Loyal opposition…faithful disagreement

I spent some of my formative years in England, beginning my schooling there. The only reason I mention this is because it is important background to the rest of this post. When we came back to the United States, it was somewhat of a culture shock…at least as much as can be recognized by an 8-year-old child.

But one concept I returned with–and one I thought the United States had adopted well–was the concept of loyal opposition. It acknowledged that everyone was not going to see things the same way, but that all those involved in decision making had an interest in doing what was best for the country…and were willing to listen to each other. It didn’t demonize those who had differing opinions. It recognized they were loyal citizens who simply had different points of view. Individuals on opposing sides could argue vociferously with each other–and then at the end of the day could go out to dinner with each other.

Over the last several years, though, I have watched as that concept has slowly disappeared.

Far too often, individuals on different ends of whatever spectrum you want to talk about seem to fail to see each other as human beings. Nor do they seem willing to listen to each other. There is demonization of each other…of each other’s points of view. There is unwillingness to see that there may indeed be valid differing points of view…and that the role of those who govern should be to hear them and then to find ways of working together for the good of the nation.

And so we have gridlock.

I don’t know for sure how we’re going to resolve this issue…but in my own faith tradition, we are trying. Trying to revive the concept of loyal opposition…faithful disagreement. We have had some contentious issues to deal with. In my own lifetime, I can remember the first time we dealt with a significant change in church polity–and the tremendous numbers of people who left because they could not accept the change that allowed women to become ordained ministers. And unfortunately, at the time, we did not have a way to acknowledge that we could disagree and still (hopefully) find ways of walking the journey together. It has taken a long time to heal some of those breaches, and some probably will never be healed.

Now we are dealing with another difficult issue…allowing ordination and sacramental marriage to be made available to both heterosexual individuals and members of the LGBTQ communities. And again there is significant disagreement. The difference is that this time church leadership has provided guidelines for and acknowledgement of the idea that good people can disagree with each other and still work together for the good of the body. There will undoubtedly still be some folks who will leave our community…but I believe that there is still the possibility of learning how to disagree without being disagreeable.

Perhaps what I hope for is best expressed by a poem written by Danny Belrose, a friend of mine (and former leader in my denomination):

If we cannot be on the same page,
can we be on different pages in the same book?
If we cannot be in the same book—
can we be on the same shelf or
in the same section
in the same library?
And, if not the same book, same section,
or same library, can we at least celebrate
that we have been penned into creation
by the same Author?
We are inextricably connected,
irrevocably part of the family of God.

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