When it comes to getting along with others, many of us have bought into the old adage: “Never talk about religion or politics.” Well, over the past year, I made a habit of talking about both—religion and politics—in “mixed company” and (gasp!) even on the Internet. And you know what I found? More opportunities than ever to share “the reason for the Hope that is within me.” I have come to the conclusion that, not only is it possible for Christians to talk about many of our culture’s most volatile issues without losing our witness, but it is a must!
Participating in discussions about public policy issues, if done in a relaxed and insightful way, is an opportunity to engage our culture, and to connect with others at a place where they care passionately. It meets them in a spot that is both urgent and relevant to their everyday lives.
As Christians, we often say that we have more important news to tell. We feel that we don’t need to sully ourselves by entering into conversations (or debates) about “worldly” matters. But what we don’t realize is that by avoiding the issues that are foremost in people’s minds, we appear to be out of touch, unthinking, and irrelevant. By not intelligently conversing about the vital issues of our day, we allow inaccurate caricatures and stereotypes of Christians to persist.
Why should we care what they think of us?
We care because misperceptions over these issues often hamper our ability to share Christ in our current culture. “Progressives” or “unbelievers” may believe Christians are bigoted, uneducated simpletons who live in a “fantasy world” and follow their leaders with cult-like loyalty. If you think I’m overstating this, I assure you, I am not. (We too may be guilty of believing equally unfair stereotypes of “the other side.”)
If our neighbors and co-workers believe this characterization of Christians, why would they listen when we offer up advice on the most fundamental of existential truths? Why would they not believe what the culture tells them about Christians unless there is evidence to the contrary? You—their neighbor or co-worker—are that evidence!
Did you know that many of your neighbors wonder about “Christians” and would love to hear what “Christians” think about abortion, gun control, race relations, gay rights, immigration, religious liberty, and President Trump? They are quite often pleasantly surprised and relieved to hear that many of the things they’ve heard about Christians are simply not true.
Where to start.
Like anything worth attempting, your first steps may be clumsy. Don’t get discouraged if your initial efforts are “fails.” Even the best among us have those. Start having these conversations with someone who is not a relative and is not someone with whom you may already have emotional baggage. Also, these discussions should definitely take place face-to-face.
As with other important tasks, like flying a plane or building a bridge, it’s important that we not stumble in without preparation. There are quite a few articles and books that address how we can speak to each other with civility and respect. Here are a few:
Also, educate yourself on the issues. Listen to podcasts or sign up for email updates from the above authors and, of course, from NC Family.
When you’re ready to try, choose someone you feel is reasonable, frank, and not too angry. Be honest about what you’re seeking to do. Tell them you want to hear what they believe and you want to learn to better communicate what you believe. They might say no—some people are not open to this type of discussion—but that’s okay. Move along.
If you’d like a safe place to practice with others who want to learn, there are national organizations, designed to be just that.
Don’t know where to start? Start by asking questions, genuinely seeking to understand the other person’s perspective. But beware—the answers you get are likely to sting. Work hard at not taking offense. Remember, it’s valuable to know what people think about Christians. Ask more questions. And whatever you do, don’t try to win the argument. Seek understanding. Look for common ground. Ask more questions. If you find yourself getting overheated, politely end the conversation with a promise to pick it up another day. If you don’t know the answers to questions they ask you, tell them you’ll look into it and get back to them. And then make sure you do.
What you expect.
The expectations you have going into a conversation can determine whether you consider it a success, so do an honest self-assessment before you begin.
Give yourself permission.
Over the past few years, I have given myself permission to be close friends with people who believe very differently from me. The fellowship we have does not match the warmth and connection I feel with my friends who are brothers and sisters in Christ, but they are rich relationships nonetheless. I continue to pray that God would move their hearts, and that He would give me and my husband opportunities to share about our faith; and occasionally we have those conversations. But only God can move them. So in the meantime, we enjoy their company.
When we begin to address—and even embrace—discussing the difficult topics that often divide us from our neighbors, co-workers and relatives, we begin to move beyond our closed circles. We form long-lasting and meaningful relationships with people who are much different from ourselves, and quite often we are surprised to discover that we have had many opportunities to share the hope that is within us.
POVs are point of view articles from NC Family Staff and contributors.