Animals have all kinds of defense mechanisms. The skunk sprays its lovely scent, the porcupine is covered in sharp quills, the opossum plays dead and one of the defense mechanisms of the Christian is a phrase. This phrase is one I’ve seen many people utter. It is a phrase I’ve heard from the pulpit, read in Facebook statuses, and have said and written myself.
The phrase is “I don’t agree with everything [insert person] says or does…” and it usually proceeds a quote or a accompanies a sharing of a blog or a blog post. Now you may say that this isn’t a defense mechanism, but I’m not sure I buy it. At least I know that’s the reason I’ve used it.
I want to share something from a person who is a bit controversial to some groups, so I qualify it in order to create distance and yet still be able to share what I thought was good. You don’t go into specifics and you leave those who may hear or see the quote you share to guess what views you share and what views you don’t. This all seems clever enough, but I’ve grown uncomfortable with the usage of this phrase.
The main reason is this, I’m not sure that I agree with anyone completely. If I were to be completely transparent and honest I’d have to give that disclaimer to anyone I quote or any post I share. I can’t really think of anyone off the top of my head that I agree with on every aspect of every topic. The funny thing is that would probably include myself. As I look back on things I’ve written or views I’ve held in the past there are places that I have changed. So it seems like it would be redundant to say this phrase since it would probably apply to most everyone, and not just a few who may be a bit controversial in some sections of Christianity.
Another reason is that often people can make controversy out of things that aren’t really all that controversial. I felt like this was the case when Rob Bell released the book Love Wins. I understood some of the discomfort people had, but felt that people blew the book way out of proportion. I also recently read A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans and found that the controversy this book produced was even more unwarranted (I’ll speak to that more when I give my thoughts on the book). The controversy that these books created are a problem in my mind. Let me explain why.
Imagine this scenario. A Christian fires up a website or opens a magazine to read a review of a new book written by a particular author. The review winds up being very critical of the work and decreeing it to be very controversial, dangerous or maybe even “heretical”. This very negative review causes people to avoid the book and think poorly about it without even reading it. A pastor or blogger then quotes that author and winds up getting complaints or push back, even though said people may have never even read the book in question or maybe anything at all by the author.
This whole cycle is caused by that initial review. Now it is always possible the critiques are accurate and well done, but it is also possible that the critiques are over done and sometimes the main point of the work is missed in the greater scheme of things. The bottom line though, is that the disagreement is based on critical reviews, not on reading the book ourselves and trying to read what the author actually wrote. We disagree simply because someone else told us it was wrong. The sad thing about this scenario is that I think it works like this more often than not.
If we actually tried to read it we may agree that it is wrong. We might think that certain parts were wrong and others were quite enjoyable or that there were a number of good points made. Maybe we even find ourselves agreeing with a large portion of the book, or at least finding it rather tame and not worthy of such hubbub. Regardless, I think that in reading the authors we are actually able to disagree, and agree, with them more beneficially than simply parroting the responses of someone else.
I guess the combination of not agreeing with anyone completely and that sometimes the disagreement can be so trumped up and exaggerated makes me dislike the environment that produces the need for such a phase. That we have to qualify ourselves to death like this doesn’t seem very healthy, at least if we’re simply using it as a defense mechanism.
It is always possible that there are other reasons for using it, but as I’ve said that’s the main reason I’ve used it and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Of course you can feel free to disagree with me. What do you think about using “I don’t agree with everything [insert person] says or does…” to qualify things? Is it a phrase you simply use to deflect the naysayers or do you think it can serve another purpose?