Your Thoughts: Does Dissent Build a Stronger Church?

instructors faithful dissentThe discussions are rolling with our Big Class: Faithful Dissent: Loving Our Way Into A Brighter Tomorrow with Ed Bacon and Stanley Hauerwas. Over 1100 people from across the U.S. and the world have joined the discussion. These courses rely on the active participation of students discussing the instructors’ ideas with one another, and this course has been particularly active in discussion.

In one of his lectures, Stanley Hauerwas argues that dissent helps to build the church because arguing over controversial issues helps the church to discern right from wrong. Through addressing issues of right and wrong and arguing them out as a community, Stanley argues, the church makes itself stronger and better.

One discussion question asked students to identify controversial issues within today’s church and to discuss whether these topics of dissent are building the church. The responses have been nuanced and thought-provoking.Many of you argue that dissent does build the church, and some feel that we are not willing enough to engage it. One participant says that we don’t stick out the tough conversations enough:

I find the major problem in the Church is the unwillingness to listen to each other and stick together as a community rather than running away or refusing to face one another to come together when there are disagreements.

Another participant says that we need to be good instead of “nice.”

I think we have been raised to be nice instead of good. That means too many ignore social issues and even stay quiet about in the church issues. This is a problem for me. I agree that dissent, even hearing other’s views helps me clarify or challenge my own beliefs. I am willing to change or allow others to have a different view. 

To which another student replies:

As a deaconess and pastor for 36 years, I see this so often. It is a peace at any price stand that some people take. Let’s all just get along, is their motto, even if it means allowing things to continue which are harmful if not addressed.

Others among you suggest that dissent CAN build the church, but only when engaged in productive ways:

In my experience dissent on these issues is building up the church when these different perspectives are in the same room together over a sustained period of time. However, the dissent appears to be destructive when certain tribes condemn others from their pulpits without direct engagement. Those echo chambers seem to polarize perspectives (killing fruits of the Spirit in the process).


I would like to see a greater development of disagreement that takes place with
Christ in the room listening. Then I think we would be more careful to honor the other and disagree without being disagreeable. The most useful phrase that sums up how I would like discussion to proceed is to say, “This is my Reverent, Best Guess.” 

Finally, some of you think that goodness can come of all these arguments — but only because God makes good out of evil:

I feel uncomfortable with the duality involved in saying in effect (if I understand this argument correctly) that evil is necessary in order for there to be good…. I guess I would see any building of the church as the result of dissension as “collateral goodness.” So a contemporary example would be that as our secular society moves away from valuing creation, caring for the disadvantaged, welcoming the stranger, etc. that Christians are being forced to articulate and act on these Gospel values rather than just coasting along while expecting government to do it all for us.

(Personal note: Thanks to this participant for the term “collateral goodness.” I am going to use that.)

If this is the level of the discussion on one topic, what other conversations could be happening? What could you contribute? And how many chances do you get to engage profitable internet discussion, anyway? Let us hear what you have to say!




Some of Your Thoughts on Faithful Dissent: Loving Our Way Into a Brighter Tomorrow

Bacon Hauer NewOn Monday, we launched our Big Class: Faithful Dissent: Loving Our Way Into a Brighter Tomorrow with Ed Bacon and Stanley Hauerwas. Some extremely interesting discussions about what Ed and Stanley have to say are already underway. Here are some of your insights:

In response to a question about whether the Church in America tends to over-identify with the state: 

Growing up in the Southwest, as a child, I believed that the U.S. was a Christian nation favored by God, who was on our side: Christendom! Now as an adult all too aware of the ways in which the state’s values and Gospel values conflict, and understanding us to be experiencing Post-Christendom in our society which no longer privileges the church, I feel disillusioned. But disillusionment can be the first step towards enlightenment and engagement–perhaps even empowerment.

In response to a question about the possibility of alienating church members through political advocacy:

I care about what people think, but I can’t think for them. What I would hope to model is to be the kind of believer whose faith is larger and more robust than any particular side of an issue. A witness that God has an eternal plan for the world– which is to love it to life.

In response to a question about what institutional compassion is and whether it is possible in a government institution:

I find it helpful to ask “what values are evident in an institution?”…[A]n organization might have a vision statement, a mission statement and codes of ethics / values statements. What these look like “when the rubber hits the road” can be very revealing…There has to be intentionality behind institutional compassion – we do this because we have a moral obligation to do so, and are accountable not just to our shareholders, but to the wider society in which we operate.

