Disagreement – this is a reality we live with today, woven into the fabric of our everyday lives.
You walk to the grocery store, where you are greeted at the entry with signs telling us what to do and what not to do; we are told who is welcome and who is not. Strolling up and down the aisles, trying to follow the arrows on the floor, you notice an unmasked person walking towards us. Instantly, judgments begin to form in our minds. Age, gender, and racial profiles are drawn up, and stereotypes are silently reinforced. They smile, oblivious to your inner dialogue – how will you respond?
We gather for a Thanksgiving meal. We awkwardly greet each other at the door with head-nods, conscious that some guests are anxious about expanding their social bubble. Others are not with us, due to rules and feelings about vaccination status. In conversation, we remember those who have lost their lives due to Covid-19, and we remember those who have lost their livelihoods due to our government’s response. During this pandemic, some jobs have become much harder; others have disappeared altogether. Conspiracy theories are proposed. Judgments are made. Our perspectives, based on our personal experience, can feel incompatible.
We sit in church – united in our worship of God, our attentiveness to His word, and our commitment to fellowship – children of one Heavenly Father. We are told, in Scripture, that we are one. But, as we look at the person across the aisle in the next section, we wonder: are they “pro” or “anti?” Are they “fearful” or “free?” Are they “tolerant” or “bigoted?” Subconsciously, we have divided one another into categories and camps, as defined by the culture at large. We think that we have figured people out before we actually meet them – and once we’ve pigeon-holed them, we may not even want to meet them.
How did we get here? We live in a country known for its tolerance. Ever since the British won the Seven Years War in 1763, Canada has been officially multicultural and bilingual. French, English, and more. We know that a person’s ethnicity and language do not define what it means to be Canadian – just look at our Men’s National Soccer Team – our coach and top two scorers were born in other countries.
Moreover, Canadians have also been known for their tolerance of diverse values. When Conservative Leadership Candidate Kellie Leitch proposed that immigrants should be “screened for Canadian values,” it drew much criticism. Though the proposed values had to do with non-violence, gender equality, and work ethic, they were viewed as too exclusionary by her opponents.
And, until now, many have viewed our Prime Minister as the figurehead of Canadian tolerance. Columnist Licia Corbella reports that in a eulogy for his father in October, 2000, Justin Trudeau told a story of a lesson his father taught him:
“But at eight, I was becoming politically aware. And I recognized one whom I knew to be one of my father’s chief rivals. Thinking of pleasing my father, I told a joke about him. A generic, silly little grade school thing.
“My father looked at me sternly, with that look I would learn to know so well, and said: ‘Justin, we never attack the individual. We can be in total disagreement with someone, without denigrating them as a consequence,’ and, saying that, he stood up, took me by the hand and brought me over to introduce me to this man.
“He was a nice man, who was eating there with his daughter, a nice-looking blond girl, a little younger than I was. He spoke to me in a friendly manner for a bit, and it was at that point that I understood that having opinions that are different from another does not preclude being deserving of respect as an individual.
“Because simple tolerance, mere tolerance, is not enough. We need genuine and deep respect for each and every human being, notwithstanding their thoughts, their values, their beliefs, their origins.
“That’s what my father demanded of his sons, and that’s what he demanded of his country.”Justin Trudeau
In light of this winsome quote from so long ago, it is concerning to see how times have changed. While some have argued that his claims of tolerance have always lacked substance, Trudeau’s own words are beginning to show it. In a French-language interview during the 2021 election campaign, he referred to the unvaccinated in this way:
“They are extremists who don’t believe in science, they’re often misogynists, also often racists. It’s a small group that muscles in, and we have to make a choice in terms of leaders, in terms of the country. Do we tolerate these people?”
Surely, the role of PM would be taxing on anyone – and the amount of criticism he faces must weigh heavily on him. I, for one, know how tempting it can be to defensively counterattack those who oppose me. But, dismissing them as a “fringe minority” who hold “unacceptable views” does not square with the fact that after the spread of Omicron, a majority of Canadians now agree with the stated demands of the truckers – for restrictions to be lifted. Despite this, Trudeau continued to label his opponents in startling terms:
Such name-calling not only divides people and destroys dialogue, but it also doesn’t reflect the reality facing our country. Numerous studies have shown that the “vaccine hesitant” actually come from a broad swath of society, and have been over-represented by certain visible minorities, women and Liberal voters! Based on another study by Abacus Data, their chairman asserts,
“almost half of (the vaccine hesitant, 46 per cent) live in Ontario and well over half of them (59 per cent) are women. A quarter were born outside Canada. Their average age is 42 . . . If they were voting in a federal election today, 35 per cent would vote Liberal, 25 per cent Conservative, 17 per cent NDP, nine per cent Green.”
