Disagreeing Well

Posted by Difference on January 24, 2022

Megan and Michael are church leaders, friends and co-hosts of the With All Due Respect podcast, which asks us “Is it even possible to have a deep discussion without it descending into chaos?”

In the film below they share their story of forging a friendship amidst strongly held disagreement.

“No one’s pretending that there isn’t pain or that there isn’t awkwardness and difficulty… but we were able to still remain friends – and that hadn’t been the case in a generation before us.”

There’s a lot to be said for ‘agreeing to disagree’. We can probably all think of conflicts where we wish those involved would choose that path, rather than the many more destructive ones available. But, on its own, simply agreeing to disagree can lead to relational stalemate. As well as agreeing to the disagreement, we sometimes agree to distance, to maintaining our own perceptions (and prejudices), to a comfortable and private mutual distrust.

In Megan and Michael’s story we see what God can do when we choose to push against the distance, preconceptions and distrust. In fact, forging relationship in the face of disagreement can be powerful and create deeper connection than we ever thought possible.

It is striking that, in choosing his disciples, Jesus by no means chose a band of likeminded individuals. We are told that his twelve closest friends and followers included a tax collector working on behalf of the occupying Roman authority (Matthew) and one known as ‘the zealot’ (Simon) – a term which could imply that he was part of a nationalist group vehemently opposed to the Roman occupation. They rubbed shoulders with fishermen (Peter, Andrew, James and John) and the other disciples about whom we know very little.

What we do know is that it wasn’t unusual for disagreement to break out between them all. They disagreed when trying to perform miracles (Mark 9:16-22) and managed to fall out not once but twice about who was the greatest (Luke 9:46 and Luke 22:24-30). Before he went to the cross, Jesus’ model for how this motley group of disciples should relate to one another was not to tell them to agree to disagree and go their separate ways. It was the complete opposite – they were to wash one another’s feet (John 13:14). To engage up close with the other person as they really are, muddy feet and all. To offer the hospitality of our unjudging presence. To choose relationship.

“Forging relationship in the face of disagreement can create deeper connection than we ever thought possible.”

Megan and Michael’s friendship does not depend on the resolution of their areas of disagreement or on abandoning their convictions. But nor does it depend on avoiding them and focusing only on what they have in common. It depends simply (and demandingly) on a commitment to relationship. It is this commitment that enables them sometimes to explore the more painful topics together – knowing that agreement is unlikely.

“If we trust in God then we don’t have to fight all the battles right here, right now, by ourselves. We are actually freed to act graciously, to act sacrificially.”

And because choosing to relate in this way is so countercultural, it has become a witness to their own groups of more likeminded friends, who have begun to reimagine traditional dividing lines.

When we are curious enough to get to know another person in their uniqueness and we commit to being present with them, we may find that we too are able to reimagine the future of our relationships where there is disagreement – and even enable others to do the same.

Feeling inspired to learn more about how we navigate disagreement? Why not get trained to run the Difference course?

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