You know how sometimes the same kind of theme comes up several times in a week? This week the theme for me has been on how to disagree agreeably.
Handling Criticism Well
First, I wrote this blog post for Think Theology about how we handle criticism. It was prompted by the Russians getting upset at the weekend about Jamala, the Ukrainian entrant to the Eurovision Song Contest, singing about the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 1944, and her great, great-grandmother’s experience of that, and by lots of people getting upset with Boris Johnson for saying that people like Napoleon and Hitler have tried to unify Europe in the past.
My point was that instead of being offended and reacting defensively when someone points out our faults,
As Christians, we can, indeed should, be modelling a different way to respond to criticism. We’ve got the mandate (Turn the other cheek; as far as it depends on you, live at peace with one another; forgive your brother seventy-times-seven times; love one another as I have loved you…) and, as we celebrated this weekend, the supernatural power, to do so.
Our culture – our world – needs to learn how to respond to criticism like this, to shrug off that which is untrue, and to take responsibility for that which is true, without wishing to fight back, to self-justify, or to take umbrage and sulk… Can we as individuals, as churches, as movements, as factions, start trying to model it and show the world a better way?
It takes security in our identity in Christ, a humble assessment of our own abilities/position/rightness, and a generous dollop of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, but we can do it, I’m sure.
Finding Common Ground
Then I got an email from Q Ideas entitled “How Can We Find Common Ground When We Disagree?” Q is an organisation that “engages weekly conversations about faith and culture” – a sort of faith-based TED, that curates talks, interviews and articles by people from across the political and faith/non-faith spectrums and emails out a selection once a week based around a theme question.
Interestingly, instead of the usual 4-6 elements, this week their email only contained two: First was a video in which Ted Trimpa, a gay rights activist, and Jim Daly, president of the conservative (small c) Christian organisation Focus on the Family, provided a model for peace-making, as two very different people working together to advance good.
The second was a clip from the Q Conference in Nashville in April 2014, in which Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam (a Republican) and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean (a Democrat) discussed the tensions and successes they’ve experienced working together. You can find both, and other Q Resources, here.
Disagreeing with Tea
Finally, a friend of mine from Christians on the Left sent me the link to this video that they have recently released in partnership with the Conservative Christian Fellowship and the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum. In it, the leaders of the three organisations (pictured above) acknowledge their political differences, but seek to promote a new way of discussing political – and other – differences. It’s OK to disagree with each other, they point out. In fact, it’s inevitable – we never agree 100% with anybody else! But we can do it in a way that acknowledges that first and foremost our allegiance is to the gospel of Christ, and because of that there is far more that unites us than divides us.
They end with a quote from Justin Welby (yes, him again), that sums up what I think all three of these elements have been saying:
There is joy in diversity, and we should not be afraid to disagree with one another, but in a way that models the reconciling love of Jesus. Good disagreement is a gift that the church can offer the world around it – and our political system could certainly do with a healthy dose of it.
Amen to that!
PS And credit where it’s due – today’s title is a phrase invented by my former colleagues at Theos, who have been seeking to model this for years.