Good Arguments = Stronger Communities

Dicussion Garvey 2

On Sunday, we launched Approaching Scripture with Vicki Garvey. In lesson four, Garvey says that good arguments are important; that Christianity is nourished on productive disagreements. This idea struck me because in our increasingly polarized world, people have begun to argue so often and so angrily that I find myself frequently pulling back from anything resembling a religious or political argument with someone who disagrees with me. I rationalize that I won’t change anybody’s mind, which might be true, but sometimes, I owe it to myself and the subject matter to speak up — and I keep quiet to keep peace. This is my own conversational flaw; the disrespectful climate of discussion these days certainly creates many others throughout our culture.

Vicki Garvey’s words have reminded me, however, that there’s nothing wrong with argument in itself. In fact, the proliferation of angry, polarized arguments these days has had the effect of reducing the kind of arguments on which Christianity thrives. Arguments based in temper, or arrogance, or ego produce nothing but hot air, but arguments that people use to tackle important and difficult topics can be fruitful when they are conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Without that kind of respect, it’s not just the arguments that we have that create problems — it’s the arguments that we don’t have; the lack of  the kind of fruitful conversation that happens when people bring different perspectives to the table  and hash things out together.

This point was illustrated extremely well a few weeks ago, when members of our congregation met to discuss A Christian Response to Gun Violence. The class broke into small groups to go through the discussion questions. As I listened to the group discussions, I found myself thinking that the groups in which everyone agreed were simply echoing each other’s ideas. The conversation was good; different perspectives built some new ideas, but it was not as fruitful as the conversations in which people disagreed. In those groups, people grappled and wrestled with the subject, and in the end, they came out with more educated opinions because of the intelligent way in which they had argued.

Vicki Garvey is right. A culture that does not know how to argue productively has lost an important avenue to growth. I will keep that in mind the next time I have to decide whether or not to (respectfully) rock the boat. In the meantime, I encourage you to take Approaching Scripture with Vicki Garvey — or, in the spirit of productive discussion, to take Approaching Scripture with Vicki Garvey for Groups. For those of you who are interested in learning more about the class, here is a preview:

Just Launched: Approaching Scripture with Vicki Garvey

Approaching Scripture

The Bible is a library of writings in different genres composed over thousands of years by hundreds of different people, originally written in two different, ancient languages, neither of which many contemporary Christians speak or read. Through this collection of books, Christians believe God guides our prayers, faith, and religious understanding. It is hardly surprising that some people of faith wonder how to approach the Bible; it can be confusing — even intimidating.

In Approaching Scripture, Vicki Garvey, a longtime, respected Christian educator and Canon for Lifelong Education at the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago offers guidance on how to approach scripture in ways that will help all Christians gain understanding and wisdom from reading it and/or listening to it. This class is productive for all Christians and might be particularly useful to people who are looking for a new understanding of the Bible; for new ways to inform their reading of the Bible. Approaching Scripture for Groups offers rich learning and discussion opportunities for Bible study groups and adult Christian formation groups.

Interested in finding out more? Enjoy this preview.

A new kind of community

At my sister’s wedding, the priest pointed out during his homily that the event of witnessing this marriage had brought people together into a unique community. A disparate group of people from multiple states and countries had come together for one weekend to celebrate this life event with these two people. For that weekend, we formed a community, united in the common purpose of celebrating the marriage of two people whom we loved.

While they are not always as profound as that one, many other kinds of life experience create community for those who share them. Online experiences these days can create particularly unique communities in which people participate (oddly) at different times and only as actively as they choose. My husband, for example, is on a message board for a computer game wherein guys who like football manage imaginary teams and play them against each other. (The appeal of this game is lost on me, but it makes them so happy that I enjoy it vicariously anyway.) The experience of playing the game together has created a community on the people on this message board. They have never met in person, but they are friends: they trade jokes, ask for advice, discuss life events. They have  created a tight enough community that when one of these guys moved nearby, it seemed quite natural for us to immediately start hanging out with his family; the online community extended itself naturally into our physical world.

ChurchNext classes create unique communities. Sometimes, the online class community enhances the physical community of a congregation. A priest at one church in Virginia, for example, uses online parenting classes to reach out to congregation members with young children who can’t always make it to classes at the church because of their family obligations. In that case, the experience of sharing this learning and in particular of discussing the classes together online enhances the physical community. Sometimes, the online community becomes its own event. I very much enjoyed reading the discussions that went on during our Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence because people talked and debated and learned from each other across the country and even across the world. Briefly, the class built its own community, fueled by a common call to resist a problem that we have encountered.

As you integrate (or consider integrating) ChurchNext classes into your life or your congregation, think about the classes’ potential to build community. Use the discussions not just to answer questions, but to communicate with people. Ask your own questions. Follow up your points. Think things out with others. If we approach them with the right mindset, sharing experiences — especially those related to learning and spirituality — online can bring people together in ways that people have never been able to experience before in all of human history. Let us take advantage of this blessing and use it to build community with one another — a happy opportunity in an age when people so often feel isolated from one another.

