This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.
John 15:12

For almost 35 years I could be described by most well-taught and well-meaning Christians as a conservative evangelical. My ministry training from a predominately White denomination and church Bible school led me to change many of my theological and cultural views. Things I had grown up learning about what it meant to be a Christian, and how to live those beliefs out in society, were challenged to say the least.

In the beginning, to say the transformative process taking place was easy would be a lie. As I immersed myself into a predominately White church where most of the leaders and members had never been around Black people, I learned it would be necessary at times to accept that although we may disagree on theological or cultural differences, I could still love my White brothers and sisters. After years of practice, while others chose to see it as a compromise, I chose to see it as a means of liberation. By deciding to love when I didn’t feel understood or accepted, I learned how doing so would transform my life.

Although there were racial and cultural differences, after so long the leaders and members of my church began to describe me as “one of them.” Sadly, over the years I learned it was not really because they “saw” me; it was because they thought I agreed with everything they believed.

Everything Was Not as it Seemed

At times, when they learned I disagreed with something, I found I was not as accepted as I thought. It’s important to note that it was only a few decades before I started attending my church that the nation began to drastically change. The 1960s were a pivotal point in history for America. The second Civil Rights Act was signed into law. The country was transitioning from the Jim Crow era, which was a time of legal segregation between Blacks and Whites.

These changes called for many of the country’s unjust and inhumane laws to be abolished, while a lot remained the same. Tensions between Blacks and Whites were mounting socially and politically. As a result, riots and violence erupted throughout the streets of America. As stated by some historians, the country became like one big towering inferno.

It became clear that although laws were changing, hearts were not. But the fight for equality continued. As Dr. Martin Luther King stated in his speech, “The Other America” in 1967, “It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated.”

Due to the history between them, Black people did not trust White lawmakers, and Whites in many ways feared how the changes being made would affect their personal livelihood. Unfortunately, these emotions continue to serve as the catalyst of division among us today.

The Foundation of the Racial Divide

Sadly the historical framework of racial division in America has become what I call the “foundation” of the racial divide. I noticed that 20 years after radical legislative changes were made (in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968) in 1988 Sunday morning was still the most segregated hour of the week. Racial division weaves itself into the fabric of everything we call American.

As a result of this division, the idea of agreeing to disagree has become a necessary idiom even in the Church. I fear however that we have not learned the vast meaning of doing what Webster’s Dictionary defines as, “to agree not to argue anymore about a difference of opinion.” How often have we found ourselves on social media, in a small group, or among friends and family arguing our opinion? Webster’s definition could not have made it any clearer. Whether about religion, race, or politics, I’m sure as Christians we have all found ourselves at one time or another arguing “our” opinion.

In a time of heightened polarization, all we have to do is to look around us—in our schools, government, and communities—to see that we, the United States of America, are still not so united after all. Unfortunately, we, the Church, are walking hand in hand with the world in “arguing our opinions.” As the tentacles dig deeper, the divide gets wider, as we no longer have to only argue our opinions about religion, race, and politics, now we have added class, age, and sexual orientation. What might be an answer to the division that continues to dig its tentacles into the soul of our nation? 

What can or would it look like in our world if everyone—and especially God’s children—decided to work toward learning how to truly decide to agree to disagree as a way of life? Am I saying that we as Christians need to change our theology? My emphatic answer is yes, at times through prayer and study, it may mean so.

Learning How to Love

At times, we may need to at least be open to the possibility that our denomination, church, or group might not have all the answers. Am I saying to go along to get along with every wind and doctrine? Absolutely not. However, as we mature in our relationship with God, if we apply ourselves to grow in him, we can learn how to love our brothers and sisters in Christ—and even those outside of the body of Christ—enough to accept them as the Imago Dei, the image of God, even when we disagree with their theology. Our heavenly Father loves those who believe differently theologically, socially, or politically than we do; and so should we.

Jesus commanded the disciples—he did not ask them, he commanded them—to love one another. In Mark 12:31, he goes a step further by commanding them to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The word “neighbor” in Greek carries the connotation of coming alongside someone. How often have we walked away or pushed someone away with differing theological or ideological views than ours? How often have we intentionally been willing to go out of our way to help someone in need that we do not know or someone of a different race or sexual orientation?

Of late, I find myself allowing the Holy Spirit to guide me in the way I treat those who say they are Christians but either do not believe as I do or perhaps they do not live their faith as I am convicted to. Practicing what it genuinely means to agree to disagree has allowed me to try to see others as God sees them instead of through my theological, cultural, or social lens. Even when my theologies or ideologies collide with others, I have learned that I can accept them as God’s children. I can bless them and pray that God’s will be done in their life.

Agreeing to disagree should mean we can have a civil discourse over topics we normally shy away from. It means I make the decision to listen. Who knows, even if we disagree, I may learn something if I’m open to it.

Where is Your Allegiance?

Years ago, as a young minister, a leader at my church asked a group of African-American members, “Are you Black first, or Christian first?” I wrestled to authentically answer the question. Although I knew it was presented rhetorically, I also knew that as a minority I was being asked to consider whether my allegiance or love was to my race first, or to God first.

What I remember most about the conversation was that it turned into a disagreement between the one asking the question and those being asked. 

Because everyone did not answer the way the leader thought they should, the leader was accusatory and challenged their love for God. The disagreement caused a deep rift in the relationships between the members of the church. One that has had far-reaching effects as it relates to race relations there. I learned that although our expressions of love may be different, who am I to define what love looks like in someone else’s life? I vowed from then on to never question anyone else’s love or commitment to God. I vowed that even when I don’t agree with someone, I would do whatever it takes to be more open and accepting of the thoughts and views of others.

Today, as we encounter the vast differences of beliefs among Christians, I think we all must answer another rhetorical—yet very important—question: How do I learn to love my brother and sister, or my neighbor who thinks—or better yet, believes—differently about their faith or political ideologies or cultural topics than I do? In these cases, how do we answer the command to love one another as Christ loves us? One way is to remember that love is not a feeling; it is, however, an act of my will. Love means, as an act of my will, I will respect the opinions of, and treat everyone with dignity, even if we disagree.

I believe we would have a seismic shift in our churches and culture if we all made the choice to agree to “love,” or walk alongside our neighbor even when we disagree. Whether we agree on every matter is not the question: sometimes we have to choose love. For some, loving while disagreeing is an oxymoron. However, no matter how it may seem like an impossibility, as Christians, we can always choose to love. Love gives us what we need to let things go. Love teaches us our opinion is not the only one. Love gives us the power to agree to disagree.

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