agree disagree

The Consequences of Disagreeing

Learn to disagree without creating an unpleasant argument.

A mature disagreement is when two people both listen carefully to the other’s position in order to understand the position and why the person feels that way.

The Torah obligates us to treat each person with respect – even if you disagree.

(For a series of probing questions on this topic, see Rabbi Pliskin’s “Gateway to Self Knowledge,” pp.125-7)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Disagree Respectfully”
from “Today’s Daily Lift”

When I read this, I couldn’t help but think of my most recent What I Learned in Church Today blog post including Pastor Randy’s rebuttal to my comments. Though he may not believe this, I’ve been deeply concerned about how what I’ve written affects him and others. I was trying to communicate that in the aforementioned article but I’m not sure I was successful.

My problem is just how far to go in expressing my opinion, either in church itself or on my blog. I guess I could split the difference, since “church” doesn’t belong to me in the sense that I “own” the social and communal space, while I do “own” the communication conduit of my blog. I could keep mum at church and spew all of my thoughts and feelings out into the blogosphere (and I do the latter on a regular basis).

But I don’t exactly keep quiet in church, at least not in Sunday school. Granted, I don’t attempt to start a riot, and I do consciously limit the amount of interaction I allow myself to what I hope is a tolerable degree. I know I’m not always successful in this, however.

But as the quote from Rabbi Pliskin above suggests, the issue isn’t so much disagreement but whether or not respect is maintained. I don’t know if I’ve been doing this very well. When researching R. Pliskin’s write-ups on this topic, a few other entries came up in my search:

People can have diverse opinions. They can have different personalities. They can have different goals and objectives. Even so, they can choose to interact in peaceful ways, and discuss their differences with mutual respect. At times they will work out solutions to their mutual satisfaction, and at times they will not. Nevertheless, they can be calm, and think clearly about the wisest course to take.

(Growth Through Tehillim: Exploring Psalms for Life Transforming Thoughts, p. 92)

Disagree Respectfully

When it comes to being assertive, the ideal is to be able to speak up whenever appropriate and to do so respectfully.

Think of some situations in the past when you were not as assertive as you wish you were. Imagine yourself being able to say anything to anyone (as long as it is appropriate). Then take action to assert yourself in a way that you have not done so before.

(For a series of probing questions on this topic, see Rabbi Pliskin’s “Gateway to Self Knowledge,”pp.131-3)

Be Respectfully Assertive

SilenceAh, the words “When it comes to being assertive, the ideal is to be able to speak up whenever appropriate,” accuse me. Is it always appropriate to speak up? Isn’t “silence golden?” Shouldn’t I “go along to get along?”

I think people would be a lot more comfortable around me at church if I really did keep my mouth shut, and I can only imagine I’d cause Pastor Randy fewer headaches and gray hairs if I kept his sermons out of my blog. It’s going to come to that. Given the tone of the comments on the blog post in question, I don’t see any other reasonable choice on my part, especially if “respectfulness” is to be maintained rather than me just being “assertive” all the time. I’ve already taken it too far.

In exploring whether or not my pontificating about church is a sign of my personal arrogance, I consulted Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s series 48 Ways to Wisdom and specifically Way #29: Subtle Traps of Arrogance. Am I really all that smart or well-educated in theological knowledge that I always know better than trained and educated Pastors and Bible teachers? Am I infallible? Certainly not. Then where does this drive to learn more and express what I believe come from? You’d think I’d be smart enough to shut up, listen and learn.

Who is wise? He who learns from all people.

-Pirkei Avot 4:1

On the other hand, self-expression, particularly in writing, is how I process information and make sense out of it (which is what I’m doing right now). Until then, it’s just a bunch of thought fragments floating around in the global context of my mind or at best, scrawled and scribbled notes on torn and frayed pieces of paper. Dressing them up, so to speak, by blogging creates a framework within which I can organize that information and even respond to it in some fashion. It has the added (if sometimes dubious) benefit of eliciting responses from interested readers on the web.

R. Weinberg’s article ended with a bullet point summary:

  • If you’re busy patting yourself on the back for what you’ve achieved, you won’t make an effort to do more.
  • If you’re constantly defending your opinions, you’ll never be open to hearing new ideas.
  • If you are arrogant about your ideas, then you are limiting yourself.
  • If you’re grateful, you will grow.
  • If you experience pleasure in doing the right thing, then look for more pleasure.

I suppose the point stating “If you’re constantly defending your opinions, you’ll never be open to hearing new ideas” is the most applicable one since by the very definition of my “mediations”, I’m expressing opinions that are in need of defending, at least at the moment when someone disagrees. I guess turning it around, I’m the one disagreeing with traditional Church doctrine, and that has resulted in Pastor Randy having to comment on my blog to defend his position, something he wouldn’t have had to do if I’d have kept my hands off the keyboard and my opinions of his sermon to myself.

I suppose it also comes down to whether or not I’m limiting myself by being arrogant about my ideas.

study-in-the-darkBut these aren’t ideas I’ve cooked up out of “ham fat,” so to speak, but out of hours and hours of reading, listening to lectures and sermons online, and writing, and pondering, not in order to puff myself up, but to authentically read and understand the Bible as a single, unified document containing the single, unswerving intent and plan of God to redeem Israel and thus redeem all of Creation. For me, Christian theology and doctrine doesn’t provide the solution. No matter how I slice it, Christian doctrine forces the plan of God to “jump the tracks” at least once in the Bible, in order to take the plain meaning of Torah and the prophecies in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and make them fit traditional Christian beliefs as they have evolved in the centuries of the “post-Nicene Church”.

If the Bible is as Evangelical Christianity says it is, then both God and the Bible don’t make sense and further, they (in my opinion) pull a major bait-and-switch on Israel and the Jewish people.

I just want the Bible to make sense and from my current perspective, I believe it does.

But back to the question of what to do about this?

In general, writing little theological essays from my amateur’s point of view probably does little if any harm. According to one estimate, as of November 2013, there were over 152 million blogs in the Internet, and a new blog is being created somewhere in the world every half a second.

That’s a lot of blogs.

Among all of that, my one little blog is completely insignificant. Of course, I occupy a rather rarefied space in the blogosphere, not only as a religious blogger (plenty of those around), but one who specifically comments on non-Jewish participation in Messianic Judaism (or maybe it should be expressed as “Messianic Gentilism” or something like that).

Of course, the second I comment on a specific individual, such as a Pastor, or on the teachings of a particular church, things narrow down considerably in terms of the “influence” or at least the “impact” I can have on people’s lives.

I really don’t think I’m being arrogant in the sense that I’m always right and people had better see things my way or else, but that isn’t to say I couldn’t have done things better or have been more considerate. Where’s the fine line between being respectfully assertive and being arrogant? Where’s the line in the sand separating humble respect from passivity or censorship (even if self-imposed)?

The only solution that avoids hurting others in relation to church is to not talk at or write about church. Oh, I guess I can say “Hi, how are you,” but expressing a theological opinion in Sunday school will have to be a “no-no,” and certainly writing any commentary on sermons or Sunday school lessons must be taken off the table completely.

the-crossThat’s probably like closing the barn door after the horses have escaped but it’s better than continuing to hammer away at a nail that’s already been beaten flat (if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor).

Better late than never.

What do I do from here? I have a pretty good idea about that but will let it cook for a day or two (or more — or less) longer just to make sure. Given a good enough reason, I can go off half-cocked but I’d like to avoid it if at all possible. I spent a long time praying and pondering before returning to church. I’ve made a nearly two-year investment in Christian community. In the aftermath of what I’ve done, I have to see just what is left…if anything.


23 thoughts on “The Consequences of Disagreeing”

  1. Don’t feel so bad about expressing your opinions and viewpoints. You’ve approached these topics from the proper standpoint in my opinion. I’ve never felt like you were acting arrogant in any of these blog posts. I think that you are beating yourself up too much.

    It’s not like you were exposing a private confidential matter for the whole world to see. His sermons are addressed to the public and he even publishes the sermons online for the whole world to listen to. You were simply critiquing his “work.” Isn’t this an acceptable thing among religious people. Take for instance N.T. Wright’s book Justification where he critiques John Piper’s work. He even dedicated that book to his “sparring-partner” Jimmy Dunn. Also, take for an example Derek Leman’s Wall of Weird.