The Big Class Now Available For Purchase

Missed Big Class

If you or someone you know wanted to take The Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence but missed the September 28 deadline, you can still get access to it! It’s now available in two formats: a class for individuals and a class formatted for group learning. You can gain access to it if you belong to a congregation that has set up a ChurchNext school, if you buy an annual subscription to ChurchNext for yourself, or simply by purchasing the class.

Enjoy! And if you liked A Christian Response to Gun Violence, please peruse other ChurchNext classes and see what interests you!

Last chance

The Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence is free through September 28. That is tomorrow! Monday! If you have been thinking about how maybe you’ll probably take that class when you have a few minutes because hey, it’s available for two full weeks — your time is almost up!

Join the 1000+ people in 15 countries who have taken this class and learn from two spiritual leaders in the movement against gun violence about how Christians can oppose gun violence in their communities, and why they should do so.

There’s still time! Encourage people to take The Big Class!

Time image

We’re up to over 1000 people from 15 different countries who have taken The Big Class! The opportunity isn’t over! Anybody in the world can take it for free through Monday, September 28. Please continue to encourage people to take The Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence this week!

To help motivate you, here are some student comments on the class:

I like that I am able to take this course when I want to. The videos are very good and the accompanying text helps to truly make this a learning experience for me.


Good mix of different learning approaches. Like that I could return to any part and participate. This allowed me to think about the topic and to give a deeper response to the questions presented or the discussion.


I appreciated the level-headed responses from other students and the ability to reply or ask a question.

Please spread the word! People still have through Monday to benefit from these teachers’ guidance and learn about this important issue!

Student Voices: Excerpts from the Discussions


Student discussions are the force that animates ChurchNext classes — gives them the life and spirit that make the classes grow and ideas thrive. We would like to share with you some thought-provoking excerpts from student discussions in The Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence.These are only a few excerpts. The conversation is riveting and ongoing. We hope that you will add your voice and ideas to the discussion.

In response to a question about the relationship between racism and gun violence:

I wonder if racism’s role in gun violence is a multi-level thing? By which I mean, there’s the issue of police more quickly resorting to guns or other violence when dealing with people of color. Then there’s the white privilege of the “open carry” movement, brandishing weapons with impunity in ways that encourage gun violence in the name of “protection,” and in a manner that our culture would not tolerate from Black, Hispanic, or Native peoples. In both cases violence is fed by fear, and some of the fear has a racial component, but it comes from different directions.


When people live in fear of those who are different from them, it’s too easy to move to violence as a form of protection. Also, those who are treated with injustice and contempt because of racism may feel that they have no other way to get their needs met. They may also feel that they might as well be violent since that’s what others expect from them.

In response to a question about the relationship between American culture and gun violence:

In the 50s we grew up playing “cowboys and Indians,” and various other games based on the notion of the “good guy with the gun” defeating the bad guy with the gun. Television, and now video and computer games, and the internet, have all taken these games to a hyper-realistic and adrenaline-pumping level; this stuff excites us, and in a complicated world, give us–and our children–the satisfaction of a very simple solution: Blow the bad guys away. The myth of redemptive violence seems to be a particularly American myth; perhaps our glorification of the individual contributes to this.

In response to a question about how people can make themselves able to hear God’s voice:

I remember after 9/11, hearing Osama Bin Laden in a video boast that his success was proof that God approved of what he did. I asked our pastor then, if anyone can claim his action is sanctioned by God, how does one really know? His reply was that he didn’t know but that he was sure it had something to do with humility and that Osama Bin Laden showed no humility. Micah 6:8 — “What does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly.”

To which statement another person responded:

That passage from Micah makes the Bible worthwhile, for me. I can’t think of a better code for living than that. And it’s perfectly accessible: we can all do that in our workplaces, personal relationships, interactions with strangers, and care for the environment and all living things.

In response to a student-initiated question about poverty as a sin:

Poverty amidst plenty is a sin that our society bears.


There are sins of a whole culture. One of our biggest sins is greed and consumerism. The result of our participation in this culture is poverty.

In response to a question about violent incidents in the Bible:

Over and over in the Old Testament we read stories of violence against women–Hagar and her son cast out into the wilderness, rape after rape. Last spring a study group at our church discussed selections from Lindsay Hardin Freeman’s book Bible Women, and were in awe of women like Deborah and Naomi, who managed to hear and respond to God’s voice despite a culture that routinely discounted, abused, and frequently killed girls and women. It was even more heartening to consider New Testament women, like Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Mary Magdalene (you can tell I am partial to all those Marys)–the the Syrophoenecian woman who dared to talk back to Jesus. Jesus’ message of complete inclusion in God’s Kingdom refutes the patriarchal beliefs that sanctioned violence against women as an acceptable part of the culture.

THANK YOU to all of you who have added your voices to these discussions. Please keep your ideas coming!