How to Disagree

If anyone should know how to disagree well, it’s Christians.  In his three years of public ministry, Jesus disagreed with pretty much everybody at some point.  Yet he did it in such a way that he never stopped loving others, even the ones who disagreed so much they crucified him.

Our world is full of disagreement.  From preferences to politics to religion and social causes, people see things differently.  It’s felt the most in families and close relationships; it’s broadcast the most in social media.  We find ourselves on the opposite side of an issue with others daily.  So how can we disagree like Jesus?

I think the following three questions can help us all disagree better:

1. Am I Always Right?

Before we engage any kind of disagreement—be it on Facebook, in person, or in our own heads—we have to start here.  Sin leads all of us, Christians included, to assume we are right.  But our track records beg to differ.  By remembering the times we have been right and the times we have been wrong, we move from proud conviction to humble searching.  Instead of assuming we are right, we assume we could be wrong.  Only then are we ready to disagree well.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t have strong convictions.  The only way you disagree is if you have convictions!  But we also need a posture of humility, caring more about what is true than winning an argument.  The strongest convictions are held by humble people who have searched for the truth before they started to argue.

2. Do I Understand You?

In my experience, few people are actively trying to do something wrong.  In other words, people almost always have opinions that they think are good and helpful, not bad and hurtful.  And most people I know, regardless of education level or life experience, are not stupid.  Yet when we disagree we tend to assume the other person has bad intentions or is, well, stupid.

While plenty of people hold their views for poor reasons, almost none of them do it intentionally.  Instead, people hold their views because they see things differently than we do.  Much of the time we can learn from those differences, and bring our viewpoints together to get closer to the truth.

This is why humble people do their best to understand those they disagree with.  Why do people have a different view?  What are the best reasons for it?  Why would someone intelligent and well-intentioned hold that view?  We all get frustrated when people misrepresent what we believe and why we believe it.  It’s especially frustrating when they are misrepresenting us because they think we are stupid and have bad intentions.  As Christians, we shouldn’t be doing that to others.

Instead, Christians should go the extra mile to listen and understand even those who differ wildly from our views.  We should aim to understand them so well that we can defend their viewpoint as well as they can, even if we disagree strongly with it.  In most circumstances, we will find something worthwhile in their views, which can help our own views be clearer, and stronger, and more nuanced.

3. Why Are We Arguing?

What’s the point of disagreeing?  There are really two options: I can disagree so I can win an argument, or I can disagree so my opponent and I can learn.  The first breeds disrespect, bad logic, and sinful reactions.  But the second breeds respect, good reasoning, and edifying reactions.

When you look at your own motives for disagreeing with someone, you often find more than you expect.  Reading a post on social media, seeing a debate, or having a contentious conversation can generate strong emotions.  That means there’s more underneath your disagreement than who has the facts right.  Underneath your disagreement you might find insecurity about what you believe, prejudice against those who disagree with you, a need for others to agree with you so that you feel in control of your world, or even an idol that tells you that you are only worthwhile when you are right. James 4:1 tells us that we quarrel because our passions are at war within us.  So why are we arguing?  Christians are called to put sinful passions to death and instead argue out of humble love: a desire to learn, grow closer to God, and bless others as the result.

This leads to a counter-intuitive confidence.  Being wrong becomes a blessing, because it helps you have a more accurate view of God, opening the door to more love for him and others.  Being right doesn’t lead you into the cul-de-sac of pride, because you only wanted to be right out of a concern for God and others.   We only disagree well when we are arguing for the right reasons.

The Gospel And Disagreement

When you find yourself in disagreement, remember to ask yourself if you are always right, if you understand the other side, and why you are arguing in the first place.  And along the way, look to the gospel as motivation and fuel, because this is how Jesus loved us.  He disagreed with us and died for us.  He called us to love our enemies.  Being Christlike means disagreeing, but disagreeing well.  We will win people not just by knowing the truth, but by living it out.  Most of all, we will honor God by disagreeing like his Son.