So, maybe the people we disagree with are not as evil as we thought. Despite what we hear from certain politicians and media sources, people who hold different views on an issue do not fall neatly into stereotypical categories. Rather, in all likelihood, we have more in common with them than with the rich and powerful voices who have been sowing division in society. Recently, even members of the ruling Liberal party have begun to speak out against the replacement of political dialogue with divisive and dismissive language. Contrast this with an Ottawa resident’s effort to speak personally with the protestors outside his window, to actually hear them out. He was surprised by what he heard!
But I digress. Politics is not the main issue here. It is only an illustration of the issue that each one of us face, each and every day of our lives. Finding a new leader will not solve the problem – politics is not the answer. Each and every one of us need to know how to handle disagreement properly.
Back in May 2021, after the BC government lifted its 5-month ban on in-person religious services, our church slowly began to re-gather outdoors. And as we did, we spent some time exploring Romans 12-16, where the Apostle Paul instructs a very diverse church about how to get along with each other and to function in this world. And while many have looked to Romans 13 for guidance about church-government relations in these times, I found Romans 14 to be even more relevant for us today. While the church must always carefully consider how it relates to the surrounding culture, its ability to function and properly witness to the world will depend on how well its people relate to each other. Consider Jesus’s New Command to His followers, and His prayer for them recorded by the Apostle John:
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.John 13:34-35; 17:20-23
Of course, the question remains – “how do we do this?”
If the church is like a family of adopted children, how can we keep from quarreling?
If the church is like a body of many parts, how can we work in synchronization?
If the church is like a building, how do we ensure the bricks all line up?
Well, each of these Biblical analogies contains its own answer – as adopted children, we look to our Heavenly Father and disregard any previous identities. As parts of the body, we look to the Head, Jesus Christ, for direction. And as a building, we are founded on the Word delivered by the apostles & prophets, and united by the Spirit Who dwells in us all.
But when getting down to the nuts & bolts of how to live this out, Paul offers some helpful words to the Roman church. Located in a vast metropolitan center of politics, culture, and trade, they regularly dealt with ethnic and social tensions. But, rather than taking sides in these matters, Paul offers some wise, peacemaking principles:
14:1 – “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.” Here is the first principle – if someone disagrees with you about an issue that is not essential to the faith, then show them acceptance. Recognize that their difference may come from weakness – they may be extra-sensitive to an issue due to their previous experience. Show the same acceptance to one another that Christ showed us (Romans 15:7).
14:3 – “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.” The second principle: both sides of a disagreement have potential to harm the other. One whose conscience allows them to exercise freedom in a certain area (alcohol, diet, Sabbath) should not look down on another who feels the need to limit themselves. And on the flip side, one who follows certain negotiable rules should not judge the person who does not. We must not let secondary issues divide us. In these days of social upheaval and political unrest, the church is in danger of becoming hijacked by political factions on either side, and taken off course from its primary mission.
14:13, 19 – “Therefore let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister…Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” The third principle: both sides of a disagreement have the ability to make peace. We can start by asking ourselves, “am I being overly sensitive?” or, “am I being insensitive?” An offended person can withhold their judgement, leaving the issue with the Lord (v.4), while an offensive person can choose to limit their own freedom to avoid distressing others (v.15, 20).
14:22 – “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” The fourth and final principle: talk less, and listen more. Some things are not worth debating; social and political issues come and go, but God’s word remains forever (Isaiah 40:8), and Jesus never changes (Hebrews 13:8). His commands to the church are clear, and we know what we’re here for: to love God, our neighbor and each other – and to make disciples of all nations. Delving into the latest controversies of our culture can divide the church and distract it from its primary purpose. While the church can offer a prophetic voice in response to contemporary issues, and should engage in meaningful dialogue with its neighbors, it doesn’t need to let the latest fads of culture set its agenda or define its goals. We know who we are, and where we’re going. Let’s invite others along for the journey!
Personally, I am so thankful for how Parkdale Church has continued to be a place of acceptance and love – even through these trying times. I trust that Christ will continue to build His Church, guided by His Spirit in each and every believer. My hope is the same as Paul for the Roman Church:
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.Romans 15:5-7
Here’s a message on Romans 14 if you’d like to reflect on this more: