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Agree to disagree: Staying together

“The problem with our organization / country / church, is the other side. If the conservatives / progressives / ‘they‘ would leave, things would be so much better.”

It’s a seductive fantasy. We think all of our problems would disappear if we could rid ourselves of those with whom we disagree. But that’s not the case.

Comedian Nate Bargatze points out a flaw in this reasoning while talking about marriage.

I feel like in a marriage, one of you is a dreamer, you know, “Money’s not real, let’s have fun, let’s go do fun stuff as much as we can.” And the other person hates fun. That’s how you make a marriage. You can’t have two dreamers; you’ll be homeless in an hour. 

Nat Bargatze, The Greatest Average American

Every marriage needs balance. So does every organization.

The blame game

Periodically, my Twitter feed fills with those on both sides of our church’s divide wondering aloud what it will be like when the church is rid of the people on the other side. Some progressive friends talk about how inclusive the church will be when the conservatives leave, while conservative colleagues talk about building a church unencumbered by the wrong ideas of progressives. Each talking about it like a utopian future. It’s not.

It’s simply a blame game. So much easier to point to “them” as the problem than to deal with the complicated issues before us.

The truth, however, is that we are much better when we work together to address our disagreements. Conservatives and progressives need each other. One without the corrective balance of the other can run too far, too fast, in a mistaken direction.

We all know what happens when leaders surround themselves with those who only tell them what they want to hear (“yes” men). We understand the dangers of echo chambers, where we only expose ourselves to opinions with which we already agree. And yet, we fantasize about how idyllic it would be to live in such a world.

John Wesley, “Agree to disagree”

John Wesley and George Whitefield, one of the first and most popular Methodist preachers, had what many would consider an important theological difference of opinion. Whitefield held to the Reformed school — a version of predestination. Wesley was an Arminian who preached that God’s grace is available to all.

It was a deep divide over what many would consider an essential theological understanding.

Yet, in his sermon “On the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield,” Wesley writes:

There are many doctrines of a less essential nature, with regard to which even the sincere children of God (such is the present weakness of human understanding) are and have been divided for many ages. In these we may think and let think; we may “agree to disagree.” But, meantime, let us hold fast the essentials of “the faith which was once delivered to the saints;” and which this champion of God so strongly insisted on, at all times, and in all places!

John Wesley, On the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield, Section 3.1, emphasis mine

Those who track such things believe this to be the first printed occurrence of the phrase “agree to disagree,” which in a letter to his brother Charles, John Wesley attributed to George Whitefield himself (see here).

Abiding in difference

Some might say my argument here is due to my aversion to conflict. I disagree.

Philosopher Peter Rollins reminds us that war is the real conflict avoidance. He writes:

We call wars “conflicts,” yet war manifests the inability of at least one party to face conflict i.e. it shows the desire to annihilate the other rather than tarry with difference.


So I propose we avoid the war and face the conflict. We agree to disagree. We wrestle with our differences and live into a new reality.

In the wisdom of Nate Bargatze, “You can’t have two dreamers…”

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