Disagreement is Easy; Agreement Takes Time

In his book Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Protestant Christianity, Kevin Vanhoozer shares the following insightful reflection on why “disagreement is easy” for Christians while uncovering agreements is much more challenging.

“[I]t is easier to disagree than to agree. Agreement requires patient listening, and time. It is more convenient simply to categorize others as “wrong’ Christians. Such mental shortcuts enable able us to make snap judgments, but labeling fails to do justice to others” (207-208).

This reflection adds another important dimension to a primary obstacle to hosting “respectful conversations” about contentious issues that I noted in my last Musing (“My Books May Make Most Readers Mad”). In that musing, I pointed to the primary obstacle of the difficulty in our culture that is plagued by tribalism of finding persons who embrace the rare combination of holding to their beliefs with deep conviction while remaining open to the possibility of learning something from someone who disagrees with them.

As if this obstacle was not big enough, Vanhoozer points us to another significant obstacle: the addiction within our culture to “speed”; wanting quick answers to complex problems; choosing the “easy” path of dismissing out of hand those who disagree with you rather than making the significant commitment of time needed to patiently listen, talk about, and possibly even learn from the contrary views of others. 

If you dig beneath the surface of this additional obstacle, you will see that for Christians it reflects a lack of genuine commitment to some Christian virtues to which we quickly give lip service but too often fail to exemplify: humility and patience. As Vanhoozer goes on to say.

“Dialogue requires us to become the kind of people who can accept correction: humble and patient interlocutors” (208).

So, the obstacles to my dreams for more “respectful conversations” among Christians regarding contentious issues proliferate. But, as I concluded in my last Musing, I am not deterred. I am convinced, more now than ever, that engaging in respectful conversations is the “Christian way” to engage those who disagree with you, based on the foundational premise that providing a safe and welcoming space for someone who disagrees with you to express that disagreement and then to talk respectfully about your disagreement is a deep expression of love for the other, to which Jesus calls all who claim to be his followers. I am called to be “faithful” in pursuing and modeling that goal, leaving the possibility of “success” in the hands of God.