Yesterday, in an unusual turn of events, I left a Facebook group before I got thrown off it. The group is called Progressive Christians, for anyone who wants to look it up, or attempt to join (it’s closed, so you have to be added by a current member). I became part of a discussion that took an ugly turn, and led me to understand that the group does not live up to the first half of its name–and might not live up to the second, either.
Where the discussion descended into the abyss was when one of these “progressive” Christians said that disagreement was fine, so long as we disagreed “silently.” I asked how that was even possible, or why it was desirable. First, to know if we agree or disagree, we actually have to say something. Secondly, when we must only disagree silently, we shut down discussion. Thirdly, we only grow, mature, and learn by encounter with ideas that we do not currently hold.
I can think of nothing, in a “progressive” Christian community (online or otherwise) more life-giving than healthy, vocal disagreement.
When we must remain silent in our disagreement, bad things happen. Very bad things. To outline a few:
- Only one viewpoint is acceptable. Every other viewpoint is “outsider”, anathema, “other”.
- Discussion is shut down. I used to think it was just discussion of important ideas, but it is even discussion of trivia which is closed down. If we can’t voice opinions–especially well-informed opinions–out of fear of making disagreement something other than silent, we silence all speech.
- Community becomes something else. Community–real community, anyway–needs a variety of voices, viewpoints, experiences. Those voices are inevitably going to be in tension and even dissonance occasionally (good music moves on dissonance, by the way: Listen to Brahms’ First Symphony if you don’t believe me). It’s that tension and dissonance that makes any resolution fuller, more satisfying, and richer. When we don’t allow tension and dissonance, all we do is sit wordlessly, with nosepickingly stupid expressions on our faces (my guess is, it must be the same nosepickingly stupid expression on all faces involved).
The “gentleman” who insisted on silent disagreement as the only form of disagreement allowable in the church made several very nasty assumptions about me (including a very amateurish diagnosis about my mental and emotional health). He concluded (perhaps rightly, perhaps not) because I did not agree with him on the need for silence in disagreement, we would not agree on anything. Some of this was done within the group, some through exceptionally abusive private messages. We won’t even say much about what happens when we assume things about people on little to no evidence.
The group–remember, this is “Progressive Christians” took the “gentleman’s” side, and joined in that I had “anger issues” (I disagree that “anger” directed at the institutional church is the very worst thing a Christian can express–and sometimes it is the most appropriate).
If any of them had been present at the events described in Matthew 21:12, they might have taken Jesus aside and admonished him to get help for his anger issues.
For myself, I’ve never grown, learned, matured when the only opinions I’ve encountered are the ones I already held. I’ve always invited and sought ideas that rubbed up the wrong way against my own. I’ve deliberately put myself in the way of people I knew were different–less because I wanted to convince others of the rightness and truth of my ideas, but because I wanted to try to see the rightness and truth of theirs.
That is impossible if all disagreement must be silent. And if progressive Christianity has such an allergy to disagreement, I can’t be a part of progressive Christianity. Because lively, heartfelt disagreement doesn’t have to be “one side wins, one side loses”. It doesn’t even have to take sides at all. It just needs to put lots of ideas–some in tension and dissonance–out for honest examination, to see the rightness and truth (and wrongness and falsehood) in all of them.
It beats sitting wordlessly with the same nosepickingly stupid expression on everybody’s face.