Agreement Can Be Cheap...
As the political divisions grow deeper in Western Society, the way we relate to those we disagree with and are different from deserves more intentionality. It’s always been challenging to show kindness to those who disagree with us, vote differently from us, or have contrasting values, but today it seems very taboo. So, how do we handle our relationships with such people? Do we reject or continue to accept those who disagree with us theologically, politically, or socially?
For the purposes of this post, my definition of "accept" means to love a person (no matter who or where they are) in the present moment. Accepting someone implies you love them in that very moment no matter who they are, where they’re from, what they’ve done, or where they’re going. Contemporary Western society would have you believe otherwise. In contrast to modern society’s opinion, there’s plenty of biblical support for this position.
Jesus preaches about such love in Matt. 5:46, “If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?” Jesus also reminds us to imitate God’s posture towards others in Lk. 6:35-36, “for he (God) is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” Several years later, Paul asked Roman Christians to reflect God’s example in loving those who make life choices that lead to sin: “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Rom. 2:4). I can’t help but wonder—if God’s kindness leads people to repentance, shouldn’t my kindness lead people to God? Later in the same book, Paul says in Rom. 12:18, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” The author of Hebrews reminds us in Heb. 13:2 of the importance of being loving towards people we don’t even know: “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!”
God has some very clear thoughts on how life is to be lived. One only has to turn to the Sermon on the Mount for more detail on the values and life posture of Jesus followers. In other words, God has expectations for how we should treat people, be in relationships with others, raise our kids, interact with our employers, engage government officials, respond to detractors, and so on. Then, there's the whole "love your neighbor thing."
I’m convinced that it’s impossible to love someone without accepting that person.
I’ll even say that it’s a biblical mandate to accept people. However, as I wrote in a recent post, you may have to place distance between you and those few people who are dangerous (who could cause harm to you and/or your loved ones). Acceptance is not a synonym for agreement. You can accept someone and not affirm their life choices or opinions.
Accepting anyone, especially those whom you disagree with or are different from, eventually brings tension. The level of tension is dependent on the two individuals in the relationship. There will be apparent paradoxes when either they or we make life choices outside God’s will. Such nuance is felt when a loved one is engaging in a toxic friendship, has made unethical decisions at work, lied to us, exhibits unhealthy anger, etc. Sometimes, tension can be challenging to discern and/or confront because of how complex our relationships can be.
So, how do we understand this tension of loving, accepting, and not agreeing with the life choice of a loved one? As I said before, acceptance is firmly rooted in love. This is why I believe
Love relies on acceptance, not agreement.
My acceptance of people is found in my love for them, not my agreement with them. Love doesn’t require me to affirm their ideas, ethics, beliefs, relationships, or attitude. It’s 100% possible to be in a close relationship with people and not fully agree with all of their decisions. I mean, think about it… consider how Jesus exemplified this idea of acceptance:
Jesus accepted Peter but didn’t approve of his racism that Paul eventually confronted him on (Gal. 2:11-16).
Jesus loved John and James but didn’t affirm their desire to destroy a town (Lk. 9:54-55).
Jesus didn’t “write off” a legalistic Pharisee named Nicodemus but didn’t support a theology that wasn’t honoring to God (Jn. 3).
Jesus was willing to value an outcast Samaritan woman by speaking with her, giving her hope, and refusing to affirm a history of negative relationship choices (Jn. 4).
Jesus defended a woman caught in adultery but didn’t condone an inappropriate relationship (Jn. 8:2-11).
Jesus accepted an invitation to Zacchaeus’ house, but when he agreed with Zacchaeus’ confession, he was also agreeing that his previous practices were wrong (Luke 19).
This nuance is still very present in my life. For instance, in my book Messy Grace and the Messy Grace video series, I talk about being raised in an environment where both of my parents were in same-sex relationships.
My mom and her partner were active in the Kansas City LGBTQ activist community. Within that setting, I saw the horrible way she was treated by some cultural fundamentalist Christians. They protested LGBTQ pride parades, shamefully ignored their kids who were dying of AIDS, wrote books that harmed people, disowned their kids who “came out to them,” and used theology and church to shame people. Today, cultural fundamentalist Christians do the same things, but they now leverage social media, podcasts, and blog posts.
When I was a sophomore in high school, another student invited me to their high school Bible study. As many of you know, I attended the study, tried to disprove Christ, but became a Christian and felt a call to enter full-time vocational ministry. I also changed my view on sexuality to what I hold today: God created sexual intimacy to be expressed in marriage between one man and one woman. At the same time, I believed (and still do today) that theological convictions are never catalysts to devalue others.
When I “came out” as a Christian to my parents, they kicked me out for a while. Eventually, I moved back in with them, but Jesus had redefined my reality. I lived in the tension of accepting my parents that I dearly loved, but not theologically agreeing with their choice to be in same-sex relationships. While there were tense days between us, I also learned that:
My parents had been hurt deeply by some Christians.
They thought God hated them.
My actions towards them and their friends deeply impacted their view of God.
The same theology that shaped my view on marriage was the same theology that called me to relentlessly love my parents.
I didn’t beat them over the head with my beliefs, but I also had the confidence to engage in a discussion when God led.
My parents respected my faith—even though we disagreed—as I was fully present in their lives.
Despite the rallying cry of some people, not all who disagree over life choices are causing harm to the other person in the relationship.
I learned that God loved my parents immensely more than I did.
I quit trying to “fix” my parents and pointed to the God who loved them.
I listened and tried to imagine what I would do (or be tempted to do) if I had their life experiences.
And I’ve never stopped praying for them… never.
Even though our journey isn’t over, my parents eventually submitted their lives to Christ. Through this journey, the love I have for my parents and others must have its foundation in acceptance, not agreement.
Not every story has such an ending, but if you’re living in this tension of acceptance and agreement with someone, you'll be tempted to back off or give up the relationship. Hear me out—if I had believed society’s lie that acceptance and agreement are synonyms, I don’t know if my parents would’ve submitted their lives to Christ. Had I really believed there was no difference between accepting and agreeing with my parents, we probably wouldn’t be in a relationship today.
As society's affirmation of outrage, hate towards others, and "cancel culture"increases, our rush to agreement will speed up and agreement will become cheaper. Some of us are already quick to agree because we're "people pleasers" (afraid of conflict). Maybe we're eager to agree with people because we really do believe that acceptance and affirmation are the same. It could be that we're immediately suspicious of someone who doesn't agree with us or isn't quick to agree with us once we've stated our opinion. Perhaps... just perhaps, there's something inside of us that is bothered when a person disagrees with us. Whatever the case might be, quit agreeing with people so much, LOL!!! It compromises your integrity and ensures that you'll have to keep changing your views to align with others. As time progresses, what we agree on changes. Never love people because they agree with you--that kind of love is worthless.
Love that’s built on agreement is cheap.
It will cause us to handle tension in dangerous ways such as alienating loved ones, sacrificing convictions, sweeping ethics under the rug, destroy dialogue, and eventually, mistreat others. I have disagreements with some of my closest friends (sometimes significant disagreements), but I refuse to abandon the relationship. I’ll confidently stand by my convictions, but I won’t act intentionally like a jerk and “sucker-punch” people with my opinion on Bible verses or political views.
Don’t settle for cheap love that is merely based on agreement. Chase priceless love that accepts the person (no matter who or where they are) with the understanding that while you can’t “fix” them—you can walk with them. Even though they can’t fix you, they can love you… and God is the only one who can change either of us. Love that fosters acceptance can reunite relationships, heal families, save lives, and even change eternal destinations. Love relies on acceptance, not agreement.