Loyal opposition…faithful disagreement

I spent a few of my early years in England, and I seemed to have learned through osmosis the idea of loyal opposition, a concept that may sound like an oxymoron in this day and age. More recently, my faith tradition has grappled with the concept of faithful disagreement, another concept that sounds like an oxymoron. But I believe they are important concepts that we have lost…and need to regain.

Both of those concepts acknowledge that we are not going to agree on everything…and that’s okay. We have different life experiences…different upbringings…different friends…different educations…

However, these concepts also acknowledge that we can disagree while still working toward the same goal. Listening to someone else who has the same goal–but a different way of approaching it–creates the opportunity for synergy…an increased effectiveness greater than any single individual can have. That kind of listening–and working together–can spark new ideas, new possibilities.

I remember as a young person listening to members of Congress having harsh disagreements with each other on the floor–and then leaving together to go to supper together as friends. They understood that someone with a different idea isn’t an enemy to be demonized.

Unfortunately–and I’m not sure why–we’ve had a major shift, both in our politics and, so also in many of our faith traditions. Instead of disagreeing with an idea, we’ve begun saying that the person we disagree with is evil…is someone who should be cut out by whatever means necessary. And we’ve become so polarized that it now seems almost impossible to regain an understanding of these concepts.

But we have to.

Otherwise I’m afraid we will go in one of two directions: (1) remain mired in a situation where nothing gets accomplished, or (2) find ourselves in a situation where one perspective has enough “authority” to run rough-shod over any other one, and we lose the effective functioning of democracy.

Is it possible? I believe so.

A few years ago, at a hymn sing at a major international event in my faith tradition, we celebrated the Christmas truce of 1914 when enemy troops in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce and exchanged seasonal greetings and talk. At that hymn sing, we sang “Silent Night/Stille Nacht”–and we heard the story shared by two individuals in leadership roles in my faith…one German and one English.

Can we not find a way back to civil discourse with each other? to allow for loyal opposition and faithful disagreement with each other?


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