Monday, September 20, 2010

The Ability to Disagree and Still Be Brothers and Sisters

My first parish experience was in an area where two circuits met together as one.  We were a rather diverse group -- one or two who quite probably could have left with Seminex, a pentecostal/charismatic or two, a couple regular old line bronze age Missourians, some other odd ones and then me, perhaps the oddest duck of all -- highly liturgical but conservative and confessional.  There were many disagreements -- both those spoken and unspoken.  There was much conversation -- some official and some private.  But the disagreements were still fraternal and not mean-spirited.  I remain closely connected to several of these fellows.  In the end what impressed me most was the churchly manner in which differences were approached and the fraternal way in which our relationships were focused.

Yesterday we had the voters meeting in which the budget for the next year was adopted.  I waited for folks to say something but hardly anything was said.  It is not because there was nothing to say.  It it because this congregation is still unsure how to express differing opinions while remaining churchly and fraternal in their relationships as God's people in this place.  So, even though I know there were a few things that some folks wanted to say, they did not say them -- at least within the context of an official meeting.

This makes me sad.  I came here a year or so after painful conflict was less resolved than the parties left (including an ELCA mission that grew out of one of the conflicts here).  One of the things I saw right away was that it was hard for folks to disagree because they associated disagreement with conflict and hurt.  It need not be that way and the fact that it is indicates we have much growing to do as a congregation.  People can disagree in Christ about many things without that disagreement bringing an end or changing the character of their relationship as brothers and sisters in Christ.

I expect I will make a few phone calls and see about visiting some of the folks who might have said something but chose not to say it.  The point being not to help resolve ruffled feathers but to encourage them to speak their minds (the truth in love as St. Paul tells us), that our relationship does not have to be threatened by some of these disagreements (though there are other disagreements which do shake the very foundations of our life together), and that disagreements expressed in a healthy way are a sign of maturity and strong bonds within the congregation.

Perhaps our Synod is in the same boat.  We have disagreements about things that do not threaten our unity and life together but we do not know how to express them in ways that do not threaten our relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ.  So we resort to private conversations that sometimes border on character assassination (on both sides) and we make our disputes through publications and internet forums instead of speaking face to face.  We also have some disagreements which do threaten our unity and life together and these we have the same trouble talking about openly and honestly.

In the end, it is my hope for this parish as well as for our Synod as a whole that we learn to speak to each other, that we learn to speak honestly to each other, that we are mature enough in Christ to express our disagreements out loud and work through them, and that we learn how to remain brothers and sisters in Christ even when we end up on different sides of the debate.  For surely this is the mark of maturity and strong and healthy ties between those who claim as individuals and together to belong to Jesus Christ.  In the end, after expressing those disagreements openly, if we can prayerfully put the Church ahead of personal stake, then we have truly done the remarkable...


Chris said...

With respect, Fr. Peters, but allowing diversity of beliefs within the church and still trying to bring about a unity is impossible as the ELCA situation has shown. I certainly grant that disagreeing over the budget is not a theological argument, but what is going on in the LCMS is very much what the ELCA is going through.

Lutherans use adiaphora as the buzzword to justify anything that goes on in their parish that deviates from the Lutheran confessions. THere are LCMS churches who believe that a quia subscription to the Book of Concord is even adiaphora. Would you still agree that such a radical disagreement be tolerated? I certainly hope not.

The Liturgy, private confessions and even the treatment of the Virgin Mary have fallen under adiaphora so much that the diversity of practice makes you wonder whether how two congregations both within walking distance are still LCMS churches, though there is very little of common practice and theology.

Adiaphora has been trumpeted as the Lutheran call to freedom, but it has lead to consequences of anarchic proportions.

Pastor Peters said...

Chris, I think you stretch my words too far. I am not speaking of theological disagreement but practical disagreements -- budget, structure, how to implement what we all agree upon, etc... I was not speaking to theological disagreements -- even then, however, they need not be rancorous or mean. I mentioned a budget meeting. I could also have mentioned the restructuring of the Synod structure which some have approached as a theological issue (which, mostly is it far from). We can disagree in many of these things without these disagreements endangering our life together as a congregation or a Synod. We can also disagree over major theological issues without this turning us into the kind of enemies who speak and do unChristlike things. That was my point...