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Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Why Can't We Agree to Disagree?

You all know that phrase. It's typically the religious version of "Can't we all just get along?" Well, kind of. It is the easy way out of an impasse, the way to avoid a fight when neither side can see any way of getting the other to change. In theory, it seems like a good idea. And, in practice, it often is.

"I like spinach." "I hate spinach." "Let's just agree to disagree." See? That works fine. There is no intrinsic value in defending (or attacking) personal taste in spinach. It's not a life-or-death matter. There isn't much of a need to come to blows here, so to speak. But try this one. "I hate water; I'm not drinking any more water." "You need to drink water." See? Now "Let's just agree to disagree" doesn't quite work. Water is essential for life, so simply setting aside differences and being friends on this one will kill someone.

Meet Danny Cortez. Danny is the pastor of a Southern Baptist church in La Mirada, CA. Now, Southern Baptist is one of the very conservative groups, so when Pastor Cortez decided to put this letter on the Internet, it wasn't a small thing. Here he writes, "I recently became gay affirming after a 15-year journey of having multiple people in my congregation come out to me every year." So, what was it that changed Danny's mind? Was it the biblical instructions, the clear texts, the historic teachings, the careful examination of Hebrew and Greek culture and terminology? Well, no. "It was especially the testimony of my gay friends that helped me to see how they have been marginalized that my eyes became open to the injustice that the church has wrought." And, of course, the ultimate confirmation of his new "theology" came about when he told his 15-year-old son about it and his son told him that he was gay. Hallelujah! The truth shall set you free! Danny thought he might lose his job, but he had fortunately managed to move his congregation away from a biblical basis, so they voted instead to become a "Third Way"1 church. The "Third Way"? It's this whole "Let's just agree to disagree" thing, only much warmer. He's not accurate in calling it "agree to disagree", however, since he isn't disagreeing with homosexual behavior. He is (his words) "gay affirming". So I suppose if he and his congregation are agreeing to disagree, it would be with the Bible and all of Church history and his own Southern Baptist denomination.

But, seriously, why can't we just agree to disagree on this one? I hate spinach; you like it. Why not just agree to disagree? You embrace homosexual behavior; I call it sin. Why can't we just admit that we have differing viewpoints and let it go? Well, first, logically it doesn't work. In the pastor's own letter he understood that people would stand to embrace homosexual behavior or separate, and, in that same letter, there were some who could not agree to embrace that behavior, so they were separating. That is, "You can either agree with us and embrace the behavior or you can disagree with us and leave." That's not "Just agree to disagree." More importantly, biblically it is the same issue as the "I like water" question above. "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10). You see, this isn't a matter of preference such as liking spinach or not. It's a matter of life or death -- eternal life or death2. We cannot embrace what God says will prevent you from inheriting the kingdom of God and simply "agree to disagree". That kind of disagreement will kill. And don't be confused about my words. I'm agreeing with Jesus here: "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt 10:28).

In some issues like spinach or not, there is plenty of room to agree to disagree. We can get along if you believe that it's wrong to drink any alcohol and I believe that a little wine is good for the stomach. (That's an example; it happens I do not drink alcohol, but not on principle.) Paul gives examples of being a vegetarian or a carnivore (Rom 14:1-4) or eating meat offered to idols (1 Cor 8). There is room in biblical Christianity to agree to disagree. But in matters of life or death, of being in the faith or out of it, of inheriting the kingdom of God or not, to agree to disagree and to embrace the latter -- out of the faith and not inheriting the kingdom -- is not "Can't we just get along?" Agreeing to disagree about the morality of remaining in sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, stealing, greed, or the rest of that list (and others like it) will simply exclude someone from the kingdom, and the list includes those who practice homosexual behavior. It is a matter of eternal significance that no caring person can just ignore. It is not injustice; it is nothing less than hate to set aside this difference or others like it.
1 This erroneous concept of a "Third Way" is discussed at length by Dr. Mohler of the Southern Baptist Convention and Tony Jones. Tony Jones is a "Progressive Christian Channel" blogger at Patheos, not a conservative like Dr. Mohler. That is, they disagree on what the right way is, but agree fully that there is no "Third Way".

2 Jesus said, "This is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3). Thus "eternal death" would be an eternity not knowing "the only true God, and Jesus Christ."


David said...

I had a perfect example of an agree to disagree today, about the status of Adam's conscience before the Fall. That one isn't going to effect our eternal life, but I agree, calling sin not sin is not a place to let it be.

David said...

I wonder if that church still considers themselves conservative.

Marshal Art said...

I wonder how this guy would respond to a number of men of his congregation came out as adulterers with his wife their partner? Would he agree to disagree with their preferences? Would he believe that they are being oppressed by church teachings regarding the sinfulness of adultery? Would he treat his wife as innocent of wrongdoing as he does his son? Where's the difference?

Stan said...

Yes, I've often wondered about the poor murderers, adulterers, and thieves who have been slandered and suffered injustice by the church. Oh, wait ...