The Role of Faith in Having Respectful Disagreements

Between the upcoming presidential election, the COVID-19 pandemic, and everything else 2020 has thrown at us, it may seem that you are just surrounded by disagreement. Simple conversations can end up being minefields, and small disagreements can easily blow up into full-on arguments. But as Catholics we are called to be respectful toward others, remembering that disagreements do not give us a license to attack another person or forget their human dignity.

So how can our faith help us have more civil discussions, even when we disagree? Fr. Tim Graff, Director of the Social Concerns Office and the Director of Government Relations for the Archdiocese of Newark, stopped by Morning Air® this week to discuss maintaining civility in a divided culture.

Fr. Graff began by pointing out that there is a spiritual component to the uncivil dialogue we see so often. He said of the lack of civility, “We’re surrounded by it every day. Whether in the media or in our conversations. But I think this is an example of instead of our faith affecting our culture, it’s our culture affecting our faith.”

He challenged listeners to ask themselves, “Do I allow my faith to affect the way I think of others and speak to others? Or do I let my culture simply impede upon my faith in terms of how I relate to others? I think it’s really a matter of focus and behavior more than anything else.”

The polarization and politicization of life have led to an “us vs. them” mentality. And Morning Air host John Harper commented on the fact that nowadays one disagreement can cause us to cast someone into the “them” category and immediately cut ties, even with close family and friends.

“It’s so interesting because it is so antithetical to our faith,” Fr. Graff responded. “If the Lord treated us like that we’d be in trouble. The ability to say, ‘I disagree with you, and I can disagree with you on a very important issue that I’m passionate about. However, does that mean that is the end of the relationship? Does that mean we cannot talk about other things?'”

“It’s almost like I put my own importance and needing to win the argument above my relationship with you. And I’m willing to lose a friendship and lose the relationship because we disagree on something,” he said. “Is the more important thing the relationship we have, or is it more important for you to come over to my way of thinking?”

It can be easy to escalate arguments, to make sure you get your talking points in so as to win. But it is more difficult to listen to someone you disagree with, to look at things from their point of view, and try to learn from them.

Fr. Graff admitted, “One thing I recognize in myself is that I can be in a conversation, and there is a difference of opinion, and am I listening to the person and what they are saying and why they say it? Or am I thinking of the wonderful retort I’m going to have that proves them wrong? Am I really having the conversation with them or am I really having the conversation with myself?”

If you find yourself getting into arguments, cutting off loved ones because you disagree, or that you’re constantly riled up by strangers on the internet, consider doing an examination of conscience to pinpoint why. Is it righteous anger that is fueling you, or are you being fueled by wrath?

“Sometimes it can be pride,” Fr. Graff also suggested. “Sometimes it is the idea that I cannot learn from another person. I cannot learn from their opinions. But even if I disagree with them I can still learn from their opinions.”

“I think our culture is so me-centered. I need to prove that I’m right, that my opinion is valuable, that I don’t need to listen to anyone else. It’s all about me, it’s all about me being the most important one here, and to convince you of that.”

For civil conversations during these tumultuous times, consider tuning-out the media that thrives on outrage and tuning-in to Relevant Radio®. You’ll stay up to date on what’s going on in the world without harming your soul. And be sure to tell your friends and family to tune-in too! Check out our program line-up and list of stations, and download the Relevant Radio App to listen anytime, anywhere.

Listen to the full conversation with Father Tim Graff below:

Morning Air can be heard weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. Central on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.

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Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.