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What do you do when two people disagree?
Disagreement is a fact of life in community
Someone asked me recently what happens when two people believe they are hearing the Spirit but they disagree about what they are hearing? It’s a good question and it offers quite a conundrum. In leadership and in community, we have disagreements all the time, and quite often we feel passionate about our agreements too. Christian people and spiritual people may also feel like their instinct, intuition, or decision came from God. And it can be a challenge to sort through such passionate feelings and convictions.
Our church is built on a dialogue system, one that leads us to agree to agree, but it is genuinely dialogical. So we talk a lot, we disagree, sometimes we have conflict too. We’re a real church with real people. The cost of authenticity is disagreement. The power of trust and love is that we can move through our disagreements in one piece. When we don’t, when we conflict in unhealthy ways, we acknowledge that we’re recovering from our sin addiction and we lavish each other with grace, just like Jesus does.
But not all conflict is the result of wrongdoing; sometimes people are of different minds and they are convicted about their difference in opinion. What should we do then?
Avoid the Jesus juke
A mentor of mine advised me long ago to not regularly use God as a sort of trump card in a conversation. Sometimes we call that a Jesus juke. We end discourse by naming that we have a Word from the Lord. You might be in a discussion with someone, and then someone appeals to a higher power, and wins the day because you can’t disagree with God. I honestly reserve the right to deliver a prophecy if I feel like God has given me one. There are hills worth dying on. Not having any convictions that you stand by is how you end up supporting a racist adulterer as president without suffering any cognitive dissonance; it’s how you bow to Caesar instead of God.
But you can’t make everything a hill to die on, nor can you say all of your convictions and opinions are of the Lord. Even if you think you are engaging in the best strategy, it’s a major dialogue dampener to spiritualize your argument so that your opponent, who you created with your hostile positioning, is no longer your friend, and somehow becomes more than just wrong, but also sinning. That kind of magisterial judgment is what turns people away from the church and God altogether. It’s not how we create a trust system or a love system. It’s how we build a wall around the church, if you ask me.
And I think fierce disagreements have been important to have in the history of the church. The early church was full of them as they sorted out how they were going to be a new faith and a new people. You can see this played out right in the Bible between Peter and Paul during the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. You can also see this in the early councils as the church decided who was a heretic and who wasn’t. It was important for a time and place, and to an extent it’s still important now. But I think we should realize when we speak so authoritatively the result can be division, and we should seldom use that power, or, in fact, use the Lord’s name in vain.
God might not care about your idea
So an idea I want to work with is not assuming that your point of view is God’s point of view. You might be out of line with God’s will, but God may not have such a meticulous concern as you do, either. There is obviously a lot of room for discussion about how particular God is about the daily choices and tasks we engage in. My view is that God cares about the big things in life, but not the small things. When people asked Jesus what was the most important laws were he summarized the entire thing really simple:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
When push comes to shove, that ruling from Jesus is the rod by which I measure all of my decisions. Everything is done in service to those commandments. We have a proverb in Circle of Hope that relates to this too:
We abide by the “Great Commandment” (John 13:34-5). Self-giving love loosens the truth locked in our desires.
I think Jesus is being generous on purpose and not offering a specific prescription. Because following Jesus isn’t a matter of just specifics. It’s not a matter of doing the right thing, and it’s not a matter of fearing making the wrong move. It’s a matter of love, it’s a matter of discernment. Thus, it’s more important how we relate as we come to an end, than the end itself.
What matters most is faith expressing itself through love
Our means have to be as good as our ends; or rather than “good,” that matter as much as our ends. The process counts, the relationship counts. Keeping the body together is important, keeping people reconciled is important. Truth and love matter. I think that’s the rule we have to go by when we try to make decisions together when we disagree. What matters most is love; or as Paul put it to the Galatians: what matters most is faith expressing itself through love.
I think the difference between the holiest decision and the best decision are really what’s at stake here. I think we hear from God, but when we hear from God, God is leading us to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). It takes strategic discernment, contextual awareness, collaboration, and testing our ideas to know how to best do that. It takes research and instinct too. Discerning how to best fulfill this huge ideas takes time, trust, patience. It also actually makes it into a more loving community.
Hold on to love tightly, everything else provisionally
So what happens when we disagree but feel convicted about our views or beliefs? Let’s keep talking, keep listening; let’s come to agreement. Sometimes that will look like a compromise, sometimes it will look like we are not getting our way. Other times, we’ll learn that our perspective was rooted in something other than sound discernment. Let's find comfort in God's love, compassion, and tenderness; centered on the same love, spirit, and mind. Paul has this in mind when he writes to the Philippians:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
My advice is to hold what we do provisionally. I think God is doing a great thing in the world through God’s church. We’re a part of that. We can’t mess it up, ultimately, so we hold what we do now provisionally and openly. Ready to change, ready to trash it, ready to move into something new. God is going to do the heavy lifting and God’s moved us to the basics: love each other and love God. I am afraid if we get too tied to our desires, we might be serving another God altogether.