Things Jesus Never Said: “Let’s agree to disagree.”

I don’t know about you, but I often hear the phrase “let’s just agree to disagree.” It happens when we feel like agreement is too hard, so we choose to hang on to our positions to keep our sense of SELF intact rather than cross the border into some scarier, unknown territory. I get it!! In many conflictual moments in my life, my sense of self has felt too fragile to handle anything but flight or flight. But like many commonly used phrases, I think “agreeing to disagree” too often works to just maintain the status quo, which unfortunately is full of division, loneliness, hierarchy, racism, violence, and poverty! So we need to do something different, to find common ground together.

The alternative response is dialogue. When we just agree to disagree, we dismiss each other. We’re essentially saying, “This lack of love is OK.” But when we decide to stay in it with each other and keep talking, there is a chance to gain understanding.

We all have opinions, and that’s good. The more conscious of them we can be, the better. The more we can bring them to the table of our common life and hold them up to the light of other people’s experiences and discernment, the more we expand…in heart as individuals and collectively. The more we can hold our opinions loosely and be open to feedback, the more we grow. The more we can “honor one another above ourselves” the more we can do big things together that change the world! I’ve got a lot of opinions, some of them well-formed, but I try not to come to too many conclusions in them on my own anymore. Why? Because I don’t know what God is going to do. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 5 minutes! The dead have been raised, God is HERE, and my conclusions could be limiting the possibilities at hand. We can do “impossible” things together with God.

Paintings of Ignatius of Loyola
Ignatius of Loyola

Ignatius of Loyola is one of my heroes because he was a brilliantly educated person who didn’t just promulgate his own great ideas. He prioritized humility and commitment to real people and the movement of God in the world that comes through shared understanding and love. The state church of his day was more focused on rigid tradition and doctrine and structure, so they imprisoned him for preaching a more generous and flexible gospel. During the cruel and vindictive Inquisition of his book Spiritual Exercises, which helps people see the Lord working in the ordinary events of their lives, he appealed to the court with this conviction:

“It is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false. If an orthodox construction cannot be put on a proposition, the one who made it should be asked how he understands it. If he is in error, he should be corrected with all kindness…”

He was calling the church to think the best of each other, and to dialogue when conflict arose (as it always does if anything real is happening.) He was calling the church to speak the truth in love. No wonder his community of Jesuits is still around, building community!

That kindness piece seems crucial to me, even though it will probably get ignored on the internet. “Truth” seems more sexy than love these days, and the most popular “truth” seems to only be about people’s worst moments. In the Simpson’s most recent season premiere, Bart and Homer go viral online for fighting, but they are cancelled when they make up. Our call-out culture doesn’t seem to be too interested in unity, probably because it’s really hard without conscious work with God. Yet unity seems to be the whole point of the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:18). Our love may need to be the loudest truth we share in order to agree.

To speak the truth in love we’ll have to be in love. The expansive and generous love of Christ that holds us can endure any kind of tension and still love. It is self-giving. It finds common ground in shared humanity. Nothing can take us out of this love, not even our own triggers! In this love we know the most important things, and have everything we need. We do not need to have it all within ourselves, we are connected to the Source. We may need to ask for help in the moment, to stay in God’s love and try to understand each other.

Often the term “let’s agree to disagree” is used when it feels too hard to stay in the room with each other. We’ve all been in those moments where people are painfully triggered and the conflict seems insurmountable. Rather than hammering our points or even our desire for reconciliation in these moments, we might need to remember that love is patient. Some of our problems will take a long time to sort out. We all want to be healed right now, of course, but we are all a work in progress. If we agree to stay connected to the Source of love together, we’re already in agreement in the deepest way. God will give us what we need to keep changing the world together. ❤️

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