Peaceful disagreement

A Christian Science perspective.

The harshness of some political discourse on various talk shows, and even in conversations among friends, could sometimes make one wonder if it’s possible to maintain a feeling of peace and respect toward someone who holds strongly different political views.

People come from diverse cultures, have families that may vary greatly from our own, and likely have had different life experiences from ours. Making intelligent decisions based on those diverse experiences is normal, healthy, and good. But what isn’t healthy is imposing one’s view on others or insulting people if you disagree with their political views.

Experience has taught me that peaceful disagreement is possible when we have a spirit of love.

I remember a church business meeting some years ago. We were slated to consider a vexatious question that had the potential to divide the church community. But at the start of the meeting a member put forward a motion that we should love and support those on both sides of the question.

The motion passed, and the rest of the meeting was amicable and productive. Contention didn’t arise then or later, and the issue of how to proceed on the question we’d voted on was dealt with sensitively and respectfully.

Another idea that has helped me is to acknowledge that people have the capacity and the right to think for themselves. That mental autonomy stems from the Christian Science concept that there is one infinite Mind, God. This Mind communicates directly to each of us. Like the many rays of light that all come from the sun but travel on their own individual courses without interfering with one another, each person receives his or her thoughts directly and exclusively from God. Knowing this helps us listen for God’s thoughts right in the middle of an animated conversation.

I’ve found, too, that practical thoughts from God – thoughts that include and unite – are what move a conversation forward.

Although the following passage written by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science, appears in the context of healing the body, it can also be applied to healing the body politic: “The understanding that the Ego is Mind, and that there is but one Mind or intelligence, begins at once to destroy the errors of mortal sense and to supply the truth of immortal sense. This understanding makes the body harmonious; it makes the nerves, bones, brain, etc., servants, instead of masters” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 216).

That there is one Mind speaking to each of us doesn’t negate the utility, and even wisdom, of dialogue about politics or other sensitive subjects. On the contrary, presenting ideas clearly, logically, and calmly can often help oneself and others gain new insights or inspiration. And isn’t a trusting dialogue – humble listening and respectful responses – sometimes the means by which God leads a group to a higher decision than any a single individual could have reached on his or her own?

Relative to political discussions, what if we dropped the goal of wanting to be recognized as right or to succeed in convincing another, and instead tried to listen patiently and supportively, whether or not we agreed with their views?

Perhaps the author of Philippians saw the need for this kind of thinking in the Christian community at Philippi. He wrote: “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:2-5).

Sometimes people feel that extreme communication is justified because of their love for their country or because the issues are important and may even involve loss of life. But if this is the case, that’s all the more reason that we should express self-control and quietness so that we can all think clearly.

Civil discourse doesn’t need to become uncivil. As we value humility, calmness, and consideration, we bring those qualities to public discussion. To me, letting that “mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” includes keeping our thoughts and our conversation about politics in line with love for God and others. By doing so, we contribute to softening public discourse and improving public policy.

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