Agreeing to Disagree – A guest post by Rev. Peter Benedict

I’ve spent a good chunk of my life convinced that being right and knowing the truth are important. I’ve also often thought I was right about just about everything. Those two sentences would have seemed unrelated to me for a good 20 years, but reading them now I’m stunned at their silliness.

My passion for finding the truth has led to some good stuff in my life. I was the guy in college who’d stay up all night talking with people about anything I cared about, and even if I tried to convince you I was right and even if I knew I you were wrong, I enjoyed hearing other perspectives. I’m glad I’ve always been after the truth, even if I was sure I already had it.

My passion for truth has led to some less good stuff too, especially when it’s been paired with surety in my own perspective. As a teen, for example, I got put in private Christian schools because I was suicidally unhappy in my public school (a story for another day!). While there I was exposed to all kinds of “theology,” and when I became convinced, I felt justified in being a jerk about it… because after all, I was right! I did some terrible stuff, like telling my future sister-in-law that God didn’t want her speaking in church (which I didn’t believe was good, or right, but it was in the Bible and I wanted to be argumentative).

"Oh, for the love of me. . ."

“Oh, for the love of me. . .”

Now I’m 42 years old, or as my teen self would have thought: Nearly dead. And I find myself much less sure, much less concerned with being right, but still passionate about truth. But the truth is different now. Jesus has rolled stuff out in my life, rather than giving me some giant ball of truth-wax in one big glob. I discover over time that I’ve been wrong and that God’s calling me to a new way, and this has happened so many times that I’m now pretty sure of some different truths than I used to believe.

I’m pretty sure that right now I’ve got wrong beliefs about something. I’m pretty sure I have no idea what it is, so I might as well be humble about what I believe.

I’m pretty sure that when I disagree with someone, how we treat each other is more important than who’s right.

"Admit it! Admit that Calvinism is theologically unsound!"

“Admit it! Admit that Calvinism is theologically unsound!”

I’m pretty sure that how I treat people is important even if the other person is doing something terrible, like spitting at me or nailing me to a cross or, even worse… JUDGING ME! I used to put being judgmental on its own special plane in Dante’s Inferno, but now I figure I’ve been sure and judgmental often enough that I should probably just be graceful in the face of it. I’ll probably be judgmental again someday, and when that happens I’d love to be able to say “I’m sorry… could you give me some grace on this one, like you’ve seen me give to others?”

Once upon a time, if I’d started a blog it would have been my goal to tell you, dear reader, what’s right and true. Now I’m writing for a blog because I want to learn from you. When we disagree, I’ll still believe what I believe in the moment… but disagreement is OK, and I hope we do a lot of it here. I hope we do it well.

"I respectfully disagree with your position, vis a vis Calvinism!"

“I respectfully disagree with your position, vis a vis Calvinism!”

On that front… on to the questions!

1. How sure are you of the truth (or The Truth, if you prefer)?

2. How have you treated people when you disagree? How have people treated you?

3. Is there any truth that you’re passionate about? Is there any truth you’ve been so passionate about that you’ve been less kind than you’d hope?

4. Is judgment some kind of special wrong? Is it OK to treat judgmental people badly?

5. Do you have any questions for me, or anything to say that I would benefit from hearing?

Thanks in advance to all who respond. You’re the reason I’m writing, and I hope I learn good things from you.

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20 responses to “Agreeing to Disagree – A guest post by Rev. Peter Benedict

  • Eric

    I hat judgment as much as the next guy but I don’t think its a special sin. It’s pretty vanilla actually since conscious or the judgement or not we are all guilty of that one.

  • Darren Beem

    Truth is kind of a hard question to deal with in the abstract. You almost have to give an example for our consideration.

    The race question is maybe a good example. For (mostly) white guys like me, we usually think we have things figured out. Reality, is that I probably have huge bus-like blind spots. Then when something really bad happens, like the Zimmerman trial, I get taken aback, because gee whiz, out of sight out mind. These things still happen?!

    Anyway, not sure if I’m making sense. My sense, is that you’ll do fine with the blogging thing and dealing with disagreement.

    One problem with the blog world though, is aside from the people who honestly disagree with you, there are some folks out there who are plainly irrational and a little unbalanced. Those are the difficult ones. You might not want to be judgmental toward them, but you also don’t want to encourage them.

  • Peter Benedict

    Hey Darren… happy Thursday 🙂

    I’ve been in a forum community since 1998/9. It grew up around EverQuest (yay nerds!), not that anyone plays any more. We still have 200ish folks, including the trolls that are standard on the Intarwebs. I am one of the admins there, and “plainly irrational and a little unbalanced” is nice understatement.

    I have essentially limitless patience for those folks. I’ll ban someone or delete a comment, but only in heinously extreme situations. I’m sorta libertarian about free speech. “Don’t feed the trolls” is good counsel most of the time, yes, although I’ll give a troll one chance in every thread. Wonderfully enough, we’ve seen a few of our community’s trolls transformed into valuable participants… although the majority, not so much.

