Sometimes it seems that the only thing we can all agree on anymore is the fact that we don’t agree. Research shows the United States is more divided now than in recent history.
With this division in mind and knowing that the upcoming holidays are a time when differences can emerge at family dinner tables, office parties, community events and even at church gatherings, the feature articles in this issue offer biblical insight and practical suggestions for when we disagree.
I have come to several conclusions after reading these essays and others about how Christians deal with disagreement and conflict.
First, disagreement can be good. Disagreements don’t always have negative outcomes or lead to big fights. Differences can prompt us to expand our interests and experiences. Differences can cause us to discover creative ways to resolve conflicts. The opportunity to articulate our opinions and viewpoints can help us better express and appreciate our core beliefs.
A second conclusion is that Christians have differing priorities when it comes to how we respond to conflict. Because retaining connection is important to me, I often gravitate to an “agree to disagree” response. When you and I agree to disagree, we recognize that we are unlikely to change the other person’s mind. So, we choose to prioritize our relationship to avoid damaging our friendship.
This does not mean that I don’t take seriously the issues that divide us. We cannot eliminate conflict from our lives, and sometimes our strong Christian convictions seem to make disagreements even more intense. But if I can’t have both—a lively debate about convictions and a relationship—I want to choose to love rather than debate. To paraphrase1 Cor. 13:1, “If I win all the arguments but don’t have love, I am but a clanging cymbal.”
Eighteenth century evangelical preacher and evangelist John Wesley wrote, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?” When we recognize that others have a right to opinions different than our own, even though we might not agree with or endorse those views, we show respect and humility.
Unrecognized disagreement can lead to conflict but agreeing to disagree allows us to remain connected with one another.
It takes work and commitment to retain relationships when we disagree about things we care deeply about. It isn’t always comfortable or easy. But, if we always dig in our heels to win the fight or regularly break off relationships because we disagree, we may miss an opportunity to be transformed ourselves or to see God’s grace work in other ways.
Connie Faber joined the magazine staff in 1994 and assumed the duties of editor in 2004. She has won awards from the Evangelical Press Association for her writing and editing. Faber is the co-author of Family Matters: Discovering the Mennonite Brethren. She and her husband, David, have two daughters, one son, one daughter-in-law, one son-in-law and one grandson. They are members of Ebenfeld MB Church in Hillsboro, Kansas.