The myth of agree to disagree

agreetodisagreeIn The United Methodist Church we are using the phrase “agree to disagree” an awful lot these days. I am not so sure that we understand what it implies though. I am going to try and unpack how we can agree to disagree and how we can not in good conscience do so here. Let’s begin with a simple working definition of the phrase. When we agree to disagree, a few things happen I think. We agree that neither of us is likely to change the mind of another. That is not necessarily a bad thing, simply a recognition. We agree that we both hold an opinion that we think is correct, and we will continue to do so. If you don’t want to, you do not even have to admit the other individual may be correct in order to agree to disagree, you simply have to understand that the opinion is not going to change. This is healthy and useful as well. It is a good tool in interpersonal relationships. We can go down the more negative roads as well though and use agree to disagree as an attempt to replace an objective reality with, hopefully, your own. That is one of the more negative aspects of the phrase and one that is unhealthy and damaging to us. We should be cautious that we are not trying to agree to disagree in this manner. Let me use an example of healthy agree to disagree usage from our own Articles of Religion.

Article XIV — Of Purgatory

The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardon, worshiping, and adoration, as well of images as of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but repugnant to the Word of God.

Let’s examine what this actually says. First off, we are not claiming here that the Church of Rome are not Christians. We are not claiming that they do not love God, love people, love Christ, etc. We are saying that the United Methodist Church has a pretty strong opinion on the topic at hand. We agree to disagree with Rome about this. Rome may choose not to agree to disagree with us, but that is another matter entirely. Notice that we do not say here that individuals can not pray to the saints or keep a belief in Romish purgatory. We say that this is the belief of the church. A prime example of agreeing to disagree. The church has stated her point, the individual has stated their point and life goes on. Another example may be found in our membership requirements. In order to be a member of the United Methodist church one must be baptized and claim Christ. A person may disagree with this and be of the mind that you should not have to be baptized in order to be in membership. In this too one can agree to disagree with the church, but note that in doing so the church is not required to allow you to be a member. The point being that agreeing to disagree does not always result in you being able to do whatever you want to, in this case, become a member of the church. Note that the church here is still not saying that you are not a Christian, that you do not love people, etc. simply that you did not meet the requirement so the desired effect is not forthcoming.

The stance of The United Methodist church on SSM is well documented by this point. You agree with it or you do not at your leisure. There is nothing in the UMC beliefs that says that you must agree with it after all. The church is willing to allow you to agree to disagree as it pretty much is in all things. The church will, with one exception that I am aware of, allow you to become a full member, it will administer the sacraments, etc. all while allowing disagreement on the matter. If you are a pastor, however, there is a different agreement made. There is a pretty strong argument to be made that the church allows for disagreement on the matter even then, but the church does not allow for you to use the authority granted to you by God through the United Methodist Church, to perform such a marriage or to be involved in an ongoing relationship with a member of the same sex. The church also does not allow for you to be engaging in any sort of (what she considers to be) sexually immoral behavior. She allows for you to disagree with the position, but not to act upon it. The church does not allow you to embezzle funds from her, though she will allow for you to disagree with that. The church does not allow for crime, teaching doctrine that is not in line with her, to undermine the ministry of another, racial or sexual harassment, etc. She allows you to disagree with those stances, but does not allow you to practice them. (In theory at least. It is also well documented that we are not enforcing our standards well across the board.) That is all a matter of agreeing to disagree. The church allows for you to disagree with her, but does not allow for you to always act upon that disagreement. That is replacing the objective reality of the beliefs of the church aside and replacing them with your own. That is the unhealthy sort of agreeing to disagree.

Where we find ourselves is at the crossroads of healthy agreeing to disagree and unhealthy agreeing to disagree. One allows us to move forward together and the other replaces the beliefs of the church with the beliefs of those who disagree. I am not claiming that the church is always right. I am not claiming that there are not points I disagree with her. I am not even claiming that she will not change her mind at some point. I am claiming that while we can, and should, agree to disagree on a wide variety of matters, but we should not be using that as a way to replace what the church has said with what we have decided we want to do. Many disagreed with Jesus, and He even let them, but notice He did not allow them to go and do whatever they wanted. He agreed to disagree with them, yet maintained His teaching and practice. The same should be able to be said of His Bride.

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12 Replies to “The myth of agree to disagree”

  1. I can’t say that I disagree. Certainly, the clergy make vows, and should not back out of them, if they want to stay in the UMC.

    However, since the Roman Catholic’s position on purgatory was used as one example, I can’t help but think… What was the motivation of Martin Luther and his fellow clergy, for splitting? I have always been told it was indulgences given for purgatory. I suspect, it may well have been a similar motivation as today, celibacy.

    Ok, I can see Luther and a bunch of his Monk friends, sitting around drinking in a pub, saying “My God, this indulgent thing, it is so totally wrong, I am going to protest to the Pope, and possibly totally distory my career!” Not really.

    However, I can see Luther and his Monk friends, saying, “My God, this celibacy thing is driving me crazy!”

    Now, that, perhaps, is a more believable story on why Luther was so motivated. Sex motivates; Indulgences, is that a real motivation to end your career in the Roman Catholic Church? So 1500 and 2016 may be more similar than we think. Just a different kind of sex. After all, even the UMC says, it is perfectly OK for UMC clergy to be gay. But they just have to be celibate. So the circle of life continues in a rather crazy manner.

