By Mic Thurber … What I will speak about today was much easier to present five or six years ago. Since then, our public discourse has become strained and coarse. Whether the genesis of the argument is politics, the pandemic, or theology, differences of opinion are now seen as cause to consider someone as our enemy. Many have seen that atmosphere invade church life and discourse.

I enter this plea: can we please tone it down? Can we find a way to ratchet down the atmosphere when we speak of our differences? And can we somehow find room in our hearts to love, worship with, pray for, and journey toward the Kingdom alongside those who differ from our personal viewpoint?

This does not mean, however, that we cannot have spirited discourse and even debate. Our early church founders—whether in New Testament times or in the mid to late 1800s and early 1900s—were disposed to sometimes heated disagreements.

I remember my first real exposure to how closely held a personal point of view can be and how helpful a challenge to that view can also be. It came from an experience my father had when we were in the process of moving from Glendale, California, to Keene, Texas. My dad had just decided to leave the King’s Heralds Quartet and move our family to Texas where he would begin his work as conference youth director, a position that would soon become youth evangelist.

While on one of his trips to Texas, prior to our actual move, he had gone to the lot where the foundation of our new house had just been poured. As he was walking around inspecting it and visualizing how all the rooms would be laid out on the slab, a man approached him with a question asked in such a tone of voice as to give away his own feelings on the matter. His question? “I understand you are the new youth director for the Texas Conference, and I want to know what your stand is on guitars?”

This question was asked in the summer of 1967, so my father’s reply was timely: “Well, with all the Beatles and bugs crawling all around the world dragging their guitars behind them, guitars are really a problem.” The man seemed well satisfied with the answer–-at least until my dad punctuated his answer with a few more words.

“But I worry about something even more than guitars,” my dad went on to say. “What’s that?” asked the man. “The piano,” my dad said. “Every bar in the country has a piano in it yet we allow it in our churches.”

My first introduction to a moment of strong disagreement. This story taught me some valuable lessons. First, we will not all agree. Second, we can be spirited in our disagreement and still be decent to one another. Third, we should give broad latitude to each other to disagree and not disparage one another when the subject of our disagreement is not a centrally held, doctrinal position. Fourth, allow and expect that context matters, and that judgment about many things can change over time. Within a few months of this story, my dad brought home my very first guitar, which became my early life’s passion. I dedicated it to the Lord’s service and ended up playing guitar for many years in hundreds of church settings and youth gatherings.

It’s easy to see our church as a church in which everything is settled and there is no more room for discussion. As the world becomes ever more complex and the enemy becomes more sophisticated in his traps and attacks, it seems to me that if ever there was a time to keep studying, keep learning, keep dialoguing, it is now.

So, let us not be afraid to disagree. But can we do it with grace, kindness, and openness? And can we please do it with the goal of helping each other across the finish line? If that is our commitment, I believe God will use our time of mutual engagement to help us grow ever closer to His image and to the Kingdom yet to come.

–Mic Thurber is the RMC president. Email him at: [email protected]