Why Can’t We Agree to Disagree?

Recently a delegate that participated in the election of the Western Jurisdiction’s practicing homosexual bishop used that term numerous times to defend his voting position. I must confess that every time he said it my stomach knotted up.

I’m not the fastest race car on the track at figuring things out, so I decided to peruse the internet to figure out why the use of that phrase bothered me. Lo and behold, the internet search yielded some wonderful information from various psychology and conflict resolution websites.

Agreeing to disagree is a form of conflict resolution whereby both parties tolerate, but do not accept the opposite view. Frequently both parties must continue to work together; when this happens the next step involves some type of compromise. Trust is a foundation stone in all relationships. Each party must trust the other to follow through if the compromise is to be effective.

An example:

 Two friends differ on a political issue. Each feels strongly but realizes continuing discussion could ruin their friendship. They now ‘agree to disagree’ but must reach a compromise if they want to continue their friendship. They decide that this particular issue will no longer be discussed.

After a compromise is reached the ‘agreeing to disagree’ remains valid so long as both parties adhere to the compromise. If one party violates the compromise in an attempt to force their viewpoint on the other then there can no longer be an ‘agreement to disagree’.

Back to our two friends:

They decide to meet for dinner, but one bring along a like minded ‘expert’ to show the other person the error of their ways. The compromise is violated because one friend has demonstrated he cannot be trusted. If there is no trust there can no longer be an ‘agreement to disagree’. Most likely the friendship is ruined.

Okay, let’s address the practicing homosexuality issue:

At the United Methodist General Conference two groups had differing opinions with the Book of Discipline’s stance on practicing homosexuality. Neither side to accede to the other’s position.


A compromise was reached whereby the top legislative assembly would create a commission to study church regulations (within the next two years rather than wait four years). The compromise vote was passed with a rough split of 51-49 in favor. The compromise was not popular, based on the voting split, however it did pass.

We have now ‘agreed to disagree’ and a compromise has been reached.

Back to the practicing homosexuality issue:

Unfortunately, one group decided to violate the compromise. Rather than wait for the committee’s report, they decided to move forward and elect a practicing homosexual bishop in order to ‘push the issue’. The compromise was violated because one group demonstrated they could not be trusted.  If there is no trust there can no longer be an ‘agreement to disagree’.

From the psychology and conflict resolution websites:

  • If your will triumphs over your partner’s, at first you may experience some satisfaction, but in the process you’ve inadvertently turned your partner into an adversary. So, finally it’s a Pyrrhic victory: the cost to your relationship far exceeding the initial reward of your success.
  • Moreover, when you lock horns in the effort to bait, badger, or otherwise argue your partner out of their preferences, you’re telling them in so many words that your personal wants and needs have higher priority, are more worthwhile, than theirs. And, realistically, how could a secure, loving attachment ever emerge from such a “me first” interpersonal stance?

Personally, I did not like the compromise solution but was willing to abide by it before deciding whether or not I could remain a United Methodist. Unfortunately, the other group felt their needs had a higher priority and their needs were more worthwhile. After demonstrating that they cannot be trusted there is no possibility for me to ‘agree to disagree’.

I finally understood why my stomach knotted up every time I heard the delegate repeating ‘why can’t we just agree to disagree’. It was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

2 thoughts on “Why Can’t We Agree to Disagree?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reload Image