What If You Could Value Something without Agreeing?
Sometimes I’ll stumble across someone promoting my blog and they’ll say something like, “I don’t agree with everything this guy says, but his blog is pretty thought provoking.” I’m often left wondering, “who do you always agree with?” I’m forever curious why people feel the need to disavow everything they disagree with.
What would be lost to the person who said, “Hey, check this blog out. It’s pretty thought provoking.” I have a hard time thinking something is thought provoking if it’s full of thoughts I already have.
It’s an interesting behavior that seems peculiar to Christians. If you show appreciation for any artist, writer, or celebrity, you need to distance yourself from anything disagreeable. I’m amazed every time I see someone quote Martin Luther King Jr. with the disclaimer, “Now, I know he had some issues in his private life and wasn’t always faithful in his marriage, but I liked this quote . . .”
I remember November 29, ’01 like it was yesterday. I don’t think I’ve had a celebrity death affect me like the loss of George Harrison—he had a huge influence on me as a musician. We had worship practice the night he died and of course it came up. My pastor at the time said to me, “You know it was George who got the Beatles all mixed up with Eastern mysticism.” And with that one comment, Harrison’s life was summed up by the thing that pastor found most disagreeable.
He wouldn’t have felt the need to dismiss my point if I had said, “I don’t really agree with Harrison about Krishna, but I think his lead break in Nowhere Man is one of the most perfect solos ever.”
Guilty by association
In Christ’s social economy, sin is nontransferable.
One of the things that annoyed the religious establishment about Jesus was who he hung out with. The fact that he chose to hang out with tax gatherers and sinners topped the list of Jesus’ most egregious behaviors (Matt. 11:19).
Why? Because your purity wasn’t just tied to your character and behavior, it was inexplicably linked to your associations. Touching someone unclean, made you unclean. Associating with someone unsavory, made you unsavory.
The thing that made Jesus’ parable about the good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) so powerful was the fact that there wasn’t anything good about Samaritans. We’ve kind of lost the frame of reference that makes this parable so frustrating to its original audience. But Jesus didn’t care . . .
In Christ’s social economy, sin is nontransferable. It doesn’t rub off on you because of you’ve rubbed shoulders with the wrong people.
Is that same conviction being carried by his followers? Well . . .
Disowning the heretics
To the first-century Jew, social collateral was tied to heritage—being one of God’s chosen people. There was definitely a hierarchy based on geography and gender, but simply being a gentile was enough to put you on the outside.
As I said, Christ obliterated that perspective, but did he change it in his followers? Many would say yes. Generally speaking, Christians are pretty comfortable around “sinners,” but that’s as long as they’re convinced the relationship is leading to someone’s conversion.
What I find interesting is how closely purity is tied to orthodoxy of belief. A Christian might be comfortable around someone whose choices they don’t agree with—until that “sinner” claims to be a Christian.
What I find interesting is how closely purity is tied to orthodoxy of belief.
Where an Israelite was protective of their cultural identity 2,500 years ago, Christians, particularly evangelical Christians, are hyper-protective of their dogma. It’s not enough to say you’re a Christian, there are certain beliefs one needs to adhere to allow them to make that distinction. Of course, on some level that makes sense. It’s fine if you want to worship a god made of pickles, but it’s silly to try and associate that with Christianity.
What’s incredibly frustrating is that Christianity’s distinctive beliefs seem to change as you move throughout Christendom. You might think we’d have some essential standard that binds us all together, like a belief in the redeeming power of Christ’s sacrifice and his resurrection, for instance. But that’s until you witness a celebrity pastor like John Piper publicly disavowing another prominent pastor, Rob Bell, for raising questions about hell—this in a tweet that simple reads, “Farewell Rob Bell.”
In many circles, the litmus test for Christian spirituality lies in correct doctrine. It isn’t tied to having the posture Christ describes in his sermon on the mount (Mt. 5—7) or the focused empathy you find in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Mt. 25:31–46); it is intrinsically tied to correct beliefs.
Am I saying that what you believe doesn’t matter? Of course not. I have very strongly held beliefs. Would they pass muster with every Christian I meet? No. Do I feel this negatively affects my ability to be reconciled to God through Christ. For heaven’s sake, no.
Loving the alien
Is it possible to believe something fiercely in a fashion that’s both nondefensive and charitable? It has to be. If you believe that Christ walked this earth as an incarnated God, then it’s easy to believe that no one has ever come remotely closer to being right. But I can’t imagine him feeling the need to distance himself from the behavior or beliefs of people he might otherwise appreciate.
This doesn’t mean that he didn’t contend for the truth, speak strongly toward those he felt were wrong, or correct those with misguided understanding. He did (although one might point out the that his ferocity in doing so was in direct proportion to the dogmatic rigidity of the person being confronted).
While he might love me in spite of my great faults, I don’t believe that he would stand before anyone and say, “I love Jayson even though . . .” His love comes without ellipses. But see, he has nothing to fear. He has no anxiety that someone is going to question his righteousness because of his association with me. In fact, it’s my associate with him that purifies me.
I think fear is one of the reasons we’re so quick to disaffiliate ourselves from others because of their behavior or wrong beliefs. I can value an artist based on their skill, but be reticent to share my appreciation with other Christians because I fear an unspoken association of me with the artist’s faults.
But let’s be honest, if it’s essential to be correct in all things and without fault to have your work or thoughts appreciated, who can stand?
I had an interesting exchange on Twitter with Marlena Graves about her article Is Self-Promotion Sinful? I had posted a Holden Caulfield quote, and she pointed me to her article. I was instantly struck by this line,
“Though there were elements of Salinger’s personal life that were reportedly unsavory, I believe we can learn from his efforts to spurn fame and self-promotion because they can lead to phoniness, something Salinger abhorred.”
I wondered why we couldn’t just learn from Salinger without having to make mention of his reported unsavory behavior. I asked her about it, and she confirmed my own experience. Considering the audience and the place she worked, she felt obligated to do so. I have often felt the same way. Luckily, neither of us feel that obligation any longer.
What if we could learn from someone we didn’t entirely agree with? What if we could value the gifts people possessed even if we couldn’t condone all of their behavior?
What if we focused on whatever was true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable,excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). Maybe we can find those attributes in people, lifestyles, and religions we might otherwise disagree with—and maybe that’s ok.
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