The Disagreement Dilemma

I recently got sucked into something that I really try to avoid–arguing theology on someone else’s FB thread. Sometimes I just can’t let things go.

I am SO tired of hearing the argument that you can love someone while still disagreeing with them. While, the statement is certainly true (anyone who has ever been married or had children can attest to this), it is often used to excuse the exclusion and mistreatment of LGBTQ persons…or anyone else a church has decided is unfit, unclean or simply unlikable.

In terms of church, this passage from Matthew 18:15-18, routinely gets trotted out as an argument that “sinners” cannot stay in the church unless they repent.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church. If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector. I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven. 

So let’s unpack this a bit.

It begins with “if your brother or sister sins against you.” Not God. Not humanity. Not the laws of nature. You. That means the offending person must have injured you in some way–physically, emotionally, financially, etc. Two men deciding to declare their unconditional love in marriage does no damage to you. Two women deciding to adopt children through the foster system does nothing to harm you. A young boy who prefers pink tutus over cowboy boots will not injure you in the slightest.

But let’s say someone in the church has sinned against you. You have been harmed or hurt. You should go to them and tell them. If they do not repent, you take some people from the church with you as back-up and as witnesses. If they still do not repent, take it to the whole church. If they still won’t listen, you are to treat them like tax collectors and gentiles.

But here’s the catch. Jesus ate with tax collectors. He healed gentiles. Peter’s vision of the church in Acts reveals that Jesus came for Jews and the gentiles. Tax collectors and gentiles were welcomed and embraced by Jesus. So, I’m not sure how this idea of treating people like tax collectors and gentiles has been interpreted as a justification of kicking people out of church. Doesn’t really make sense if you’ve read all of the Bible and aren’t just pulling out verses to justify what you already believe (which, let’s just admit we’re all guilty of from time to time).

Whatever you fasten (bind) on earth will be fastened (bound) in heaven. Whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.

What do we want to bind ourselves to here on earth–judgment, exclusion and disconnection? Or do we want to bind ourselves to love, inclusion and relationship? I have scoured the scriptures and can’t find anything that insists that we are bad Christians if we don’t police the actions and attitudes of others. But I find a lot that insists that love, forgiveness and welcome are essential to a life in Christ.

Yes, we can disagree with people and still love them. But we can’t love people and exclude them from the community of Christ. We can’t love people and refuse to help them in times of need. We can’t love people and hinder their rights.

Beloved, let us love one another–even when we disagree.


Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer is an online, inclusive and progressive Christian community. Follow us on Facebook and get emails to keep up with all that is happening.

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