And another response to the same question:

Here’s another thing I struggle with. Even though our courts say that corporations are “persons,” I don’t believe that social structures have a soul. People have souls and people have the capacity to show love for the world for which Christ gave his all (God gave his all). People, in relationship with each other, can live in God’s love. To the extent that institutions show compassion they do it because people show compassion.

Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments and for responding with such insight to one another’s ideas. Your energy brings these courses to life. Please keep the excellent discussions developing. You’re on a roll!

Just Launched — Make a Joyful Noise: How to Sing a Hymn with Jackie Stilger

Psalm 98:5: Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre; with the lyre and the sound of melody.”

We just launched Make a Joyful Noise: How to Sing a Hymn with Jackie Stilger For Individuals and For Groups.

God’s worshippers have been singing praises to God over the thousands 0f years of our history. We know that many of the psalms were sung in ancient Jewish liturgies. The Old Testament includes other songs of praise and lamentation addressed to God as well; songs that people sang to God. We know that Jesus sang hymns; Matthew 26:30 says that he and the apostels “sang the hymn” after celebrating the first Lord’s Supper.

Our earliest Christian brothers and sisters sang hymns. Scholars believe that early Christians sang their liturgical texts in a manner similar to that used in Jewish rituals, though we do not have much information about the music they used. Early monks and clergy, such as Romanos the Melodist and John of Damascus wrote hymns for use in the liturgy; 6th century Romanos was said to have written over 1000 songs for use in Christian liturgy.

From Hildegarde von Bingen to Johann Sebastian Bach; from John of Damascus to John Rutter, Christians have composed and sung their praises and petitions to our Lord. When we sing, we sing with Paul’s great “cloud of witnesses” in a harmony that connects us with one another and with God across time and space.

In this course, Jackie Stilger, organist and choirmaster at First Methodist Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, discusses the history of hymns in the Christian tradition and the role that hymns play in contemporary Christian liturgy. She discusses why and how Christians should sing the hymns in church (regardless of whether or not they believe they can sing). She discusses what kinds of hymns are popular today and why, and she examines the connection that Christians develop with one another by singing hymns to God.

This course is ideal for anyone who is interested in learning more about hymns in the Christian tradition. For a preview of the course, click here.

Just Launched: Faith and Humor with Susan Sparks

Susan Sparks

We have just launched Faith and Humor with Susan Sparks For Individuals and For Groups.

Laura Ingalls Wilder once wrote aLaura Ingalls Wilderbout living temporarily with the McKee family, in which the father was “such a strict Presbyterian that on Sunday no one was allowed to laugh or even smile. They could only read the Bible and the catechism and talk gravely of religious subjects” (1). Mr. McKee’s approach may be a little extreme for our modern sensibilities, but his idea that religion and laughter should be strictly divorced from one another does resonate to some extent in contemporary religious culture. While our priests may tell the occasional joke from the pulpit on Sundays, many of us retain the idea that religious belief is no laughing matter.

Susan Sparks is here to tell us differently. Susan is a trial lawyer-turned-pastor, a comedian, and a public speaker and author whose mission, as she describes it, is to “help people regain their grit and reclaim their joy.” She argues that humor serves to activate and open up our faith. Laughing heals us, she argues, body and soul. We know this, on some level. When we are feeling despondent, we often tell ourselves that we need a good laugh. We reach for something funny to read or watch, or we seek out that funny friend who can always make us chuckle. Susan argues that we should extend our understanding that humor is healthful to our spiritual lives. Laughter creates an ease —  albeit a temporary one — that opens up enough space to help us acknowledge God; a change in perspective that helps us remember who’s in charge.

Laughing spirituality is hardly a new approach to our faith. Many Biblical writers utilize humor, though it is not always easy for us to grasp it today because we lack the cultural context to do so. Many scholars believe, for example, that the character of Jonah is supposed to be a comical figure, with his heels-dug-in refusal to prophesy to Nineveh and God’s sending a fish to swallow him in response. Theologian Conrad Hyers has expounded on the topic of humor in the Bible, with the idea that a “playful spirit” (2) is part of who we are, and that alongside the more serious issues in The Bible are issues that reflect this playful spirit. Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood argues that Jesus uses many instances of irony, satire, paradox and other kinds of humor to teach and clarify his ideas. The Biblical writers understood a connection between faith and humor many of us have forgotten.

In her book Laugh Your Way to Grace: Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor, Susan calls laughter  the “GPS system for the soul.” In this course, she teaches us about how that system works, where we can find people using it in the Bible, and why it is useful in our spiritual lives as well as in our secular world.

For a preview of the course, click here.