    My point being, is that if people put it out there, they should expect feedback and take the negative with the positive. As proof, you commented this to me awhile back: “This blog isn’t about just getting a bunch of people together to have the same opinions but to compare and discuss where we disagree and why.”

    I think you’re doing nothing wrong by posting your thoughts and opinions about his sermons. You are always very humble in your approach. Don’t let this get to you.

    1. Thanks, Keith. I still feel like I’ve violated the principle of causing harm, which isn’t excusable even when one is telling the truth. Which should we value more, the integrity of truth or the value of a human being?

  2. Hmmm… “truth” … Well, at least no one can accuse you of claiming to be in sole possession of “truth-with-a-capital-T”. In fact, your entire demeanor in your blog has been one of seeking discussion for the purpose of learning and better understanding. It seems to me that such can never harm those who seek first the kingdom of HaShem and His righteousness; and only those whose ignorance needs to be “harmed” by being challenged might suffer such “harm”. Further, isn’t the value of any human augmented when he or she is presumed to value also the integrity of truth (whatever that might mean)? Those notions really oughtn’t to be in conflict. Be that as it may, the question occurs to me “which human beings?” Who is being challenged; who is being harmed; who is being valued; who might be being devalued? Whose ox is being gored (to put the question in terms of the Talmud tractate Nezekin/Damages)? In any disagreement, someone’s feelings may be hurt unless the participants have learned to disagree without being disagreeable.

  3. As I imagine everyone reading this can understand, traditions are sometimes born out of the need to “fill in the gaps” of the Bible or to interpret certain Biblical commandments in a way that is meaningful for a particular circumstance, audience, or historical context. When the body of Jewish and Gentile Jesus-believers went through their dramatic divorce in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, it became necessary for the non-Jewish believers to develop an interpretive method that would allow non-Jews to ascend in authority and primacy over the Jews in God’s redemptive plan, based on “scripture and Bibl[e] answers…”

    I agree with this that you said [previous comments section than linked to this continuing “meditation” which I guess got too long to continue there]. Except I’d call the 2nd and 3rd centuries rather separation, which headed for (something maybe comparable to) divorce in the 4th century. But worse. [Amongst people, divorce can happen and be all that can be done. When portraying God’s kingdom, the implications are grave.]

    The seeds of the theology appropriated to fill said gaps I guess were necessary in the sense that the NT says temptation and so on is necessary. But the appropriation should have been resisted and should be rejected. Instead, it is carried on even while church “is good.” Even J’shua replied that only God is good, but I do understand the sentiment. At the same time I understand, too, Keith’s questioning of the sentiment (in the comments for the previous meditation). It’s painful.

    The fact is we need communities in which to raise children and influence and nurture people who discover a need for truth. How much is or can be enough to make it worthwhile, we ponder. All we get right now is some. I’m commenting on the interaction and broader concern, not on the pastor at the church to which there is now a link.

    I tend to think not only that many people will be surprised to find where they have been wrong, but that many people won’t be rejected (not because they weren’t wrong but that they could hardly be blamed).

  4. I understand that in principle we all should be in like-minded communities, but I’m aware of a growing population of people who aren’t because they can’t find one they feel shares their perspective on the Bible. To be fair, that includes people who have pretty “fringe-y” viewpoints for a variety of reasons, but it also includes people who don’t fit into any church’s particular cultural matrix (and believe me, churches have cultures).

  5. Hey James. It’s been FOREVER, and I just bounced over here from fb to find you in a pickle. ;( Correction. A predictable pickle. But doesn’t that sound arrogant? “I knew this would happen…now look at what you’ve done…trying to express contrary opinions in/about your church…”. I don’t mean it that way.

    I had so hoped for a different experience over time for you. It would have given me hope, honestly. Seems like I read/heard Boaz Michael talk once about being back in church (I could be misremembering…I’ve taken a much-needed hiatus from following all the turmoil), and that all was peachy. That we all could be peachy too…if we just found a place to root ourselves in Christian community (aka: a church). But…it is so very, very difficult for a variety of reasons…not the least of which is that issue of CULTURE.

