Missed The Big Class? You Can Still Take It!

We have just launched Faithful Dissent: Loving Our Way Into a Brighter Tomorrow with Stanley Hauerwas and Ed Bacon For Individuals and For Groups. It was released as a Big Class from September 11-September 25, and its free period has ended, but you can still take it through your subscription, your church’s subscription, or through purchasing the course on its own. Take it on your own or with a group from your congregation.

This course covers faithful ways to engage dissent on several levels, both between people and groups within the church and between the church as a whole and the secular world when the values of one come in conflict with the values of the other.

The relationship between the church and the secular world has always been relevant to the church’s discussions about its mission. In each of the synoptic gospels, Jesus is asked whether the Jews should pay taxes, and he responds that we should give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor and to God what belongs to God. The idea that the church and state stand apart from one another was relevant to Christianity even before the Church had been established.

The relationship between the Church and the secular world has included lot of overlap for most of the Church’s history. Some of this overlap has involved the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. Harvest festivals have become intertwined with Christian religious festivals, for example, and Christian religious festivals have become secularized. Secular and religious governing bodies have overlapped as well. The Pope and the secular kings of Europe argued for centuries over who would have more power (and what kinds of power they would have) over both the states and the people. Some governments have required their citizens to practice Christianity. Other governments have claimed a free approach to religion, while at the same time promoting Christianity indirectly. Secular laws have been justified for religious reasons, and religious edicts have been enforced by secular governments.

The line between the world and the Church, in short, has been blurry for many centuries.

In this course, Stanley Hauerwas and Ed Bacon explore the idea of the Church’s, by necessity, existing in a state of dissent from the world. They discuss the correct relationship between the Church and the world. Does the Christian faith require our being active participants in world events? Should we hold ourselves apart from them? How can we advocate for change in the corrupt systems of the world without to some extent becoming part of them? These are the questions that Stanley and Ed address.

They also discuss the role that dissent must play within the Church. It’s all very well to say that the Church must dissent from the world when the world’s values do not align with those of God — but how do we determine what God wants the church to do, as new ethical and moral challenges continue to emerge in our increasingly complex culture? Stanley argues that the Church makes those determinations through the very dissension that distresses us — that working through conflicting opinions through debates and arguments is how the Church has always determined the right way from the wrong. Ed, meanwhile, emphasizes the need for us to engage dissent (both with other Christians and with people outside the Church) in a healthy manner. He discusses ways to argue in a spirit of love with others — even with people who seem to hold values that are entirely alien to our own.

Both of these instructors have much to offer in a conversation about faithful dissent. Stanley Hauerwas is the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law at Duke University. A prominent American theologian, Stanley has written many books and articles in the course of his career. They include: A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social EthicResident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, and Hannah’s Child: A Theological Memoir. To learn more about Stanley’s work, check out the Stanley Hauerwas blog.

Ed Bacon is the author of numerous articles and the book 8 Habits of Love: Overcome Fear and Transform Your Life as well as a prominent public speaker. From 1995-2016,he was the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasedena, California where he led the church in faith-based social activism. Ed is nationally known as an advocate for justice and peace for all people, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.

We hope that you will bring the ideas that you develop in this course into your daily lives as together, we try to build a better Church and a better world. For a preview of the course, click here.


1. Image of a denarius from the time of Jesus. (Jesus uses a denarius to illustrate his point about giving the government what belongs to the government; see Matthew 22:15-22.) Creative commons. 

2. Henry VIII with Charles V and Pope Leon X. Anonymous painter, Circa 1520. Public domain.  

Your Thoughts: Does Dissent Build a Stronger Church?

instructors faithful dissentThe discussions are rolling with our Big Class: Faithful Dissent: Loving Our Way Into A Brighter Tomorrow with Ed Bacon and Stanley Hauerwas. Over 1100 people from across the U.S. and the world have joined the discussion. These courses rely on the active participation of students discussing the instructors’ ideas with one another, and this course has been particularly active in discussion.

In one of his lectures, Stanley Hauerwas argues that dissent helps to build the church because arguing over controversial issues helps the church to discern right from wrong. Through addressing issues of right and wrong and arguing them out as a community, Stanley argues, the church makes itself stronger and better.

