Christians in Politics recently released a video entitled ‘Disagree with Tea’: its basic premise is that Christians need to learn to disagree well, maintaining relationships across differences of belief or opinion, in this case, particularly political opinion.
Ironically, watching it left me feeling rather conflicted, and realising that I needed to learn to disagree well…with myself.
On the one hand, the video speaks in a timely way to one of the key challenges we face as a society, and often as individuals too: far too easily, disagreement with people is equated to disapproval, judgement or hatred of people. And likewise, far too easily, disagreement with people can descend into disapproval, judgement or hatred of people.
Christian theology offers several important antidotes to these things: all people are seen as loved and precious to God, regardless of their beliefs, behavior or background; Christians are taught by their scriptures to ‘speak the truth in love’, suggesting that if we can’t maintain a loving attitude to those with whom we disagree, we need to examine our own hearts and motives before pursuing a particular conversation or course of action; and finally, there are Jesus’ instructions to love our neighbours, and even our enemies.
As such this video carries an important message about unity in the midst of disagreement, and about giving oneself the freedom to find (at least elements of) truth in the perspectives and beliefs of a different political (or indeed other kind of) ‘tribe’, potentially giving rise to fresh, more holistic and more imaginative ways forward in terms of political thought and action. Great!
However, the clip also left me with two troubling questions:
First: who is doing the tea-drinking? And second: to what extent is tea-drinking really a loving response to the use of political or economic power in a way that damages, degrades or oppresses real people? There is something uncomfortably safe and sheltered about drinking tea in a nice coffee shop while others wait fearfully for Work Capability Assessments, or stare into a nearly empty cupboard wondering what to feed their kids.
I’m not suggesting people should stop drinking tea, going to nice coffee shops, or talking politics. And I agree that relationships – and the opportunities they offer to be exposed to and changed by the life experiences and insights of others – are the primary means by which issues of social injustice, segregation and inequality can be addressed. But perhaps we need to ask some questions about who we are drinking tea with, and whether we are also willing on occasion to stand up, knock over the teacup, and challenge injustices where we see them, recognising that getting angry about the suffering of other people is also part of what it means to love them.
Photo: Spilt Tea, Caro Wallis. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)