In the past, the Church could hardly imagine placing ‘covenant’ and ‘disagreement’ into a shared concept. Disagreement represented the opposite of covenant. Covenant necessitated agreement.
But no longer. It is now possible to discuss covenant in the context of disagreement.
Followers of Jesus Christ are beginning to realize that covenant speaks more to relationship than it does to theological agreement. Jesus made it clear that covenant people commit to “turning the other cheek” and “praying for” those considered enemies.
This is no easy task! Indeed an endeavor quite impossible if not empowered by the spirit of Jesus Christ.
It is only reasonable then for followers of Jesus Christ to extend that same grace to fellow members of the body of Christ. If covenant people are instructed to love their enemies, how much more their brothers and sisters with whom they disagree?
In a recent trip to Israel-Palestine, an ecumenical organization challenged a group of denominational leaders that unless we are able to speak as a unified voice of diversity, we have no platform to offer anything to the situation in the Middle East. I agree.
A reshaped understanding of covenant is an important challenge to a world becoming increasingly fragmented by ideological, theological, and ethnic conflict. Followers of Jesus Christ must stand ready to embrace disagreement within the covenant of loving your neighbor as yourself. This is not a poetic ideal. It is a covenant responsibility.
The global community has considered it important to remember the devastation of war. Divided church bodies realize destructive outcomes of internal conflict. Loss of life, destruction of families, relationships broken by harsh words are the lamented impacts results of armed violent conflict. Such lament should be expressed. But so should a commitment to peace that displays a new comfort with disagreement. Disagreement is an opportunity for conversation, not a reason for conflict. The Christian faith must learn to embrace disagreement if it hopes to be relevant in a diverse world.
I think God has provided an opportunity for the church of Jesus Christ to shine. This is a chance to display a renewed commitment of love and respect for all people of diverse understandings. It is an opportunity to boldly model how to remain in disagreement without resorting to hateful and hurtful rhetoric. It is an opportunity to portray the compelling love of Jesus Christ.
I pray that we will rise up to this opportunity. I pray that followers of Jesus Christ everywhere will commit themselves to represent the covenant of disagreement.
Willard Metzger is executive director of Mennonite Church Canada. He writes here, where this blog post originally appeared.