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!



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