Perhaps it is because I am in the Christian ministry, but I have spent a lot of time preemptively announcing disagreement: “I don’t agree with everything <insert name of theologian/pastor/athlete/politician> says, but, I agree with what he/she says about <issue>.”
This seems especially true in the pastoral arena.
The purpose in saying such is typically to provide cover for one’s own tribe; some may wonder why another tribe-member’s eyes averted from the approved tribal reading list. I am not referring to porn mags, filthy fiction, or filling out an Alt-Right Klub application. I am referring to theology, certain philosophies, and other reading typically viewed side-eye by folks who don’t approve of anything they don’t approve of.
Like the guy who saw me reading a book not on the approved reading list (Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation, by José Míguez Bonino
Recently, however, the thought struck me: there is not one single person in the world with whom I find 100% agreement, so why the preemptive strike? In fact, here is a quick list of everyone with whom I find no disagreement:
(Technically God should be listed, but my oft disobedience signifies practical disagreement, thus the omission.)
This issue comes to mind currently because of Martin Luther King, Jr. Almost no one has more preemptive disagreement by white pastors and theologians than the slain civil rights leader. “I don’t agree with King on everything, but…” “King was wrong on a lot, but he was right on a lot, too.” “King did a lot of questionable things, but he was right on racial reconciliation.” And so on. (Such preemptive disagreement among other popular pastors and theologians is far less common.)
I variously disagree with John Piper, John Calvin, John Wesley, Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ashford, G.K. Chesterton, Fleming Rutledge, Bill Hybels, Kevin DeYoung, MLK, and, if I could finish the many unread volumes around my home and office, many more would be added to the list.
What about the writers of scripture? Few of them seem to reference extra-biblical writings, but the few who do so do not preemptively discount the connection: Paul never points out specific disagreements he has with heathen poets; the rest of his writing makes those distinctions. Nor does Jude elaborate on further agreement or disagreement when (possibly) quoting from the Book of Enoch.
The reason many of us engage in preemptive disagreement is because we fear being judged by those in our tribe. We don’t want any minister friends to think we’ve gone outside the theological fort, or left the bulwark never failing for a dying hedgerow.
There is no practical or logical reason to assume a quote implies all-out agreement with everything an author has ever written or said. I like “Beg Steal or Borrow” by Ray LaMontagne, but that does not mean I like every song he’s recorded. I have not heard most of them. An Unstoppable Force by Erwin McManus was formative for me. I disagree with him on some things, but unless I’m drawing a specific distinction there is no need to state the obvious.
I learned in college speech class that it is more powerful to find support for your position among those with whom you typically disagree than to quote people with whom you normally agree. If you want to bring people over to your point of view it is easier to convince them by plowing common ground rather than always trying to plant fallow ground.
Last year I read The Communist Manifesto, primarily because I never had. I learned some things I did not know, but I was not convinced by the thesis to become a communist. This year I plan to read the widely criticized (but scantly read) Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky. Not only will I learn what Alinsky himself advocated, but I will more easily recognize those who have no idea what the book says though they criticize it anyway. If Rules for Radicals contains valid points, I have as little compunction about quoting it as I would Forbes, The Wealth of Nations, or a Tale of Two Cities.
Saying “I don’t agree with everything he/she says…” is a wasted disclaimer. It is a given we do not agree with everyone; there is little reason to announce it. Examine the content. If it is good, use it as you need. If you disagree, well, what did you expect?
Postscript: “What happens if someone asks why I quoted <insert name of non-tribal author>? Aren’t they <insert negative political/theological position>?”
Ask why they think quoting someone means you agree with everything that person has ever said or written. Then, point out that tribalism and silo-thinking are infinitely more dangerous than quoting a heathen poet.