By Catherine Segars, Crosswalk.com
Sensitive topics abound in the current political and social climate. You don’t have to look far to find someone who is crossing a serious line in their communication. Just this week, I was accused of blasphemy in a conversation for admitting that we have a standard for the clothes our kids wear. My head is still spinning over that one.
As Christians, we want to discuss all topics with humility and grace. The Good News is that the gospel is a message of love. God loves us so much that He died for us.
But the gospel message is also offensive. It tells us that we are sinners and we need a Savior. It tells us that without God, we are hopeless. The Truths contained in the Bible are counter-cultural. They offend the pride right out of us if we’ll let them.
We need some guidelines to help us express these Truths well, as Jesus would. We must make sure that our methods always match our message.
In the latest episode of Christian Parent/Crazy World, I consider how we should communicate our beliefs in a godly way by offering six guidelines for discussing sensitive topics with our kids and others.
In order to communicate about sensitive topics in a godly way, we must:
REALLY LISTEN. Don’t just wait for the next opening so you can make your point.
Ask your child, your friend, or family member to explain his or her position. Listen intently to make sure you understand fully. Ask questions to clarify. Gracefully allow him or her to ponder the viability and logic of their opinions. If your child or friend comes to the conclusion that their idea is flawed on their own, it will be far more impacting.
And be aware, not everyone wants to have a discussion, especially online. Not everyone wants to be challenged. A lot of people want a pulpit, not a productive conversation. Not everyone cares about sound logic or reason. They may not value what you value. If they don’t, just walk away. But if they do truly want to have a discussion, then make it a point to listen.
Plant a seed, and let the Holy Spirit water it.
Then—and here’s the hard part, humbly allow the Holy Spirit to do the same in you. Recognize that no one has all the answers yet from any perspective, from any worldview. Genuinely listen to that person who has a different political or social or theological position, and consider where you might have some common ground, or where your position is weak or not fully defended (yet). This is a great way to solidify your views.
Finally, consider where you might just be wrong. It happens to all of us. Sometimes we’re mistaken. The best communicators humbly admit those mistakes.
Remember, you will never reach someone and make an impact if you aren’t truly listening to what they have to say. So, listen.
2. Respect other worldviews, beliefs, and perspectives. Don’t ridicule.
This point should be obvious, but how many of us have been in a conversation with someone where the obvious needed to be stated? Like the time in one of my Christian Facebook groups, a guy said to me, “Arguments this bad almost exclusively come from people possessing ovaries.” I’m not kidding.
Sometimes we are tempted to ridicule people, to make it personal. And we’re tempted to ridicule ideas and beliefs that we don’t understand or are not familiar with. That is unkind and unproductive. And un-Christlike.
For example, reincarnation may sound silly to your child. The idea that in a past life you may have been a cow and, if you are bad, in a future life you could be an insect, may make your child want to laugh. As Christians, we must discourage that response. We can’t reach someone with the Truth of God’s Word if we ridicule what they believe.
And remember, what we believe as Christians may sound silly to others. The idea that Jesus was born of a virgin and was crucified, buried, and resurrected—that’s “out there” for someone who doesn’t believe in God or miracles. And the practice of communion, where we symbolically eat Christ’s body and drink His blood, would sound pretty odd to someone who isn’t familiar with our faith.
We want other people to respect our beliefs and not ridicule what they don’t understand. So, we need to offer that same courtesy to others, whether we receive it or not.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matt. 7:12)
3. Don’t assume you know what someone’s motive is.
This is my biggest pet peeve when discussing sensitive topics. We may know what someone’s political, theological, or social position is, but too often we also assume that we know why they hold that position.
Judging someone’s motive is above our paygrade because we don’t know the inner workings of another person’s heart. (Sometimes we don’t even know our own.)
We are qualified to judge someone else’s actions or their ideas. In a discussion, we may respectfully challenge the efficacy of their position or the soundness of their logic. But we are NOT qualified to judge another person’s motive, and they aren’t qualified to judge ours. Only God is qualified to judge the heart. Only God can discern the why behind what someone does or believes.
So, when someone supports a candidate, a social policy, or a theological position, do not assume that you know why. Do not suggest that a person’s position makes them a… fill in the blank. Do not assume that someone’s position is rooted in ignorance or prejudice or hate.
Challenge positions—not people. In politics and social policy, allow that another person may have the same ultimate goal as you. He or she may genuinely believe a different method will better achieve that objective.