    Race is a good topic for a post. My adoption of girls from Africa has been catalytic. The Zimmerman case… dear Jesus, what a horrible miscarriage of justice.

  • scottmielke

    I like Darren’s comment about truth being abstract. As I see it, any time we try to apply our truth to someone else’s experience, things start to get dicey. It’s been my experience that if I know what is right for me and I trust you to know your truth , then things work out for both parties.

  • Daniel Mitchell

    I’ll take this one at a time.

    1. How sure are you of the truth (or The Truth, if you prefer)?
    – Moderately unsure, actually. But I do believe that there IS a “Truth”, even if I don’t know much about it.

    2. How have you treated people when you disagree? How have people treated you?
    – That depends on the conversation. I love having conversation with friendly people who have well-formed positions, even when they disagree. But when people are hostile, that’s a different story. I’ve been treated very well, and also very poorly – again, depending on the conversation.

    3. Is there any truth that you’re passionate about? Is there any truth you’ve been so passionate about that you’ve been less kind than you’d hope?
    – I am very passionate about LGBT issues. That answers both questions, actually.

    4. Is judgment some kind of special wrong? Is it OK to treat judgmental people badly?
    – It sticks in my craw, that’s a fact. But I don’t think it’s worse than any others.Althought, it does hold a unique place among wrongs in that it does more to undo evangelism that other wrongs (except possibly sexual abuse wrongs.)

    5. Do you have any questions for me, or anything to say that I would benefit from hearing?
    – I love you, man!

  • Brandi Mitchell

    Great post Pete. Judgement is a hard topic for me. I try very hard not to have things so clearly and simply defined. Like Darren said, Captial-T truths get kind of sketchy in the abstract. I try really hard to keep my moral foundations while still being willing to rebuild whats built on top of them. I think that there ARE Capital-t truths, (Gravity, death, taxes and how much I love my dumb husband for example) but I think in most cases we don’t know enough to profess we know them. I find that the harder people are on any given stance, the more likely their conclusions are to break under the strain of discussion, so I try to not to hold on too hard to things.

    That said. . . I’m terrible at “respectful disagreements”. My default response to just about everything is “punching”. Its both my primary emotion and action. Daniel, being a veteran of 4 years of high school Lincoln-Douglas debate, has taught me that I loose more arguments because of my eventual emotional response. To put a fine point on it, people piss me off. Its not the disagreements, anyone could disagree with me and if they have valid points Ill take them, and assess them, and either change my response or find a way to address those points in the response I currently have. Its the stubborn fucking stupidity. I’ve argued with my parents about the LGBT vis a vis the church question. I come at them with these really well thought out, reasonable arguments that put a human face on the issue and make it more grey and less black and white, and they come back with “Blah blah the bible is clear” and . . . I mean. . .how do you argue with something that asinine? You cant. I’ve tried. -_-

    I once knew a girl who had a child out of wedlock (/sarcasm “Oh god, the horror” /e sarcasm) She was single and her child was autistic and she firmly FIRMLY believed that that child was God punishing her for not (these are her words, not mine) “staying pure until marriage”. I felt for her. I talked to her, I told her I didn’t think God rolled like that, that I doubted her child was a punishment, that she wasn’t “impure” and I prayed for her a lot. I don’t know if any of it worked, and I don’t think she liked me very much, but I really felt for her. I was talking about it with my mom, telling her, incredulously, how I couldn’t believe theology like that could exist. Her response was something like “Well it clearly wasn’t the pre-marital sex that shes being punished for, or that baby would have been healed when she repented and stopped”. I admit, I judged my mom quite a bit in that moment. I think I responded with something unhelpful like “You really think God gave a baby autism and a life hes going to have to struggle through every day because He wanted to punish that baby’s mom? Well that’s not the God I’ve been getting to know, and if its the God you worship, I hope I never meet him”

    So yeah, Im not very good at disagreeing.

    I just feel a certain kind of way about some subjects within the spectrum of the church (and without, too, lets be straight about it.) Women’s rights, and the hopeful eventual end to the objectification of us as a gender, you telling Gay she shouldnt talk in the church is a good example of something that would have had me react with punching. The LGBT issue, which I feel is as dumb as the civil rights issue. By that I mean it shouldnt be a fucking issue. People should be able to love and marry anyone who they want to in a consensual adult relationship. If someone who you dont like wants to marry you, say no. If you do like them say yes. Everyone lives miserably ever after. Why are we still talking about this? When I feel a certain kind of way about something and people take a stupid stance like “The bible is clear” no matter how many ways you illustrate its NOT that clear. . . it turns me into a bad person. This is why I dont think Ill be going to the “respectful discussions” thing. I dont want to go to jail for assault. Again.

