Recently, I was on a zoom call with a great Christian friend, who asked how he could have better conversations this Thanksgiving with his family and friends, who come from different political views.
The election is over (depending on who you talk to). But I don’t expect the controversies and strong opinions to end anytime soon. So, this Thanksgiving, if you do gather in person, how should followers of Jesus engage in conversations around faith and politics, with both fellow Christians and non-Christians?
Thought #1: Die to the goal of trying to convince the other person you are right and they are, or were wrong.
Ask yourself, when is the last time you convinced someone what they believe politically was wrong? And you’re not going to do it this Thanksgiving either. So die to that idea. We ought to have a higher purpose. To demonstrate that followers of Jesus are thoughtful, teachable and humble.
A wonderful Christian friend of mine decided to vote for Biden. He showed me what I can only describe as “hate mail” from his “Christian” friends. And I’ve heard the same from Trump supporters, who’ve received ugly emails and texts from “Christians” along the lines of “I cannot believe anyone who supports Trump, can call themselves Christians.” You’ve probably heard those insults thrown around as well. I cannot believe Jesus would ever condone dialoging with fellow Christians that way.
Here are some helpful ideas:
Die to the temptation to respond, when your liberal niece, or your conservative dad blurts out some off the wall idea.
Be the peacemaker. If the tension gets high, you be the one to suggest a change in subject.
Resist the temptation to defend your candidate or your party on every point.
Here’s the point; how we discuss what we believe is almost more important than the substance of the discussion, when it comes to politics. Making Jesus proud of me and conducting myself with kindness and respect, trumps winning a political argument.
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10
Thought #2: Make every attempt to understand the other person’s point of view, by asking honest questions.
In far too many conversations I’ve been in, if you show any sympathy for any argument or virtue for the other side, you are seen as unloyal to your side.
In practical terms, that means, looking for anything positive in the party or candidate you may oppose. Surely there has to be some policy or proposed law, or the way a candidate conducts himself/herself that you can acknowledge as positive.
Likewise, there has to be some policies the party, or candidate you support, that troubles you. Just admitting those things to a friend or family member will go a long way toward lowering the temperature in the room. Words like “always” or “never,” rarely do. I try to remind myself all the time, I could be wrong. Christians, more than any other, ought to understand how sin can deceive us.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19
Thought #3: Play the “long game”
Think about your relationship with this person and where you want it to be years from now. Sometimes we need to bite our tongue to preserve a friendship, to be able to have a lifetime of influence on them. Not compromise, but discretion. We don’t have to win every battle to win the war.
I have a close friend, who is not a Christian, with some very strongly held ideas. My greatest fear for him is not that they hold those ideas. I fear for his salvation. I’ve made it clear to him what I believe about his views and why I hold to mine, but then I’ve let it go. The relationship is far more valuable to me than an issue.
“Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:4-6
Thought #4: When conversing with non-Christians, make sure they understand, what “faith” means to you. More often than not, when non-Christians hear or use the term “faith,” they understand it to mean something very different than I do. Here’s how I like to frame the conversation:
“By the way, when I use the term ‘faith,’ I don’t mean attending church, religion or wishful thinking about God. My faith is a worldview based on the Bible, that doesn’t just inform my choices, it is the moral and ethical constitution by which I must make my choices. True Christians can do no other. That means I’m a Christian first, and an American second, in how I think about moral and ethical choices.”
The reason I want them to know what faith means to me, is because I want them to know, that on many moral or ethical issues, I don’t always have a choice. As Martin Luther once said when taking his stand against the Catholic Church, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
So, that was my advice to my friend. If you have other ideas, we’d all love to hear them. To have civil, thoughtful conversations, will require much thought and prayer. Consider making this pre-decision. Actually think about what your brother-in-law, is likely to say and how you will respond, even the body language you’ll use, when he does. Rolled eyes are off limits!
If you’ll allow me, I’m shamelessly recommending the free website designed by our grandson Max, Civil (https://www.civilmedia.io/) to help you have a Civil and joyful Thanksgiving.