Friday, May 22, 2009

On disagreement, still vague

Last Sunday, I wrote an entry On Protest in which I said, among other things, "Listening does not convey agreement."

Shortly thereafter, I listened to this podcast of Brian McLaren speaking about how we need to go beyond dualism (liberal vs. conservative, etc.). In this talk, among other things, he passionately reads from Romans 14, the passage about eating meat or not eating meat.

I'd heard that passage many times, and always used to refer to the most contentious of ideological conflicts. But a couple of new things stood out to me.

First was verse 4: "Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

The thing this seems to imply is that even if they are totally wrong, they (whoever "they" are) will be upheld. Which does two things: first, for those who are concerned about the souls of those with whom they disagree, it's the Lord who will uphold them, not you. So worry about people's salvation is not an issue. And second, an element of humility is required for all, because Paul doesn't presume to say who's right and who's wrong. Though of course Paul things he's right.

Which leads to the second thing that stood out to me, the second half of verse 5: "Let all be fully convinced in their own minds." The freeing thing in that for me is that there's nothing wrong in thinking that you are right and the other person in error. I think it also allows for new information, new facts to illuminate one's position, because this is a mind thing, not merely a "take it on faith" thing.

So the issue becomes, not who is right or who is wrong, but what helps or hurts people. And I'm not saying this is an easy thing to resolve. I'm not saying that's clear-cut. But it's a very different question from "Is this belief the correct one?" Or "How do we punish those who believe the wrong things?"

One of the thing that pains me about disagreements, not to say out-and-out wars, in the church is that so often they are power issues disguised as concern for one another's spiritual well-being and salvation. It seems to me that if we can be fully convinced that salvation is not at issue, then we can see the conflicts for what they are without all the spiritual fol-de-rols. And maybe, with God's grace, resolve them.

1 comment:

qoe said...

One of God's true graces is in granting the individual the freedom to speak for and act on what the individual believes to be the best solution in a given situation.

The unfortunate thing about polarized discourse is that it is really a dead end; it does not further progressive action, only speaks to denounce. So people may be listening, in the midst of such discourse, but they are NOT HEARING anything.

This is a sore point, where I live, because the school district is trying to expand a curriculum that is meant to help mitigate bullying and pejorative abuse. The expansion of the existing curriculum is geared toward including families with a GLBT make up, and/or youth that are starting to self identify as such, in the visible spectrum of "family" and "community".

There has been quite a bit of militant, polarized language and behavior exchanged on both sides of the issue (pro- and anti- adding GLBT vocabulary)--much of it actually from people who claim righteousness from their religious or political stance. It has been disappointing to watch adults engaged in the sort of behavior that the curriculum is designed to help mitigate in children and youth!

When I think about Jesus and his commandment to us, these things come to mind:

1. Jesus did not define the meaning of "neighbor", except by the example of who he associated with during his earthly ministry-- although he did indicate that some of them would be our enemies.

2. Jesus did not define love.

There is absolutely NO FINE PRINT OR CONTINGENCY in the great commandment!

What that says to me is that everyone is a neighbor, and it is impossible for anyone NOT TO BE a neighbor, and because we are on that equal footing, we all deserve the dignity of basic decency and respect. In other words, the great commandment demands nothing less than positive reciprocity.

And so, thank you for highlighting for us Romans 14:4. It makes sense to me that God will uphold us in our beliefs and actions, and help us to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off when we have been wrong--after all, life is an incalculable experience, different for each individual.

My prayer: that we can all have faith that we are upheld, and, knowing so, that there might be an end to a lot of the disappointing and destructive power struggles that turn communities into war zones.