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!

Now is the Time to Address Racial Justice

Given the events of Charlottesville, VA and beyond we in the church have a stellar opportunity to organize some healing conversations.

White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville

As public interest pans to the nagging racial inequities and injustices, here are some ChurchNext resources to help us organize helpful conversations and hopefully positive changes.  For ChurchNext fans, you may remember we recently produced an entire series on the topic. Thanks to the work of Trinity Wall Street in New York, and their 2016 conference, Listen for a Change, we were able to assemble a helpful series of online learning classes

These include Spirituality and Racial Justice with Michael Curry, available in two formats, For Individuals and For Groups.

There are four more classes that are equally helpful:

Whiteness and Racial Justice with Kelly Brown Douglas, available in two formats, For Individuals and For Groups;

Racism and Racial Justice with Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, in both For Individuals and For Groups formats;

Reparation and Racial Justice with Jennifer Harvey, in both For Individuals and For Groups formats

Theology and Racial Justice with J. Kameron Carder, in both For Individuals and For Groups formats.

We join the vast majority of Americans in their downright hatred for racial injustice and pray that we who follow Jesus may be better equipped to address this pressing issue.

Announcing Another Free Big Class…

Bacon Hauer New


America’s Theologian and Social Activist to Teach Free, Online Course

“Faithful Dissent:
Loving Our Way into a Brighter Tomorrow
with Ed Bacon and Stanley Hauerwas”

Open to anyone in the world September 11-25
Register Today

August 21, 2017, BLOOMFIELD HILLS, MI – On September 11-25, 2017 a free, worldwide, online course will be offered to the world. Ed Bacon, author and former rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Pasadena, CA, and Stanley Hauerwas, a Duke University ethicist whom TIME Magazine called America’s theologian, will teach a free, online course called Faithful Dissent: Loving Our Way into a Brighter Tomorrow with Ed Bacon and Stanley Hauerwas. Students will be able to sign up for free and take this 45-minute, pre-recorded course with thousands of students around the world, anytime for a two-week period.

“We live in increasingly divisive times,” says Bacon, “As Christ’s reconcilers in the world, we are called to act in ways that bring Christ’s love for the marginalized into the public sphere.” Bacon, the retired rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, led his congregation to take political action on many issues. This contrasts with ethicist Stanley Hauerwas’ who says dissent is primarily a stance Christians take in opposition to the world. “Christ calls us to be witnesses,” he says, “this is how the world knows it’s the world.”

“Faithful Dissent” is a series of video lectures, quizzes, and discussions aimed at helping us learn how to faithfully disagree. No special software is required. It will take an average learner about 45 minutes to complete. Registration is free and open to all. Click here for more information and to register or go to > Menu > The Big Class.

You can register for the course right now, but it will not be available to take until Monday, September 11. It will remain open and free through Monday, September 25 – that means you can take it for free anytime, 24/7, during that time period. If you register today we’ll send you an email to remind you.

This course comes to us free thanks to the generosity of: The Episcopal Church, Forward Movement, FORMA,  Duke Divinity School, and ChurchNext.

Want to take The Big Class with a Group?

We want to help!  So we’ve assembled some materials to assist you in publicizing and leading this class in a congregational setting.  First off, we have a guide for you, it’s called a Launch Plan for Congregations. In it you will find helpful information to assist you leading this class in a small group setting.

Also, you may want some help publicizing The Big Class, so we’ve put together this  Poster, and Bulletin Inserts.  Let us know if there’s any other way we can help by contacting us at

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.