There is such a thing as healthy, mature disagreement. I know there is. I have seen it a few times in my life and it is a beautiful thing.
Unfortunately, it is not that common.
I have seen the opposite—the passive aggressiveness, the gossiping, the judgmental assumptions, the divisive complaining, the negative critiquing. Assuming that it is possible...
How do we disagree to the glory of God?
Here are a just few suggestions that I have learned from very wise people along the way:
Seek first to understand. Ask questions, and then more questions. And finally, ask more questions. Jumping to conclusions and assuming what you do not know is easy to do, but very unhelpful.
Look for common ground. Often times, disagreement is inflated by the sense that there is no common ground. If you can identify the strengths and common ground in opposing viewpoints, it will help you shrink down the disagreement to its actual size.
Discuss, don't argue. Arguing causes people to build walls and get entrenched. When this happens, emotion gets attached to the outcome of the conversation. This prevents any productive conversation.
Respect each other. It is important to avoid negatively judging a person based on their viewpoint. Respect the fact the other people are just as intellectual, just as committed to God and God’s Word as you are, in spite of the fact that they disagree with you.
Be Humble.The truth is you may be able to learn something from the person you disagree with. Understand that you are not perfect. You are just as prone to mistakes as anyone else. Humility is key to navigating through disagreement.
Avoid slander. When you disagree with someone it is important to protect their dignity and reputation. Talk through the disagreement face to face when possible. When you walk away, don’t speak negatively about the person to others in any way, shape or form. To do so is the opposite of love. If what you are saying about a person will cause others to think badly of them, then do not say it at all.
When Jesus prayed for us to be one (John 17), I believe He meant for His followers (who are fully surrendered to His authority) to really love and care for each other. That means respecting each other through disagreement.
We cannot allow disagreement to get in the way of the mission Jesus entrusted to us. The mission is simply too important!
Patrick has been on staff for fifteem great years at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC). He currently serves as an Area Director for the Southern part of Illinois. He is married and has three great kids and another on the way! He graduated from Fuller seminary with an M.A. in Global Christian Leadership. His hobbies include fishing, writing, and thinking about fishing and writing. He blogs at: http://patricklangan.typepad.com/no-rights/