    I think we all are guilty of judging people, I think we all know its bullshit but we all do it and somehow its ok when its something we feel is an affront to us. I do not, however, think its something that should be condemnded and respectfully I dont think its vanilla. I think judging someone is a) not our job and b) potentially more harmful a sin or wrong than a lot of things I can think of that are getting a lot more attention within the church at this moment. Again, its easier for us to point out than in, but I cant tell you how long I ran from God and building any sort of relationship with him because of people pointing at me. I cuss too much, I smoke, sometimes I smoke weed, I drink, I spend way more time than I should playing video games and not enough time going on walks with my kids. Most of the time I dont even LIKE my kids. You know what? All of this is true. There MORE thats true. God still loves me and it was none of those peoples business to determine where I fell short or their job to dictate what I had to fix before God would love/accept/work with me. Thats just. . . flat out bullshit. I try very hard not to let those stupid lies about what is offending me convince me that I have to do Gods work and have someone live a life full of pain because I didnt love them and let God change their life as HE wanted to.

    I love you Pete. Youve been a huge huge guidepost for me. Keep doing what you do.

    • Peter Benedict

      I love you too, Brandi. You’re wondrous.

      There are some good reasons to put judgment on its own level, especially if you’re following Christ who had some hard stuff to say on the topic. I’ll judge someone again someday though.

      We will be poorer if you don’t come to the Respectful Conversations meeting. Please come. Be you.

  • Brandi Mitchell

    Also, sorry for the novel.

    Also, also: We never have trolls. . . I feel like a blog hasnt made it until it has trolls. . . . .

  • David Messer

    I’m curious: you say the Zimmerman trial was a horrible miscarriage of justice (sounds pretty judgmental to me 🙂 ). What was unjust about it? Was the trial unfair? Did the jury get the wrong verdict according to the Law and the evidence?
    I’m not trolling, bu I am curious about why you think that.

    • Peter Benedict

      Hi Dave… in my view justice/injustice isn’t about the American legal system (this is an understatement).

      A longer response regarding Trayvon might be a good blog topic… I’ll save that for another setting (or for email, or coffee, if you like).

  • Adam

    Peter, as someone who has known you for more than half your (and my) life, let me say it has nearly always been a privilege and a pleasure to share time and space on this planet with you. As one of my favorite brothers, I can absolutely corroborate your post here, and let you know that not for one minute did your attitudes or actions ever lessen my love for you.

    I see some interesting parallels to your story in my own life. I am utterly passionate about loving with a servant’s heart. I believe it is the best, most effective way to show others that I value them, and at the same time to push their gaze away from me and toward Christ. I haven’t always been able to put it in those terms, or keep the resulting relationships on the healthiest of terms, but I have always subscribed to some version of “sacrificial” love. However, this passion has often driven me to attempt, with much vigor, to explain to others how they were not doing it right. Most often, these were people close to me, who mattered much to my heart, and who I wanted to share life with on a balanced scale. I supposed that if my argument was impassioned enough, convincing enough, I could bring them over to my way of thinking and believing. Of course, then we could share a truly mutually beneficial relationship. It never seemed to work out that way, though.

    Through hard lessons, and too many instances of causing heartbreak and resentment in those folks I love, I am closer to figuring it out these days. Sacrificial love also means sacrificing my desire for others to share my views and passions. My job is simply to do the loving, but the vessel of “me” needs to be empty of “me” (my love being ultimately selfish in nature) so that Christ’s love can consume, fill, and overflow from me. My goal must be to become invisible in the process, and to cause others to see through me to Jesus, whose Love is perfect, and whose servanthood is powerful and impactful in every life it touches.

    THAT’s what I truly need to be passionate about.

    • Peter Benedict

      That’s heavy, awesome stuff you’re learning, Adam. God bless you, and bless you, and bless you, and may we all learn from you.

      It’s good to have someone here to note what an ass I was, even if you do so kindly 🙂

  • visitingmissouri

    Five questions? They’d better be graded too (I hope that’s trolling enough for Brandi).

    1. How sure are you of the truth (or The Truth, if you prefer)?
    My theology and truth-beliefs are based on the idea of a peach: a solid core and a more flexible periphery. I know there is one truth that can’t be altered, but a lot of other truths are time and culture specific.

    2. How have you treated people when you disagree? How have people treated you?
    It depends on the topic. I generally believe that every topic, especially those in faith, will end up in a straight opposition. Those discussions are a sort of peeling off the layers until you’ve arrived at the thing that really divides you (in religious discussions: always a leap of faith). I tend then to agree to disagree. If I know people are wrong, which excludes the faith discussions, because you can’t KNOW, I’ll be an ass. Up to the point where I’ll ridicule them into looking it up on Wikipedia/Google and then grin until I fall asleep.

    3. Is there any truth that you’re passionate about? Is there any truth you’ve been so passionate about that you’ve been less kind than you’d hope?
    I think gays are a minority that’s being handled wrong by the church. That’s what I think about whenever I’m alone. I don’t believe it makes me less kind, but it does make me fierce.

    4. Is judgment some kind of special wrong? Is it OK to treat judgmental people badly?
    I think Jesus was pretty tough on judgment. You can be judgmental, or rather, you cannot not be, but the passages on the clean cup, the splinter in the eye, etc. are very hard to miss. When it’s coupled with a misunderstanding of the human nature of sin, I think it is special wrong.

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