially open the door to a deeper, richer and more full understanding of our own.

what do you think?


  • i appreciate your thesis about welcoming disagreement and agree we need to find better ways of listening and honoring one another within disagreement, but i’m perplexed by the way you portray the dialogue at tony’s. you said that he was “praised by some and attacked by others”, ignoring all the feedback and criticism in between–which he expressly asked for! welcoming disagreement means engaging opposing views fairly and not portraying or dismissing all critique as the work of haters.

    i wholly support your challenge to express solidarity with the marginalized, but in a conversation called “where are the women?”, when they speak up and are largely dismissed as angry, it looks a lot more like further marginalization than solidarity or productive reconciliation.

    • thanks for your comment, suzannah.

      i agree my saying he was ‘praised by some and attacked by others’ over-simplifies the robust conversation that exploded on his post – but for the purposes of *this* post i wanted to sum it up as concisely as possible.

      you’re quite right though – in the middle there were a large number of comments that were critical but not demeaning or resorting to name calling – .

      sadly, both in the comments on his blog as well as on facebook, there were more than a few less-than-helpful personal attacks that were – in my opinion – unnecessary.

      still, i should have been more careful with how i portrayed the dialogue on his post. thanks for calling that out. rather than focusing on the conversation at tony’s blog specifically, i think the general means and method of engagement (attempting to convert the other side to our own viewpoint) is worn out and tired.

      unfortunately, the generally accepted *status quo* for disagreements (particularly online disagreements, methinks) IS (even unintentionally) to resort to character assassination, guilt by association, hurtful and destructive language, et cetera. i thought you did a great job of summing up some of these dangers specifically as it relates to the LGBT conversation in your post here http://www.somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/2012/01/homosexuality-isnt-sin-half-truths-hurt.html

      certainly in the midst of disagreement, the opposing viewpoint should be heard and considered (as you rightly point out in your comment above). ignoring or dismissing opposing views are counter-productive. but in order to create healthy, peaceful and productive dialogue, it seems to me that *both* sides need to change the means and method of engagement to build bridges between them rather than ‘digging in’ and attempting to convert the Other to their perspective.

      does that make sense?

      • yeah, i get what you’re saying and absolutely agree that discourse on the whole is pretty nasty and polarizing. we can and should engage so much better–especially as christians who are called to light the darkness. when we focus too hard on converting folks, listening falls by the wayside and dialogue ends.

        my heart in this is especially among people whose voices are not dominant. i long for peacemaking and reconciliation, and often that work is messy, uncomfortable, and involves handing over the mic. instead, sometimes what passes for reconciliation comes across as privileged people setting the tone and timetable for change.

        YES, let’s raise the bar, honor each other, and love well. but that may look like having extra grace for folks who are angry about a lack of equality.

        thanks for sharing my post, btw. and for digging into this topic. we need it!

  • So, if we are to take Jesus as our point of reference, shouldn’t incarnational truth telling end up with both lovers and haters? And, if we are to take Jesus as our point of reference, won’t most of the haters be religious folks – especially leaders? The real learning curve is found in how to get the crap kicked out of you without responding with like violence – in word or deed. When you read the gospels, it’s pretty clear early on that Jesus is going to be murdered. What is incredible is that he was murdered but didn’t become a murderer to keep himself from getting murdered. I like to focus on truth-telling as best as I am able, but I don’t get too concerned with folks behaving badly – especially religious folks – it seems like, according to Zizek, religion helps good people do bad things much more than the other way around. Nothing like a ‘sacred’ Cause to turn folks violent!

    • that’s one of the biggest-kept secrets of the gospel – non-violence. it seems in our addiciton to power, position and privilege we’ve lost sight of the mission to serve others – even the others whom we know are going to betray us.

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