How Shall We Disagree?
by Dave Loewen, SCSBC Executive Director ◊
I spoke at a conference involving Christian schools across North America about a year ago. Afterwards, several people questioned me on where I stood on myriad issues. I was taken aback. I was trying to share the importance of centring our schools’ visions and missions on the gospel. For some reason, that led people to need to know my stance on critical race theory, sexual orientation and gender identity, Black Lives Matter, and more. And it didn’t feel like there was an invitation to talk about these topics; instead, it felt like there was pressure to choose a side. In philosophical terms, the idea of boiling everything down to one or two options is called reductionism. It takes complex issues and ideas, oversimplifies them, and then reduces them into two camps that each of us must fit into to feel accepted. And this is the rub; if you don’t choose a side, you can feel ostracized by both camps, but if you choose a side, you are no longer respected by those in the other camp, and there are massive assumptions about who you are and what you think about a whole bunch of different subjects. In the end, reductionism takes away from the creative, thoughtful, and diverse representation that is the Kingdom of God. It reduces “every tribe and every nation” to “this tribe or that tribe.” It limits our ability to creatively and imaginatively seek the Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”
This division is already impacting our school communities or has the potential to at any moment. One psychologist refers to our current culture as “toxically divisive” and explains that existing in a toxic culture makes us unwell as humans. This is not good news, especially for our children, who are being formed in the context of this culture.
I think pride is one of the key factors of making things so divided. There seems to be a declining posture of humility and an increasing posture of confidence and certainty in one’s opinion. Somehow, we have lost the ability to be curious towards one another and instead have decided it is more important to be sure of our views and then convince one another of those views. Instead of listening and engaging with someone who disagrees, we tend to regress to a “fight or flight” response. This can look like talking over someone or using strong words to intimidate/dismiss someone, or it can look like dismissing someone completely and having nothing to do with them. Neither of these seems to be consistent with the call of the gospel.
Oxford theologian Alasdair McIntyre states, “I can only answer the question, ‘what am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question, ‘of what story or stories am I a part?’” As followers of Christ, we are rooted in a different story that is not the same as our current culture of division. Our story is the grand story of the Bible: creation, fall, Israel, inauguration, and fulfilment. And we find ourselves between inauguration and fulfilment. What does this mean? It means Christ came to inaugurate a Kingdom that He has invited us to participate in. Think of how many times Jesus says, “the Kingdom of God is like….” He is explaining to us what the Kingdom of God is like and how we are members of the Kingdom in this world. That is our place in the story – a people who, by no merit of our own, have been invited by a scandalously loving God into full membership into a new Kingdom, a Kingdom inaugurated by the coming of Jesus!
To be clear, this is a new Kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament but fundamentally shifts its orientation from the Old Testament. For example, the people of Israel existed in a culture of holiness connected to purity and purity rituals. These included the food they ate, circumcision, and ritual bathing (M’qvahs), whereas New Kingdom holiness is attained by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Membership in this New Kingdom is now less defined by outward rituals and more noted by evidence of the work of the Spirit in God’s people – the fruit of the Spirit. It is also abundantly accessible “to all the world,” regardless of race or creed. In the New Kingdom, how we are to be followers of Jesus in a broken world is central. It requires a new orientation, or as biblical scholar, N.T. Wright calls it, the introduction of “Messiah thinking,” a way of being in the world that is fundamentally oriented around the fact that we have been bought by the body and blood of Jesus. This directly impacts how we work with one another. The New Kingdom is the Kingdom of the Spirit, and we are to be marked by the Spirit; we are to bear the Fruit of the Spirit as we engage the culture around us. There are too many examples in Scripture of how we are to treat one another to cite here but let me give just one that has captured my imagination as of late.
It is the Christ hymn of Philippians 2: 5-11 (KJV):
Let this mind be in you,
which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the very form of God,
thought it not robbery to be equal to God:
But made himself of no reputation,
and took upon him the form of a servant,
and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man,
he humbled himself and became obedient
unto death, even the death of the cross.
Whereas God also hath highly exalted him,
and given him a name which is above every name:
That at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow, of things
in heaven, and things on earth,
and things under the earth;
And that every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Biblical scholar Michael Gorman calls this Paul’s exhortation for Christians to don a posture of cruciformity. We are people of the cross, saved by grace alone, and as we walk in this world, we are to bear that reality in all we do. It’s opposite to the posture of pride, “but made himself of no reputation. . . he humbled himself. . . .” Of course, this doesn’t mean we do not have genuine disagreements (or else why would there be over 41,000 denominations in the world?). But it does mean that how we disagree matters. It matters that we see each other as made in the image of God and worthy of our time and curiosity. It matters that we see ourselves as sinners redeemed by God’s scandalous love and therefore carry ourselves with humility. It matters that we take Paul’s exhortation seriously to “honour everyone.” To me, this means we need to don a posture of the mind of Christ as we engage a culture of division. So may our Christian school communities be marked by the mind of Christ so that our children may be formed into Christlikeness.