One discussion question asked students to identify controversial issues within today’s church and to discuss whether these topics of dissent are building the church. The responses have been nuanced and thought-provoking.Many of you argue that dissent does build the church, and some feel that we are not willing enough to engage it. One participant says that we don’t stick out the tough conversations enough:

I find the major problem in the Church is the unwillingness to listen to each other and stick together as a community rather than running away or refusing to face one another to come together when there are disagreements.

Another participant says that we need to be good instead of “nice.”

I think we have been raised to be nice instead of good. That means too many ignore social issues and even stay quiet about in the church issues. This is a problem for me. I agree that dissent, even hearing other’s views helps me clarify or challenge my own beliefs. I am willing to change or allow others to have a different view. 

To which another student replies:

As a deaconess and pastor for 36 years, I see this so often. It is a peace at any price stand that some people take. Let’s all just get along, is their motto, even if it means allowing things to continue which are harmful if not addressed.

Others among you suggest that dissent CAN build the church, but only when engaged in productive ways:

In my experience dissent on these issues is building up the church when these different perspectives are in the same room together over a sustained period of time. However, the dissent appears to be destructive when certain tribes condemn others from their pulpits without direct engagement. Those echo chambers seem to polarize perspectives (killing fruits of the Spirit in the process).


I would like to see a greater development of disagreement that takes place with
Christ in the room listening. Then I think we would be more careful to honor the other and disagree without being disagreeable. The most useful phrase that sums up how I would like discussion to proceed is to say, “This is my Reverent, Best Guess.” 

Finally, some of you think that goodness can come of all these arguments — but only because God makes good out of evil:

I feel uncomfortable with the duality involved in saying in effect (if I understand this argument correctly) that evil is necessary in order for there to be good…. I guess I would see any building of the church as the result of dissension as “collateral goodness.” So a contemporary example would be that as our secular society moves away from valuing creation, caring for the disadvantaged, welcoming the stranger, etc. that Christians are being forced to articulate and act on these Gospel values rather than just coasting along while expecting government to do it all for us.

(Personal note: Thanks to this participant for the term “collateral goodness.” I am going to use that.)

If this is the level of the discussion on one topic, what other conversations could be happening? What could you contribute? And how many chances do you get to engage profitable internet discussion, anyway? Let us hear what you have to say!



Some of Your Thoughts on Faithful Dissent: Loving Our Way Into a Brighter Tomorrow

Bacon Hauer NewOn Monday, we launched our Big Class: Faithful Dissent: Loving Our Way Into a Brighter Tomorrow with Ed Bacon and Stanley Hauerwas. Some extremely interesting discussions about what Ed and Stanley have to say are already underway. Here are some of your insights:

In response to a question about whether the Church in America tends to over-identify with the state: 

Growing up in the Southwest, as a child, I believed that the U.S. was a Christian nation favored by God, who was on our side: Christendom! Now as an adult all too aware of the ways in which the state’s values and Gospel values conflict, and understanding us to be experiencing Post-Christendom in our society which no longer privileges the church, I feel disillusioned. But disillusionment can be the first step towards enlightenment and engagement–perhaps even empowerment.

In response to a question about the possibility of alienating church members through political advocacy:

I care about what people think, but I can’t think for them. What I would hope to model is to be the kind of believer whose faith is larger and more robust than any particular side of an issue. A witness that God has an eternal plan for the world– which is to love it to life.

In response to a question about what institutional compassion is and whether it is possible in a government institution:

I find it helpful to ask “what values are evident in an institution?”…[A]n organization might have a vision statement, a mission statement and codes of ethics / values statements. What these look like “when the rubber hits the road” can be very revealing…There has to be intentionality behind institutional compassion – we do this because we have a moral obligation to do so, and are accountable not just to our shareholders, but to the wider society in which we operate.

And another response to the same question:

Here’s another thing I struggle with. Even though our courts say that corporations are “persons,” I don’t believe that social structures have a soul. People have souls and people have the capacity to show love for the world for which Christ gave his all (God gave his all). People, in relationship with each other, can live in God’s love. To the extent that institutions show compassion they do it because people show compassion.

Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments and for responding with such insight to one another’s ideas. Your energy brings these courses to life. Please keep the excellent discussions developing. You’re on a roll!