The word “disagreement” has many definitions. It’s a difference of opinion. It’s a lack of consensus or approval. It’s a failure to agree.
During the past fifteen months, we have experienced an unending number of situations that fit that description. We’ve disagreed over the use of masks. We’ve clashed over vaccines. We’ve disagreed over political candidates. We’ve debated racial injustices. We’ve disagreed over the proper methods for safely returning to normal in our churches and our workplaces.
In my Southern Baptist denominational family, we’ve had several recent disagreements as well – too many to list here. As we approach our denomination’s annual meeting next week in Nashville, suffice it to say that I’ve witnessed more disagreements on social media than I can count. So much so that pastors have had to remind other pastors repeatedly that courtesy and civility matter – especially in front of a watching world.
In this fallen world, disagreements are inevitable. Even Christians are not going to agree on every matter. However, the sad reality is that we don’t always disagree well.
Whenever you disagree with a colleague, fellow church member, a family member, or even a Christian leader, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do so. In this post, I want to discuss the wrong way to do so. Here are five mistakes to avoid when engaging in a disagreement.
Mistake #1: Rushing to Judgment
Whenever we disagree with someone, our sinful tendency is to assume the worst about them. Perhaps the person posted something on social media that struck a nerve. Maybe they engaged in behavior that we deem as questionable. Maybe they committed a personal offense against us. In each of these examples, we’re often tempted to rush to judgment. We may forgo collecting the relevant facts about the situation and go straight for the jugular.
However, Proverbs 18:17 reminds us that there’s always another side to the story: “The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.” In other words, it’s a mistake to rush to judgment before considering all sides of the story or argument. Instead, we must seek to understand the other person’s perspective before reaching any conclusions. This requires intentionality and patience.
Unfortunately, our culture of quick takes doesn’t lend itself to this type of intentional investigation. However, followers of Christ must take the steps necessary to get the facts before reaching improper conclusions. If we want others to give us the benefit of the doubt, we must be willing to extend that same grace as well.
Mistake #2: Disagreeing on Social Media
Social media is an excellent tool to catch up with old friends, network with colleagues, and share pics from your family vacation. Unfortunately, it’s not a great place to engage in public debate. When those who disagree with each other only interact through social media, it’s easy to lose sight of the humanity of others. We become focused solely on winning the argument, and we forget that those with whom we argue are fellow image-bearers.
A better way to discuss our disagreements is in a room together. If that is impractical, pick up the phone and talk to one another or participate in a video conference call. Christians shouldn’t engage in a Twitter war simply because we disagree with a fellow believer. Even if we win the argument, we still lose. Jesus taught that a watching world should know Christians by our love for one another (John 13:35). If the world knows us only by our engagement on social media, will they get that message?
I’m not downplaying the need for debate over our disagreements. The Bible commands Christians to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). However, social media is not the proper venue to engage in these debates. Instead, get in a room (real or virtual) and discuss these matters in private.
Mistake #3: Refusing to Compromise
Augustine is often credited with the quote, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” This exhortation is a helpful reminder for Christians when we disagree with one another.
In the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, there can be no room for debate or compromise. However, we must be willing to extend charity to our fellow brothers and sisters in other non-essential matters.
Outside of Twitter, I have observed that most disagreements among Christians today are not due to theological differences but due to opposing preferences. Church members often engage in debate and conflict with other church members because we have allowed those preferences to become demands. The pastor must use a particular Bible translation. The greeters must wear masks and gloves. The church must continue to conduct Sunday evening services. The list could go on and on.
When we allow our preferences to become demands, we have elevated our interests above the interests of others, which is the exact opposite of Paul’s admonition in Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
In other words, we must not allow our non-essential preferences to become demands. Instead, we must be willing to compromise whenever possible. When we refuse to do so, our disagreements will continue in perpetuity.
Mistake #4: Engaging in Gossip or Slander
Whenever we disagree with someone, we’re often tempted to talk to everyone about the disagreement except the actual person we disagree with. In our conversations with mutual acquaintances, we often paint the person or group in a negative light. We’re quick to tell others about the snap judgments we’ve made. (We don’t call them snap judgments, of course!) We make passive-aggressive social media posts where we talk about the person without naming the person. We talk about how the other person refuses to compromise or capitulate to our position.
All the while, we never consider talking to the person.
Gossip and slander have no place among God’s people. James writes, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law” (James 4:11).
Don’t make the sinful mistake of engaging in gossip or slander. If you have a significant disagreement with someone, talk to them in private. Don’t run their name through the mud with other people. It’s dishonoring to the Lord, detrimental to the other person, and unbecoming of a follower of Christ.
Mistake #5: Holding a Grudge
Christians often make one final mistake when engaging in a disagreement by holding a grudge after the dispute has supposedly been settled. Perhaps we lose our cool with them over the slightest infraction. Maybe our blood pressure rises every time we think about them. While we may not say so publicly, we may say to ourselves, “I’ll forgive them, but I won’t forget.” In these examples, we haven’t forgiven the other person. We’re still holding on to a grudge.
This is not the way of a follower of Christ. On the contrary, Paul exhorts, “Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31). Rather, Christians should “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ” (Ephesians 4:32).
When the disagreement has been settled, that’s it. It’s over. If one or both parties have sinned against one another, forgive each other, and move on. Don’t allow bitterness to take root in your heart. Don’t hold on to a grudge. Forgive and forget. Life is too short, and God is too good. Don’t make the mistake of ruining your spiritual walk by holding on to grudges long after the disagreement has been settled.
Mistakes Can Be Mended
If you’ve committed one or more of these mistakes when engaging in a disagreement, don’t despair. You can make amends. Go to the person, confess your sin, and be reconciled to your brother or sister in Christ.
In a fallen world, disagreements are inevitable. But, as followers of Christ, let’s make sure that we settle our disagreements in a way that honors the Lord!