On Sunday, we launched Approaching Scripture with Vicki Garvey. In lesson four, Garvey says that good arguments are important; that Christianity is nourished on productive disagreements. This idea struck me because in our increasingly polarized world, people have begun to argue so often and so angrily that I find myself frequently pulling back from anything resembling a religious or political argument with someone who disagrees with me. I rationalize that I won’t change anybody’s mind, which might be true, but sometimes, I owe it to myself and the subject matter to speak up — and I keep quiet to keep peace. This is my own conversational flaw; the disrespectful climate of discussion these days certainly creates many others throughout our culture.
Vicki Garvey’s words have reminded me, however, that there’s nothing wrong with argument in itself. In fact, the proliferation of angry, polarized arguments these days has had the effect of reducing the kind of arguments on which Christianity thrives. Arguments based in temper, or arrogance, or ego produce nothing but hot air, but arguments that people use to tackle important and difficult topics can be fruitful when they are conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Without that kind of respect, it’s not just the arguments that we have that create problems — it’s the arguments that we don’t have; the lack of the kind of fruitful conversation that happens when people bring different perspectives to the table and hash things out together.
This point was illustrated extremely well a few weeks ago, when members of our congregation met to discuss A Christian Response to Gun Violence. The class broke into small groups to go through the discussion questions. As I listened to the group discussions, I found myself thinking that the groups in which everyone agreed were simply echoing each other’s ideas. The conversation was good; different perspectives built some new ideas, but it was not as fruitful as the conversations in which people disagreed. In those groups, people grappled and wrestled with the subject, and in the end, they came out with more educated opinions because of the intelligent way in which they had argued.
Vicki Garvey is right. A culture that does not know how to argue productively has lost an important avenue to growth. I will keep that in mind the next time I have to decide whether or not to (respectfully) rock the boat. In the meantime, I encourage you to take Approaching Scripture with Vicki Garvey — or, in the spirit of productive discussion, to take Approaching Scripture with Vicki Garvey for Groups. For those of you who are interested in learning more about the class, here is a preview: