Seven suggestions on how to talk to friends and family during national outrage, impending mail-in-ballot chaos, and a lingering pandemic.
On several occasions, CG Leaders have requested a guide on how to approach conversations coming out of the GR&J sermon series. We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on talking within Midtown, but what about talking to loved ones outside of Midtown?
Whether they are on the extreme right or radical left, whether they claim Christ or not, we pray these points would calm your hearts and center your minds.
1. Jesus isn’t asking you to change hearts or minds.
The pressure is off! Sometimes we believe that if we can just change this person’s mind, we’ll undo centuries of racism on this continent. Maybe it’s not that extreme, but a lesser version is thinking that it’s on our shoulders to “fix our friends and family.” Remember - the deepest human problem resides in the heart where only Jesus has the power to change.
2. Your standing and value isn’t diminished by what they believe.
Guilt pronounces, “you’ve done something wrong,” but shame whispers, “there is something wrong with you.” Sometimes this shame is the result of things we’ve done, but we can also experience shame as a result of people close to us (remember how Mulan was worried about her actions bringing shame on her family?)
So this is an essential point to consider - is there any ounce of shame that I feel as a result of the beliefs of my lifelong friends or family? In trying to change their minds/hearts, am I actually trying to cleanse my shame and prove my purity? And if we’re really honest, is the reason I get so upset less about justice and more about me being justified? Remember - the Gospel has already cleansed us of our shame so we are freed to move towards them in love.
3. Sometimes what you say is less important than how you say it.
Read and consider the first two verses of Proverbs 15. Verse 1 says, “a gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” Note the emphasis on the way the words are spoken. Verse 2 follows, “the tongue of the wise makes knowledge attractive, but the mouth of fools blurts out foolishness.” The way you speak can turn down the emotional temperature and make Truth beautiful. On the other hand it, it can also create more anger and make the conversation much more difficult.
Side note - you should assume everyone reads what you write online. Don’t make these conversations more difficult by indulging in cathartic Twitter rants. You will burn bridges and build walls before you even say, “hello.”
4. Ask heart questions. Share your heart, too.
In our calmer moments, we know sin and pride are at the root of hatred, bigotry, and racism. But in the heat of the moment, we believe if we just lob enough facts and their faces, eventually, they’ll be won over through brute force of logic. Let’s say your uncle has racist ideas about black people, Asians, or Latinos; and sure, you could tag him in Facebook posts and email him articles, there is certainly a time for education. But maybe, before you get to education, you start with genuine questions that get beneath the surface. Sharing your own journey is a great place to start.
5. Pray twice as much as you prep.
Like a prosecuting attorney prepping for the big trial, when we know we’ve got a contentious conversation coming up we try to cram as many facts and figures into our brains as possible. The problem with this is lawyers are trying to bring about a guilty verdict, but we’re trying to extend the truth in love. Having data to back up our convictions is a good thing, but for every article you read, pray twice as long - not only for their hearts but for yours, too.
6. Confront belligerent racism with the truth in love.
Sometimes someone will say something so egregious, that the best thing to do is halt the conversation to shine a light on what was just said. This takes wisdom to know when this needs to happen, but here are a few considerations. First, who’s listening? If you are one-on-one, you may choose to continue engaging for the sake of uncovering the sin. But if there is someone present who is being hurt by their words, it might be the most loving thing to end the conversation and affirm the hurt party. Second, are you engaging in an honest conversation, or are they merely using this as an opportunity to speak hate and anger? If you determine it’s taken a turn in the latter direction, there is probably no more fruit in the conversation.
7. Know when to avoid these conversations altogether.
It takes wisdom to know how to navigate these conversations. But it also takes wisdom to discern if these are conversations worth entering at all. Proverbs calls us to discern whether or not we should answer a fool according to his folly (Proverbs 26:4–5). And later in Ecclesiastes, we are warned that those who dig pits should be forewarned their work could turn into their demise, and those who blindly stick their hands into a wall might get bitten by a snake (Ecc. 10:8). In other words, your conversations may have unintended consequences that do you more harm than do the other person any good. Some may push back saying your silence equals violence, but the Bible suggests it may just mean you’re wise.