    We’ve found ourselves a church home here in Nashville (hellooo–there are a bazillion to choose from), but we have opted for finding an admittedly seeker-friendly and ‘hipster’ congregation with a focus on serving the community. This particular place will never question or criticize what anyone believes (because “we are all on a journey”), and has yet to call any denomination or religion out for being “wrong”, and will never publically name anything particular thing as being sinful. Not that they don’t think others are “wrong” or that certain things are “sin”…it just not what is heard on Sunday mornings. That there IS sin and right and wrong IS indeed acknowledged…just never acknowledged by name or in specific discussion. The thing that drove me most crazy about Christianity–its focus on grace over anything else–is now where we have found a comfortable place for now. Who would have guessed? (The irony is that a good number of my Baptist and more conservative friends would throw grace out the window in their assessment of our current church’s seemingly liberal posture).

    I am only slightly exaggerating in order to share where we have found ourselves…a seemingly safe place, where the wounds of battle can heal. I don’t have the stomach for chronic confrontation or the never-ending feeling that my brethren see my family as “on the wrong track”. It’s a joy-suck.

    As per usual, I’ve rambled. Bottom line: I wish for you the same that I wish for myself and my family–peace.

    1. Thanks, Allison. It’s good to “see” you again. It’s been a long time.

      I think there are probably a lot of churches that would be more accepting of a serious re-examination of the Bible from a Messianic point of view, but I don’t happen to attend one of them. I have to take people’s word for it that there are churches were some of the members have HaYesod groups or groups that watch the FFOZ TV show and discuss the topic being presented. Those are both very good “entry level” approaches to Messianic Judaism but they would contradict the current understanding of theology at most fundamentalist churches.

      God has a plan for all things. I guess it’s up to me to discover that that is in my life.

  6. James. I found Randy’s sermon both interesting (in some aspects) and perplexing (in other aspects). I think I’ll start with something perplexing: it’s supposed to be compelling that a law or rule or instruction causes someone like him to break the rule. He gave an example of wet paint, and that something about a sign warning him would mean he would go touch it because it said not to do so; and this is comparable to the Law. I’ve heard people say this about the Law or about laws or authority before. I don’t identify with the idea. My point is not I disagree with a theological “stance” but that I don’t experience this as how people have to be (or something I had to repent from).

    Since I don’t find it to be a truism, I wonder why it seems so important to the preacher. One reason could just be that it is his own experience, and he wants to fit it into “reality” on a larger scale. I have found this to be true on a fairly regular basis with “pastors” — that they project onto others what is true of themselves. Another/Other motivation, though, could be that since the tendency seems obvious to the speaker he feels comfortable in perceiving this as the indisputable reason Jews failed (as failed is the [or a] goal or purpose and verdict) at following instruction (like the speaker isn’t saying anything bad about Jews because he is saying the same thing about himself).

    On the other hand, what was interesting is that he says he’s going to explain (future sermon) the difference between a law or rule or ordinance, etc. Also, he described the ancient agreements on stone or leather or parchment and that he doesn’t think “the ten” commandments were repeated side by side on the two rectangles. Nor listed five by five. If I gathered what he said, there were on one side those of the Ten that correspond to loving God and those on the other that have to do with loving your neighbor.* This would be because the TWO laws that matter are what the Ten (and all other) laws hang from. Back to perplexing: the Law is good but is actually enslavement.+

    Okay… he says he plans to show (next week or in other sermons) how some of the Law is beyond what was given at Sinai. And, somehow, Israel was already supposed to know that the Law from Sinai would end with the s/Seed (whatever they would have perceived this seed to be beforehand). As a foretaste of this, he has already said the priesthood (in fact many priesthoods, including Melchizedekian) ended. Something he likes about that is that “we” (whatever he means by we/anyone “believing in” Jesus I presume) are priests instead, and that Jesus is a priest and the mediator rather than Moses.~

    {* I’m not sure this is what he was saying or that he said it clearly for someone who would be hearing it for the first time. He seemed to have slides that aided in his presentation. What helped me to hear what I did is that I’ve been exposed to similar teaching (although in that case it was five by five), that one side had to do with one kind of authority while the other side was about another kind). And it’s been clear for a long time, from J’shua’s words, and discerned from Torah and Tankh, that all the Law is about these loves; this, I agree with.}

    {+ The “good news” is that gentiles got brought in. I think “the” good news or gospel is much broader than this assessment. Thus I disagree. He hasn’t gotten into the meat of his argument yet, but to characterize the gospel this way, even off-handedly, is disappointing (and is what all the further ‘splainin’ is usually ultimately about). Still, Randy does assert emphatically it’s not true God is done with the Jews. People can say this yet be finally quite dismissive. I’m not assured what pertinent meanings there can be given he’s Calvinist.}

