Can you learn from someone you disagree with?

I cannot learn anything from Martin Luther.  He was an anti-semite -- how could we benefit from what he said about grace?

Solomon had a thousand wives -- and you want me to be able to listen to him talk about wisdom?

St. Francis was Catholic, so obviously he believed in salvation by works, not faith.  I don’t think we can learn from him.

She believes that the miraculous gifts are still for today, so I have trouble taking anything she says seriously.

He’s a five point Calvinist, so you should steer clear of his books - they might lead you astray.

I’m not going to read Torn  by Justin Lee.  I read the Side B gay Christians, but I already know I don’t agree with the Side A people, so why would I listen to them?

I know he’s doing good work to fight trafficking, but he doesn’t believe women can be the head pastors of churches -- why should I listen to him?

They have a woman pastor, so they obviously don’t take the Bible seriously.

I have already read the complementarian arguments against egalitarianism, so I don’t need to read Finally Feminist.

The Pope doesn’t believe in female ordination, so I refuse to listen to him.

Grandma is sort of racist, so there’s probably nothing you can learn from her.


I understand the frustration Kate Wallace felt at The Justice Conference, listening to a complementarian speaker talk about the fight to end trafficking.  I understand the cognitive dissonance she experienced in that moment, and I empathize with her passion for the church to embrace the full equality of men and women.

But when she writes (bolded and italicized phrases her own):
My struggle to listen to complementarians speak about justice doesn’t really have to do with the fact that I disagree with them. It’s something different from that.

It’s that I wonder if they can really believe the worldview they ascribe to.
It’s that I wonder if they have really thought it all through.
It’s that I wonder if they really think that the God of justice would create one group of people to be subservient to another.
It’s that I wonder if they notice that most of their examples, and all of their pronouns, are about men, for men, to men.

So I stopped listening. Because I’m done hearing talks about “justice” that continue to favor men above women.

That’s when I stopped listening to Kate (well, for a day.  Then I went back and finished the article).  I stopped listening because I got sad: it sounded too much like the things I heard growing up in a complementarian church, when they said things like, 

"I wonder if egalitarians have really thought this through.  
I just wonder if they’re not caving to cultural pressure.   
I just wonder if they don’t value the Bible.  

So, we are done listening to them.”


We can wonder about each other all we want.  But sisters and brothers, we cannot stop listening to each other.  And when we listen, we need to listen to each other as subjective, individual humans, not as objectified groups of people who believe this or that.

Because a complementarian can learn from an egalitarian, and an egalitarian can learn from a complementarian.  My complementarian parents taught me The Apostle’s Creed, the words to “Amazing Grace,” the story of redemption.  When I had to write a paper on a philosopher at the age of sixteen, my dad studied up on the Kantian Watershed to help me understand it.  My parents are still among the first people I go to for advice.  And sometimes they ask me for my sorta-progressive feedback on the stuff they’re teaching.  Sometimes I give it to them unsolicited.  Either way, they listen. They have to. We're in a relationship.

Maybe my ecumenicalism is showing, but I truly believe that in the Church, we have to listen to each other.  As a wise man once said in my kitchen last night, we all have blind spots. It takes the strength of humility to listen to those with whom we disagree.  

And, yes, of course there’s a point where you have to agree to disagree, but I believe that point needs to come after you’ve engaged a person as a person, not as a member of a set. It's harder to dismiss people you're in relationship with, people whose kids have played with your kids, people whose favorite place for queso you can name.   We are all supposed to be brothers and sisters here, members of the same body.

I learned a lot from Grandma, even if the racism she grew up around sometimes showed in her speech.  I learn from people I don’t agree with all the time.  Please, let’s not stop listening.