By Jayne Ozanne
Have you been caught up in it? For several weeks now hundreds of people have found themselves glued to their smartphones, iPads and computer screens to read the latest threads and posts on the “Good Disagreement” Facebook Discussion page set up by Accepting Evangelicals. Over 2,000 posts were made in the first two weeks before “Time Out” was called for prayer and reflection.
It’s been controversial, revealing, painful and informative – all in equal measure. People’s honesty, openness, trust and vulnerability have been deeply moving. I for one am grateful for the courageous sharing that has occurred on one of the Church’s most sensitive and divisive of issues, that of sexuality and spirituality. One thing that this initiative has proved beyond doubt is that there is indeed a hunger for a safe space for conversation.
I have to admit though – it’s not been easy, particularly as the moderator. The golden rule in my opinion is that no topic is off bounds, and no view too extreme – it’s the way that it is expressed that matters. Can someone say what they firmly believe (the “truth”) with enough pastoral insight and sensitivity (“grace”) to show that they are aware if their comments are likely to hurt or offend?
Offence is by its very nature incredibly personal. We experience it in a variety of ways in varying degrees – normally due to our unique and complex personal histories. Trying to be a fair and unbiased judge in all this is often like having the sword of Damocles hanging overhead. It’s obviously much easier when you know that offence was intended, but that is rarely the case.
The key thing that many in the group have learnt is that they need to try and see Christ in each other before jumping to the wrong conclusions. In order to understand each other, we have had to try and put our prejudices and preconceptions to one side. Language is really important here as we all tend to ascribe different meanings to a wide range of words.
The predisposition of many to use labels has also led to unhelpful stereotypes, which I have been at pains to avoid. But with patience, a little effort and much forgiveness it is possible to make some progress for all concerned.
The one thing I quickly learnt was that we needed a mechanism for instigating “Time Out” when things got too heated. Just like a ‘Great British Tea Break’, we needed a way to encourage people to take a breath and protect themselves from getting too hurt or angry. Most of these topics are intensely personal, and go to core of our belief structure. It’s been fascinating to unpick the meta-narratives that we as Christians hold, particularly amongst the evangelical tradition.
The greatest challenge has been to try to ensure that our hurt and anger does not provide a stumbling block to the conversation. I therefore created a thread where people, of all views, could share the pain they carried. The stories were heart-rending – but extraordinarily important to hear and acknowledge. Without doing so, there was always going to be an element of “Competition for Pain”.
So what is the point of Good Disagreement? Is it possible? What is its purpose?
I would suggest that the sole purpose of this initiative is to enable us all to understand each other more, and therefore learn how better to speak to each other with greater respect and love so that we too can be heard.
The goal is not to try and change each other’s views – challenge perhaps, but this is not a place where people are going to suddenly realise their deeply cherished beliefs are wrong.
“Success” for me looks quite different. Simply put, it is about someone being able to articulate, in a way that they were not able to do beforehand, why someone believes what they do and the implications that that belief has on other Christians and non-Christians around the world today.
To do this properly requires that we find a way to move beyond our pain, and not allow it to stop us from journeying together. We need to find the courage and strength to engage with issues and topics that have enormous potential to wound and offend – it’s why the Church has avoided it for too long. It’s been cast aside into the “too difficult” box, where it’s been left for far too long to fester and eat away at our inner core – undermining our integrity and public standing as a Church.
It is a really costly road for those who have the courage to walk it – and requires an abundance of grace, which I believe only God himself can provide.
Why is it worth doing?
Because I for one believe God wants us to find a way through this unholy mess, which has caused such deep division and heartache to all concerned. I believe that the only path is the way of the Cross, one that leads through the horror and pain of crucifixion to a promise of a glorious new life for us as a Church. It is the power of this resurrection that our Church so desperately needs to witness to the world around us, and one that we each need first to have experienced ourselves.