CRAE: It’s all about disagreeing well

two girls talking with friends at a table“This event is based on a controversial assumption: we can deeply disagree with someone and yet still respect them…we can see the world in profoundly different ways and yet still recognize the other as a fellow human who is valuable and worth knowing.”

I spoke these words to a group of 40 university students to set the stage for some sacred space on a Friday night last semester.

This sacred space is called CRAE: Curiosity, Respect And Engagement (not “Conflict, Rage And Ego”!). The idea for this event began in Ottawa several years ago through the Navigator group at Carleton. I was the primary organizer for our first CRAE at McMaster, with significant help from the Power to Change and Intervarsity student groups on campus.

What is CRAE?

At CRAE, we gather people of different worldviews and perspectives together to have meaningful and respectful conversations about important life topics – this time about hope! We started by mingling and eating snacks so people could meet and get to know each other a little bit better.

To start the night’s discussion, a small group of students formed a panel and shared for about two minutes each how their particular worldview (in this case Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Agnosticism) informed their understanding of hope. We divided the room into small groups that were as diverse as possible so everyone could personally interact with those who see things differently.

When you come to CRAE, you’re not listening to experts lecture. You’re coming to share your own thoughts, experiences and perspectives.

CRAE is a way to serve the campus by providing a context for something rare and beautiful. Many people don’t have spaces to explore life’s big questions in safe and respectful environments. Or if they do, it’s with people who agree with them.

How do you disagree well?

In the age of Internet arguments, we can be tempted to demonize those with different ideas, or we pretend we all believe the same thing in order to “keep the peace.”

As a stark contrast, CRAE is all about disagreeing…and disagreeing well.

In ways that communicate respect.

In ways that express humility, accepting there are things we can and need to learn from those who are different than us.

That type of respectful dialogue is healthy…and uncommon.

One of my friends from the McMaster Climbing Club was baffled that such an event could, and did, exist. A couple other people admitted they had never put serious thought into the idea of hope before that night. Some groups got surprisingly vulnerable as people shared their disappointments and doubts—even with their own belief system!

girl in pink sweater talking with others at a table

Though the attendance wasn’t quite as high as I would have liked, and the percentage of Christians in the room was a bit too high, I heard unanimously good things as I talked to people on their way out. I am excited to see how these positive experiences build up momentum for our second CRAE event later this semester in 2020.

Furthermore, I trust God planted seeds of his Good News throughout this night. I know his Spirit was active as Christians and Navigator students welcomed friends and strangers, listened well and humbly shared about the ways Jesus gives them hope.

For one international student I talked to, this event helped stir up an increased curiosity to learn more about God. Since then, she has visited my church once (and brought a friend!) and continued connecting with the Christian friend who invited her. Please pray for her!

This article was written by Bruce Narbaitz, the leader of the Navigator campus group at McMaster University.

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