Toward a Praxis of Christian Disagreement:
A lesson from Puzo and Coppola
- the necessity of humility
We in Christ's church sometimes don't do a very good job at disagreeing. Unless I am the smartest person on the earth, it stands to reason that in many instances it is a gift when someone else disagrees with me. We always need to be sensitive to our occasional need to receive that gift. Humility is absolutely required.
but what if we're right?
At other times when confronted with a contrary opinion, despite genuine humility and a spirit of teachability, we may still be reasonably certain that our position is the correct one and that our opposite is largely in error.
- the degree of passion
In that moment of controversy when we are 1) humble, 2) teachable, and 3) correct on the issue, we need to be intentional about the manner in which we come across. Sometimes it's necessary to be dramatic to make a point. Sometimes, when the issue is important enough, it's necessary to be so dramatic and passionate in the expressing of our position that we do so with the full realization that we risk the very relationship itself. Surely our Lord risked his relationship with some of the religious leaders of his day when he called some Pharisees and Sadducees a "brood of vipers" (Matthew 3:6-8).
But this should not be our default position for a few reasons:
- In some controversies, we may be on the wrong side of the position!
- The issue about which we are disagreeing may not be important enough to take such a virulent stand. Passionately expressed stands need to be lovingly strategic and not a matter of course.
- And we must always take care that our passion and virulence are not deriving from our egos and insecurities rather than from our commitment to the truth and our love for God and others. We must avoid a merely narcissitic desire to be right.
Many times - perhaps most of the time - in the midst of controversy we need to express what Clementine Churchill called Olympic Calm.
An cinematic example of this calm is seen in the character Tom Haden (Robert Duvall) when he speaks with a Producer named Woltz in the Godfather. (As Joe Fox (played by Tom Hanks) says in the movie You've Got Mail, "The Godfather answers all of life's questions." :) ).
The actor Johnny Fontaine had approached Don Corleone because he wanted a part in a movie being produced by Woltz. The Godfather promised him the role and sent his consigliere - Tom Haden - to Hollywood to handle the matter. Here is how the scene played out just after Tom makes his request:
Now listen to me, you smooth-talking son-of-a-bitch! Let me lay it on the line for you and
your boss, whoever he is. Johnny Fontane will never get that movie! I don't care how many -
- daigo guinea WOP greaseball gumbahs come out of the woodwork!
Well let me tell you something my Kraut Mick friend, I'm gonna make so much trouble for
you, you won't know what hit you!
Mr. Woltz, I'm a lawyer, I have not threatened you.
I know almost every big lawyer in New York, who the hell are you?
I have a special practice; I handle one client -- Now you have my number; I'll wait for yourcall -- By the way, I admire your pictures very much.
from the transcribed Puzo and Coppola script by J Geoff Malta
Though the last sentence of this scene clearly communicates Hayden's demeanor, what you don't see in mere text is that the Don's attorney wasn't touched by Woltz' insults and raised voice. Hayden had grown up with the Corleone boys and was practically a son to the Don. He had absolutely nothing to fear from this powerful producer and knew it. He was so confident that at the end of this encounter, though he's just been insulted and rebuffed, he's calm and collected enough to compliment Woltz on his body of work.
When it comes to matters of the Kingdom, we also can speak with such Olympic Calm. We serve the Creator of the universe and within the church against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. He has given us all that pertains to our life and we've no need to be anxious for anything.
There are surely critical times when love for God and others may demand that we raise our voice or endanger a relationship (and even here, there can be an inner calm born of our conviction and security). But many times, we are in a position to dispassionately stay above the controversy and be the voice of reason and perspective.
picture via MSNBC from Paramount