    Looking onward to next Sunday, apparently he is going to share that the promise to Abraham came before Sinai. And Sinai doesn’t take away Abraham. Yes, but it never did. {~ I wouldn’t say Jesus is now the mediator instead of Abraham or instead of Jeremiah or instead of Gabriel prophesying or announcing to Mary. Yes, I know the men were afraid at the mountain and wanted Moses to talk with God for them, but Moses also told them they didn’t need to be terrified but listen.}

    He asked for prayer in preparing and giving his sermons, and I will pray for the people there. I do believe he loves God and loves people and wants to teach the truth. He seems like a very relatable person. [I have gotten into some extent of specifics here, but I think if I were attending with the aims you have articulated, I would try to take in the patterns and logic or systematic thinking for a long while; maybe record questions and connections in addition to what I have here.]

    I may have heard something wrong or missed an important point (or maybe not). But these are my impressions from only listening, and more than once (but like an average person, not pouring over it).

  7. Marleen, I think the “wet paint” example in the sermon was to show a couple of things. Randy and I talked about this in the past so I have a pretty good idea of how he thinks about the Torah.

    His basic understanding of the purpose of the Law is to do three things:

    1. To define God’s righteous requirements.
    2. By giving the Law, to actually inspire people to break it, thus showing people (the Jews) that no matter how hard they try, they can never, ever keep those requirements, even though they agreed to and God expected them to.
    3. To show that they need grace and a savior in Jesus Christ, since the Law can’t save them because they can’t keep it.

    In my opinion there are numerous logical flaws in the argument, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I am done debating or resisting Randy, so I’ll leave it at that.

    I’m not going to comment or review any more of Randy’s sermons, but since you now have the link, if you want to, you can listen to his future sermons, such as the one on the Law vs. rules and ordinances to see what you think about his opinions.

    Of course if you’ve missed something in his prior sermons, the beauty of them being recorded and made available online is that you can go back and listen to them. It’s my understanding that when he’s finished laying his foundation, he’s going to devote a sermon to each of the Ten Commandments, so I don’t doubt it will be interesting.

  8. I think I’ll pass on listening to any of his sermons. I’ve got too many other things I’d rather spend my time reading or listening to (Torah Club, you & Derek’s blog, books, Beth Immanuel sermons). I feel like listening to Pastor Randy’s sermons would be a waste of time and leave me shaking my head afterwards. I know Christians and their rhetoric towards the Torah. I don’t need to hear it again.

    1. Understood Keith. I made the suggestion out of fairness to Randy, since it’s better to get his opinions from his own words and not my interpretation of them.

  9. To me, the “three things” confirm my evaluation on the matter; I too think there are logical flaws, not only from the get-go (as I described in my summary) but within the process and aim. Worse than that, as if failed logic isn’t bad enough, is the moral failure inherent. The failures (logical and moral) are so obvious I won’t go into them, but anyone looking at that as what it is to believe in Jesus and then not deciding its unacceptable has other top priorities than actual, real truth.

    I might listen. However, it’s a bit tiresome to keep hearing what is going to be talked about (which is how I perceive all three of the sermons in the series so far), which amounts to indoctrination (for those not wary) without foundation until proposed evidence can be evaluated at some later date. Of course, it’s likely there will be some verbal addressing of the dogma but that such will still not really be anything like a firm foundation; like a sales presentation that never delivers.

    1. Well, you could be portraying Randy in an unkind manner. First off, from his perspective, he’s teaching Biblical truth and sound doctrine so I don’t think he’d see his sermons as “indoctrination”. Also, while you and I might disagree with his perspective, he sees himself as laying a firm foundation for his sermon series. I’ve seen the amount of books and other materials he goes through to prepare for a sermon, and believe me, he works very hard in his preparation. I never doubt his sincerity and his scholarship. The issue between us is the particular interpretive praxis we each employ to examine the Bible and to reach our conclusions about what it says.

  10. I have no doubt he’s sincere, means well, works hard, has a lot of books, perceives foundations for what he says, and intends to teach Bible truth.

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