Posts tagged ‘Division’

Disagreement and Division

In his book Love Your Enemies, Arthur Brooks argues for the often-overlooked value in disagreement using a template drawn from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics:

Aristotle wrote that there were three kinds of friendship: The first and lowest form of friendship is based on utility, wherein both people derive some benefit from each other … The next level of friendship for Aristotle is based on pleasure; both people are drawn to each other’s wit, intelligence, talent, good looks, or other attractive qualities … The highest form of friendship – the “perfect friendship” in Aristotle’s telling – is based on willing the good of the other and a shared sense of what is virtuous and true.

In the first two levels of friendship, Brooks explains, we carefully avoid disagreeing, because we don’t want to lose whatever it is we’re gaining from the other person. In the third level of friendship, conversely, we heartily engage in disagreement because we want what’s best for the other person, and, if they are heading down a path that is harmful or unhealthy, we are not afraid to call it out. In other words, disagreement can be helpful because disagreement can be revealing. Disagreement can be refining.

Disagreement can be good. Division, however, is something quite different.

In his letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul practically begs his readers not to fall prey to division:

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

The Corinthians were divided over a whole host of things, including which spiritual leader they liked the most:

One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:12)

For Paul’s part, he finds the notion of division dangerous, asking, “Is Christ divided” (1 Corinthians 1:13)?

This past week, the deep political divisions that have long plagued our nation reared their heads in obvious and astounding ways. When the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, tore up her copy of the State of the Union address the President had handed her at the beginning of his speech, she – even if inappropriately – perhaps unintentionally acted out physically a deeper relational reality in our nation. There are certain groups of people who cannot stand – and indeed hate – other groups of people. There are parts of us that are torn apart.

I will not pretend that I can even begin to fix the partisan hatred that ails us. But it is worth reminding ourselves that, for those of us who bear Christ’s name, even if we can’t fix our world’s divisions, we can model a holy communion.

A holy communion does not just arise when we all agree with each other. Instead, it is also forged in how we disagree with each other. Do we truly listen to what a person is saying, or do we quickly move to caricature their comments? Do we assume the best in each other rather than the worst? Do we celebrate places of agreement, even as we hash out points of disagreement? And, most importantly, is our love for someone contingent on their agreement with us, or does it flow from the grace that God has first given us? If we disagree without love, we are left only with sore division. If we disagree with love, we can retain devotion to each other even as we dispute with each other. If we disagree with love, we can keep and reach people, even as we question their opinions and positions. And this is not just a way to avoid division. This is the Church’s very mission. May we carry it out faithfully by God’s grace and under His guidance.

February 10, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The National Anthem and the NFL

NFL: SEP 24 Browns at Colts

Credit: Time

I’m not sure I ever thought I’d see the day where more people would be talking about the National Anthem at the beginning of an NFL game than the score at the end of an NFL game.  But here we are.

What began as a one-man protest by Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, against, according to his own words, “a country that oppresses black people and people of color” has been spun up into an all-out culture war with as many rabbit trails as Scylla has heads.  One head continues to protest racial inequality.  Another head complains that a United States president would insert himself into an NFL personnel predicament to call for the firing of football players who kneel.  Still another head seethes over the thought that anyone would dare to disrespect a flag that is so closely tied to the men and women who have laid down their lives in service to our country.  The only thing these heads seem to share in common is that they’re all beet red with anger.

This can’t be good for us.  I agree with Ross Douthat who described this controversy as one in which “mutual misunderstanding reigns and a thousand grievances are stirred up without a single issue being clarified or potentially resolved.”  This is most certainly true.  This is a controversy that is ready-made to stoke the flames of a fight without providing a path to peace.  This is a controversy that encourages us to fester in a self-righteous indignation without having to listen to any side besides our own.  This is a controversy that excuses us from any duty to empathize so that we can hate a villain we refuse to humanize.

Bret Stephens, in a recent lecture, said that far too many of our positions on the public debates of our day “have become the moated castles from which we safeguard our feelings from hurt and our opinions from challenge. It is our ‘safe space.’ But it is a safe space of a uniquely pernicious kind – a safe space from thought, rather than a safe space for thought.”  So, we boo at those who dare to kneel and shame those who want to stand.

One of the things I appreciate about our National Anthem is that it can serve as a reminder of all the things we have to appreciate about our country – our freedom, our entrepreneurial spirit, and our commitment to be “the home of the brave” not only by confronting threats abroad, but also by honestly addressing where we have fallen short at home.  But now, as with so many other things, the National Anthem has become a flashpoint for division instead of a call to brotherhood.  We’ve taken our national motto’s pluribus and divorced it from its unum.  Now all we’re left with is e pluribus odium.

As Christians, we must never forget that even when our country is fracturing, Christ’s Church will not.  The unity that He gives is an example that, especially right now, our nation needs. And the unity that He promises is a hope that, especially right now, we can share.  Fractures can still be healed and many can still be one because of the One who died for many.

October 2, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Nation Divided

The headline I saw the day after last Tuesday’s election says it all:  “The Divided States of America.”  It’s true.  We are a nation deeply divided.  For evidence of this, I simply had to peruse my Facebook news feed.  Wednesday morning, some people were ecstatic and even gloating.  Other people were somber and even angry.  What made the difference as to how these people felt?  Two letters:  “R” and “D.”  The “D’s” won.  And they were happy.  The “R’s” lost.  And they were, well, you get the picture.

The division in our nation unsettles me.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  Remember e pluribus unum?  Before 1956, when “In God we trust” was adopted, this was the de facto motto of our country.  If only the Latin rang true.  But it doesn’t.  Partisanship prevails.  When I survey our country’s political landscape, I see not e pluribus unum, but e pluribus plures.  “Out of many, many.”  We are many.  And we act like it.  We can’t seem to agree on much of anything.

I suppose it was bound to happen.  Trying to unify disparate constituencies with such dissimilar ideologies is no small feat.  And even if such a conglomerate of communities is unified for a time, such unity never lasts.  For humans, thanks to sin, have a proclivity to fracture from each other rather than to walk with each other.

There is an old story about a man who is marooned on a desert island for nearly a decade. One day, mercifully, some rescuers finally come along.  Upon arriving, the rescuers find two shacks.  Thinking there is another castaway on the island, they ask the man, “Why are there two shacks?  Is someone else with you?”  “No,” replies the man.  “I sleep under the stars.  The shack is where I go to church.”  “What about the other shack?” inquire the rescuers.  “What’s that for?”  “Oh,” replies the man with an edge of indignation, “That’s where I used to go to church.”  E pluribus plures.  It seems humans will always find a way to fracture from each other – even when there’s only one human.

Our nation wants unity.  Our unofficial motto preaches it.  But it continually eludes us.  So what do we do?  Where do we go from here?

As Christians, we go to Scripture.  For like our nation, the authors of Scripture held unity in high regard.  Consider the apostle Paul’s admonition:  “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  Paul wants us to have unity.  The difference between Scripture’s call to unity and our nation’s motto of unity, however, is that whereas our nation takes the many and in vain tries to make them one, Scripture begins with One – God – and looks to Him to unify many.  Paul continues in Ephesians:

There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Paul uses the word “one” seven times in these verses.  For Paul knows that God’s dream and desire for us is that we would be “one” – that we would be unified.  But rather than taking disparate, dissident factions and striving to unify them by human effort, Paul knows that God unifies people by beginning with Himself – the perfectly unified Godhead who can bring even the most dis-unified people together.  True unity is found not in politics, but in our Lord.

Rally around Him.

November 12, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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