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Learning to Disagree - Engage with others that you disagree with

Learning to Disagree - Engage with others that you disagree with

We sat down with author John Inazu to discuss his new book Learning to Disagree and how he thinks pastors can use his book as a tool to help their congregations navigate our current cultural climate, where it seems we've lost the ability to talk, worship and live in community with people with whom we may disagree. 

What is this book about?

Learning to Disagree follows a year in my life as a law professor. Its story-based format canvasses a range of challenging issues, including critical race theory, religion and patriotism, campus protests, and clashes over religious freedom. The anecdotes, characters, and ideas help readers learn to engage more charitably and thoughtfully with people whose beliefs and viewpoints they may find unfamiliar, off-putting, or even dangerous.

The stories raise fundamental human inquiries, like searching for empathy in uncertainty, struggling to discern what’s fair, and asking what happens when compromise isn’t possible. So really, this book isn’t just about law. It’s about holding in tension clarity and ambiguity, tolerance and judgment, confidence and uncertainty. It’s about what each of us confronts in our daily encounters with others who differ from us. The book’s tone and substance will appeal broadly to nonpartisan and less partisan readers—an enormous segment of our population too often ignored by books and media outlets aimed at fueling the culture wars or shoring up the ideological extremes.

Why did you write this book? 

My goal with this book was to model and inspire a different kind of engagement for people in their workplaces, neighborhoods, and even family interactions. Too much of our disagreement today has become unhealthy and even destructive. Our surrounding culture has moved from thinking the other side is wrong to thinking the other side is evil. This is a dangerous shift—wrong holds out the possibility of persuasion; evil leads us either to disengage or win at all costs. We need to reorient the ways we interact and engage with one another.

I wrote Learning to Disagree to illustrate ways to engage across difference with charity, curiosity, and humility so that people can start to practice these postures in actual relationships and begin to model healthy disagreement. This involves recognizing the limits to our own knowledge and understanding and embracing the likelihood that we won’t be able to convince everyone who thinks differently than us why we’re right and they’re wrong. That means sticking with conversations—and relationships—even when they get difficult. I hope that the stories in Learning to Disagree will show that it’s possible to distinguish people from the ideas that they hold and to model empathy even when people disagree about important issues.

Why should pastors engage with this book?

As we head into a contentious and contested election season, pastors will increasingly confront disagreement and hostility from the people in their lives: their congregants, neighbors, and perhaps even family members. Now is the time to learn how to engage better across disagreement and how to model this mode of engagement for others. Learning to Disagree isn’t a how-to guide, and it doesn’t offer a quick fix, but I hope it will start you down the right path to build bridges in our divided and often angry culture.

If there is an antidote to our growing animosity, a way to disagree better, I think it lies in civic actions that are at the same time simple and extraordinary: forgiving others, admitting our own faults, tolerating disagreement, and listening patiently. None of these actions happen naturally or quickly. You have to work at them. The kinds of intentional habits, practices, and dispositions we need to disagree better—and, really, to live better—will require us to act in the world in big and small ways over and over again, even when it’s hard, and even when we don’t think “the other side” is trying hard enough. Pastors and the congregations they lead have an opportunity to model this kind of engagement to the larger world.


This book is meant to be read with other people. The practical insights and memorable illustrations can be used in sermon preparation, small group discussions, and individual conversations. The reflection guide included at the end of the book will help frame discussions in small groups or adult education classes.