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.