By: Ben McEachen
A few seconds online reveals how hard it is to discuss different opinions.
Whether you are in a Reddit thread or watching a video about Middle East conflict, disagreeing with civility and grace seems to be a dying art.
Virtually impossible, some might say.
With all due respect, one close-knit community disagrees.
Robert Menzies College (RMC), an Anglican residential college on Sydney’s Macquarie University campus, actively promotes an alternative approach.
“Jesus followers should be leading the way in this,” RMC’s Dean of Students Becky Lui said.
“If Jesus told us to love our enemies and those who persecute us (see Matthew 5:44), it’s really not that much of a stretch to love someone we disagree with.”
Being able to disagree well is something intentionally taught at RMC, home to about 300 students from 40 countries.
“When you have that much diversity and you live so closely together, you have to learn how to disagree well.”
Diversity is a Good Training Ground
With academic and pastoral support available for all residents, the culture and interaction at RMC is built upon a backdrop of getting to know each other: deeply and significantly. And that means even the stuff we can be at loggerheads about.
“To have meaningful relationships, you need to be known and you need to be loved,” Becky said. “To be known deeply, you can’t just stick to the topics that you agree on. That’s way too shallow and uncertain.
“You need to be able to know where you disagree, how you are different and that it’s safe to throw out an idea, explore it, change your mind and still be friends. There’s something lovely about knowing you disagree and knowing you’re different and that you’re still accepted and loved for who you are.”
The Socratic Club: A Safe Place to Disagree
A prominent new avenue for practicing disagreement is through the Socratic Club (named after a group led for years at Oxford Univerity, England, by CS Lewis). Started last year by scholar-in-residence Gordon Menzies, the Socratic Club is a regular gathering of students to discuss tough topics.
Rather than a debate, the emphasis is upon engaging with others who do not share your opinion or outlook.
Menzies said the best Socratic Club meeting was about abortion because conservative and progressive views were shared with respect and understanding.
While Christian insights are voiced at Socratic Club, they are not the sole or privileged contribution.
With students holding to different worldviews and religions at RMC, there is an opportunity for Christian staff and students to share their faith through conversation, not conflict.
“The Christian worldview gives a clear, considered and consistent basis on which to embrace diversity with unconditional love and acceptance,” Becky said. “As a Christian organisation with Christian staff, we can uniquely point our students to Jesus in the way we love them: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).”
Becky said that we all live in a “very interesting cultural moment”.
On one hand, our society broadly encourages being yourself – “You Do You” – and no-one should tell someone else how to live. On the other, there is “Cancel Culture” that can shut down or shame people because their version of “You Do You” is frowned upon or rejected.
RMC wants to combat such censure and corrosive interaction through sincere relationships, not programs or particular methods.
The College offers many student leadership positions, hoping to positively shape community-minded leaders in our global village.
“We are nurturing future solution builders and changemakers,” Becky said. “We can equip them with a coherent framework that leaves room for individual conscience, and space to explore their spiritual beliefs openly.”
What is being nurtured at RMC is not only available to its students.
The RMC approach of “form the person and transform the world” applies to other contexts outside the residential college’s walls.
Anyone can attempt to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, toward what so many in our world are crying out for.
“There is a deep hunger for justice, righteousness and perfection,” Becky said.
“At the same time, there is a need for mercy, forgiveness and redemption. The Bible provides that basis for inspiring people to deep compassion and radical love for your neighbour.”
“My thoughts as a Christian [is] that it is only on The Cross of Jesus that we can see those things come together perfectly.”