    My only cursory reference to support my point:

    From wiki:

    Martin Luther, Born, 1483.

    “On 2 July 1505, he was returning to university on horseback after a trip home. During a thunderstorm, a lightning bolt struck near him. Later telling his father he was terrified of death and divine judgment, he cried out, “Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk!”

    Luther, age, 22.

    “In 1507, he was ordained to the priesthood.”

    Luther, age, 24.

    “In 1516, Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar and papal commissioner for indulgences, was sent to Germany by the Roman Catholic Church to sell indulgences to raise money to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

    Luther, age 33.

    “On 31 October 1517, Luther wrote to his bishop, Albert of Mainz, protesting the sale of indulgences.”

    Luther, age, 34.

    Martin Luther married Katharina von Bora, one of 12 nuns he had helped escape from the Nimbschen Cistercian convent in April 1523, when he arranged for them to be smuggled out in herring barrels. “Suddenly, and while I was occupied with far different thoughts,” he wrote to Wenceslaus Link, “the Lord has plunged me into marriage.”

    Luther, age 40.

    “At the time of their marriage, Katharina was 26 years old and Luther was 41 years old.

    1. Or, maybe my conclusion, as in Martin Luther’s herring barrel, is a red herring. But I can’t help but see the connection.

      1. It would be interesting to read about the effects of sex, or lack there of, on religions. Pagan, Catholic (clergy), Gnostic (everyone), Mormon, Islam (obsession with virgins in heaven), etc..
        As much as I would like to ignore it, it seems to always be an issue in religious disputes. Wars and poverty never seem to cause as much discontent.

    2. I disagree. Selling indulgences was a terrible practice that took money from the poor who were told to believe that the indulgences would keep their loved one out of hell.

      1. Just my opinion. Seems as though the post was about

        1) “Agree to disagree” contention in religion, denominations. These are not worthy of schism, or major career changes. Especially clergy leaving. Giving up their hard work to get where they are – schooling, salary, pensions, etc.

        2) “Schism worthy” contention. Issues that people cannot live with. They must effectively give up everything. The contention is so bad emotionally, that the person cannot tolerate existing in the same church with people that do not agree.

        My personal opinion. I cannot imagine the principle of indulgences was a “schism worthy” subject for Luther. I simply do not believe that. After all, the Catholic Church was soliciting money from many people, in many ways. Plenty of poor and starving everywhere in Germany in the 1500’s. The attachment of getting a dead relative out of purgatory, for a donation, seems a rather ridiculous reason to give up your career. Definitely a “Agree to disagree” issue. Now celibacy! That is another issue entirely.

        But, I have to admit, I have never been in the clergy. And would never have a desire to do that as a career choice. But I know that the issue would have to major to quit my job.

        Example – having worked for many different bosses in my career, and having a difference of opinion with them – I can relate to Martin Luther sending a letter to his Bishop, explaining his position. We use to call it a “beneficial suggestion” to my boss. However, I also remember being told by my boss, “I’ll file it in the circular file!”

        That is a euphemism for the “trash can”. But I certainly would not quit my job over “euphemisms”, or indulgences.

        1. “The attachment of” … The activity of…
          I should proofread. My autocorrect spelling changes words, to the point that I don’t even recognize what I originally meant. Getting old.

          But I do remember in my youth doing stupid things – like Luther rescuing nuns using a pickle barrel – I can see a guy suffering from the effects of celibacy, using such tactics! He wasn’t robbing Catholic donation boxes, and giving the money to the poor, like Robin Hood.

  2. Luther did not leave the Catholic church. He posted the thesis on the door which was common in that day as a tool for discussion. Luther, like Wesley, was making an attempt to reform what he thought as errors in the Catholic church, not start a new religion. Luther was ordered to recant his thesis by Pope Leo X I think it was and refused unless scripture could be used to prove him wrong. 4 Years after posting the thesis, he was formally excommunicated from the church. Luther appealed to scripture as authority and was excommunicated for it as the Pope either could not, or would not, use scripture to prove him wrong. It had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with the selling of new indulgences to support the building of St. Peter’s.

    1. “Luther appealed to scripture as authority and was excommunicated for it as the Pope either could not, or would not, use scripture to prove him wrong. “…

      So, Luther considered scripture the infallible Authority? I think the principle of Papal Authority as infallible, existed in those days. So what about “Luther’s antilegomena”. Seems like Luther had a problem with a few books in our bible, as not only not being infallible, but being down right undeserving to be included as bible worthy scripture. So sounds more like a convenient excuse to use indulgences as a “schism worthy” issue.

      1. If I were Luther, I think I would have said to the Pope, “please submit my beneficial suggestion to the circular file, and let’s just agree to disagree. I like my job as priest/monk. After all, you, Pope, are infallible!”

  3. You fail to consider that the anti-gay statements in the UM Book of Discipline are based on misinterpretations and misapplications of scripture; so that it is those who support the Discipline in that regard who are “doing as they please” while denying godly behavior to those who “rightly divide the word of truth.”

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