Debate the method, not the motive, because you don’t really know what motivates another person. You can only judge how effective their methods are at accomplishing the goal.
4. Be more concerned about people than your position.
With the Christian worldview, we have a position that is often, more often than not these days, diametrically opposed to our culture, to the predominant worldviews of our day. So naturally, we are starting off in a defensive position. And I believe that our position is fully defendable.
But defending our position shouldn’t be our top priority. The person in front of us should be our top priority—because that person is God’s top priority. The goal of our exchanges as Believers isn’t to win. The goal is to reach the person sitting in front of us with the love of God.
We must never prioritize our position over the people we are having a discussion with, people with whom we may disagree.
In a sensitive conversation about someone’s deeply held convictions and beliefs, remember that the person you are talking to is deeply loved by God. Don’t let their controversial beliefs or their offensive comments obscure what they really need.
And to be clear, it isn’t your enlightenment they need most—it is Christ.
Express your views in a way that glorifies the God who made you—and the God who made those who oppose you. We must not be more intent on being right than being righteous. That means we must never prioritize our position over people.
5. Speak in love while never denying truth.
In a recent article, I identified this striking dichotomy: “LOVE WITHOUT TRUTH IS A LIE. BUT TRUTH WITHOUT LOVE IS A WEAPON.”
We can speak loving words, but if we fail to share God’s truth with someone when the Lord leads, then we are speaking lies.
But the flip side of that coin is equally true—truth without love is a weapon. Some Christians bludgeon people with truth. They bloody people up with their bullhorns and sandwich board method of sharing the gospel.
Paul clearly tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that we can be right theologically and yet still be wrong if we do not love. He tells us not to weaponize the gospel by presenting it without first showing compassion. If we do, we may be right on paper, but wrong in practice.
Sometimes you will love, truly love, and you will be accused of hate. And you will stand in good company then because the Pharisees said some very untruthful things about Jesus as well. (Matt. 12:24)
But sometimes Christians can present a loving message and a loving worldview in a hateful way. And then we have completely and utterly defeated our purpose.
Love and truth are the two sides of the gospel coin. You cannot truly love someone and lie to them, but you cannot speak the truth in a hard and calloused way and expect them to receive it. People who do that are usually more concerned about being right than being righteous.
Love must always speak the truth, even if it is a hard truth. But the truth must be spoken in love in order to be effective.
6. Recognize that what persuades people isn’t an argument, it is an EXPERIENCE.
C.S. Lewis, who was the premier Christian apologist of the 20th century, came to the Christian faith in his thirties after nearly two decades of being an atheist. He had vehemently rejected the very idea of God. And while the arguments of his closest friend, J.R.R. Tolkein, of The Lord of the Rings fame, were compelling, ultimately it was not an argument that persuaded Lewis. It was an experience with the living God that changed His mind.
This what Lewis wrote about his conversion:
“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen [College, Oxford], night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me… I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
Lewis met God in his dorm room, and that encounter overcame every argument he had conjured against God. Then Lewis set out for the rest of his life to explain that experience to others, to help answer the questions that plagued their souls, to defend the logic and reason foundational to the faith he now held so dear.
We need to create fertile soil for that experience with God to happen in our kids’ lives and in the lives of those around us. Yes, answering someone’s questions is important. But what that person you are speaking with needs, what your child needs more than anything—is an experience with the living God. You can debate a topic forever, but you cannot deny an experience.
Conversing in a Christ-like manner is crucial if we want to see Godly fruit in our exchanges. These guidelines will aid you in producing that fruit in the lives of your kids and others. Most of all, ask the Holy Spirit to guide your discourse. Pray this prayer:
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:12
Image Credit: Getty/Sladic
Catherine Segars is an award-winning actress and playwright—turned stay-at-home-mom—turned author, speaker, podcaster, blogger, and motherhood apologist. This homeschooling mama of five is the host of CHRISTIAN PARENT/CRAZY WORLD, a Life Audio podcast about raising godly kids in an ungodly world, and she is matron of the Mere Mother website, which delves into critical cultural issues that affect families and marginalize mothers. Catherine helps parents navigate through dangerous secular landmines to establish a sound Biblical foundation for their kids. You can find Catherine’s blog, dramatic blogcast, and other writings at www.catherinesegars.com and connect with her on Facebook.