1. Laura Ingalls Wilder. These Happy, Golden Years. From Volume 2 of the two volume set of the Little House books published by the Library of America in 2012. 623-624.

2. Conrad Hyers. And God Created Laughter: The Bible as Divine Comedy. Published by Westminster John Knox Press in 1988.


1. Laura Ingalls Wilder. 1883. Artist unknown. Public Domain. 

2. Jonah the Prophet. Sargis Babayan. 2011. Creative Commons.


Just Launched: Courage for Caregivers with Jamie Haith

Jamie Haith

We have just launched Courage for Caregivers with Jamie Haith For Individuals and For Groups.

There is an intimacy — a giving and receiving of love on its most basic level — to caring for people whose physical or mental states leave them unable to care for themselves. Caregivers sacrifice time, self-care, and mental and emotional energy. They watch care recipients lose the dignity of being able to do the simplest activities for themselves — reading books, remembering names, even using the bathroom alone. The work can be very painful, but it is also offers the caregiver an incredibly clear and direct opportunity to  to wash the feet of another person — to serve Christ in that person and be Christ for that person.

A caregiver’s work is often painful and exhausting because it requires watching a loved one suffer and (often) decline in health while offering little opportunity for self care. Sleep is interrupted. Challenges are endless. Caregivers often find themselves isolated. In this course, Jamie Haith compares caregiving to David’s battle with Goliath and discusses five spiritual “stones” that caregivers can bring to this battle: love, hope, joy, peace, and faith. He discusses the importance of each of these spiritual “stones” in helping caregivers do their work.

This course includes five lectures by Jamie Haith, a member of the clergy at Holy Trinity Church in McLean, VA. It also includes a resource list for caregivers to help them get the help that they need, opportunities for discussion, and suggestions for spiritual exercises that caregivers may find helpful. We hope that caregivers find help from this course as they continue to do the work of Christ for their loved ones.

For a preview of this course, please click here.


Just Launched: Slaying Your Goliath with John Ohmer

We just launched Slaying Your Goliath with John Ohmer For Individuals and For Groups. If you are interested in learning about the ancient David and Goliath story and applying its message to your own battles, you should take this course.

Listeners and readers for millennia have encountered the giant Goliath bellowing, “Who will fight me?” and David, the shepherd boy who would be king agreeing to fight him when no-one else will, in the name of the God of Israel.

Centuries of artists have rendered the famous encounter in stone, cloth, clay, paint, metal, and cinema. The characters have been adapted to the looks and fashions of different times and places.

One recent version of the story even portrays David as a tiny, lean asparagus facing Goliath: a huge, earth-shaking pickle.

The contrasts between big versus small, might versus cowardice, kindness versus bitterness and faith in God versus faith in any weaker powers have remained relevant to many cultures over thousands of years.

The enduring lessons from this and the many other versions of the David and Goliath story run deep, demand reflection, and move people to action.  The story asks people to stand and declare who we are and whose we are; what we believe in, and where our focus lies — a theme that mattered in ancient Israel and that still matters to people across the world today.  The David and Goliath story is set in the Book of Samuel amidst the many stories that chronicle the life of David. David’s life becomes a testament of faith, human frailty, creativity, diversity and strength, a strength that God gives David, which David uses as a boy to slay his giant and later in life to bring the tribes of Israel together, all too briefly, into the kingdom that God has called them to become.

In this course, John Ohmer, Rector at Falls Church Episcopal Church in Virginia and author of Slaying Your Goliaths: How God Can Help, offers an interpretation of this ancient story in ways that can help all of us bring ourselves to fight the Goliaths of our own lives and our own world — even the giants that seem the most invulnerable to our resistance. 

1. 7th-century Byzantine silver plate portraying the battle between David and Goliath. Artist unknown. Currently housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
2. 12th century Catulan mural portraying the battle between David and Goliath. Artist unknown. Currently housed in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Public Domain.
3. 16th century. “David with the head of Goliath.” Carvaggio. Currently housed in the Museo National del Prado in Madrid. Public Domain. 

Try ChurchNext this Summer For Free

Yes!!!Free ChurchNext,Baby!If your congregation has been considering trying ChurchNext, or you know a parish that might be interested in subscribing, tell them about a deal that we are offering this summer. We’re offering 30 days of free ChurchNext membership for any congregations that might like to try it out. Just email us at and we’ll get you started.
This means you’ll have unlimited access to the 300+ courses in our ever-growing library, including our For Individuals and For Groups classes as well as our certificate programs in Prayer Book Understanding and Vestry Leadership. You’ve got 30 days to use ChurchNext as much as you like.
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