Fellowship is threatened when one of my “majors” or one of yours is so important to us that we must be agreed with in order to maintain relationship. Unless we are careful with how we choose our words (written or spoken) we can at times come across as having more “majors” then we actually do. (Of course it is also possible for us to have more majors than we are willing to admit). For example, over the weekend on the P&P blog I dug myself into a bit of a hole with regard to the complimentarian vs. egalitarian position. While this is personally an important issue for me, the force with which I sometimes defend my position makes it seem more important than it is. If the person with whom I am debating is just as forceful the tone of our discussion can deteriorate rather quickly. In the end civility is threatened just as assuredly as fellowship.
Once we recognize that we are slipping toward the pit of ugly discourse most will try to back pedal, apologize, or end the discussion. These are all healthy responses to disagreement (unless judgments of the person are thrown into the process). When the points are minor our relationships live to face another day but we might want to decide to avoid certain topics of discussion. When the points are major, or when we have so many topics in the avoid column that conversing with the person beyond the weather has the potential of being unpleasant, it is probably time to disassociate and move on. When a person’s character is attacked (Your lack of intelligence [inability to understand scripture, lack of reasoning, faulty character, holier than thou attitude] makes you unworthy of my attention; how can I take you seriously!?) the problem is bigger than the topic at hand. Again, disconnecting is recommended.
So, have we answered our question? Not exactly. Disagreeing with leadership can be more tricky than disagreeing with our “equals” in the pews or on a blog. The main reason is because with authority comes power. Our disagreements with those in power can be taken as requesting information by asking for an explanation or as undermining their authority by challenging the status quo. How our questions or disagreements are responded to depends both on our tone and on how those with authority interpret our motives. If leadership is secure with their positions they are more likely to take our questions as teaching opportunities. They are also more likely to point out the differences between the majors and the minors. By acknowledging the less certain points of scriptures, leaders allow their followers room to grow and embrace a larger diversity of experience to define their fellowships. These are the types of fellowships most of us hope to experience. If leadership is insecure with their position, or motivated by power and control, or if our tone attacks and accuses then true dialogue is less likely to take place.
For all of us the bottom line is: What level of control does leadership expect to wield? What level of control are we willing to turn over to leadership? And, are these compatible? The answer to these questions will determine what we do when we disagree. (Not wanting to open a whole new can of worms here I will save a more thorough look at the issue of control for another post). An expectation of total control on the part of leadership gives us three options when we disagree: submit without complaint, complain and be reprimanded, or leave. As the expectation of control varies, the middle option adjusts and the other two remain unchanged.
I believe more is at risk for the Church than for, let’s say, the media or Hollywood, when it comes to engaging in debate. Our words and attitudes are under greater scrutiny and leave more long lasting impressions because they represent a greater and more important entity than our personal opinion. I think Teddy Roosevelt said, “speak softly and carry a big stick.” Personally, I hope I can learn to speak much more softly. But, I would also rather carry no stick at all.