In the summer of 2017, Harper’s Bazaar ran an article with the blunt title “If You are Married to a Trump Supporter, Divorce Them.” The author, Jennifer Wright, reasoned, “Supporting Trump at this point does not indicate a difference of opinions. It indicates a difference of values.” She continued, “Values are not like hobbies or interests. They don’t change over time, and they more or less define who you are.”
Wright’s article, while offering terrible advice, gets to the heart of an issue that many people are dealing with. The political and social rancor of the last few years has divided marriages, friendships, and families. In 2018, The Intelligencer reported that over one-third of 1,000 people reported in a survey that they had cut ties with a friend or family member over politics. The old adage “don’t discuss politics or religion” has evaporated, as it seems that politics is the only thing we talk about anymore. Only, we don’t talk to each other about it. Instead we talk at each other, throwing out barbs on social media.
What do we do then when Thanksgiving and Christmas rolls around? We have to sit at the table with family members who share political beliefs that we find abhorrent. We can’t mute them or unfollow them. They’re right in front of us. We’re torn between nodding politely in hopes that they will not talk for long and lashing out in hopes that they might see the foolishness of their beliefs and change them.
How can we have conversations about controversial issues with family members that bring more light than heat? How do we talk about difficult matters when it seems that we cannot even agree on an established set of facts? Is there a way to discuss our differences like adults who follow Jesus or must we bring the social media-like schoolyard bullying to the dinner table?
Here are three questions that you should ask before you engage in political conversations with your relatives over the holidays.
Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Monkey Business Images
1. Are My Words Necessary?
The first question we must ask is whether what we want to say should be said at all. This can be difficult in a culture that encourages us to give full vent to our feelings without any consideration to how they might affect other people. However, for followers of Jesus, we must consider whether our words are necessary in the moment.
In Ephesians 4:29, the Apostle Paul said, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth, but only as such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” We will deal with other aspects of this verse later in this post, but first consider the words “as fits the occasion.” The Apostle warned us to think about whether our words fit the moment. We may say things that are true and helpful, but they may not fit the moment. We need wisdom to discern if the time is right or not.
The writer of Proverbs gave what we might find to be contradictory advice on the surface, but when we dig deeper, we find that he provided a helpful grid for evaluating the wisdom of speaking up at a particular moment. In Proverbs 26:4-5, Solomon said, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.”
Solomon’s main point calls for discernment on our part. Sometimes we should not respond to another person’s foolish proclamations because we would be getting down on their level and partaking in their foolishness. Other times, we must speak up because the other person holds proud and foolish ideas, which we must refute for their own good. Choosing between the Proverbs 26:4 route and the Proverbs 26:5 route is a matter of wisdom, experience, and the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Undefined Undefined
2. Are My Words True?
Not only should we ask ourselves if our words are necessary, we should also ask if they are true. This is the first and most important aspect of any discussion. Christians care about the truth and our words should be true. God never lies, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and the Bible is true. Therefore, Christians never need to resort to lies, distortions, or “alternative facts” to make their case.
This means that we should have our facts straight. Before we open our mouths to engage in a political discussion, we need to have researched the topic by reading a number of accurate sources. Then, we should read people who disagree with our conclusions so that we can see if there are holes in our thoughts about an issue. Once we are convinced we know facts, then we can have strong convictions about an issue.
The beauty of facts is that they are not conservative or liberal. Facts are facts. If a person you are talking to refuses to listen to facts, then you know that you are in a Proverbs 26:4 situation. At the same time, introducing facts into a heated discussion can help someone in the way that Proverbs 26:5 describes.
Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Deagreez
3. Are my words gracious and helpful?
When we return to Ephesians 4:29, we find that Paul laid out a paradigm for filtering every word that we speak. He said, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth, but only as such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” We understand what Paul meant by “corrupting talk” by looking at its opposite. While there should be “no corrupting talk” echoing from our mouths, we should speak words that build up, fit the occasion, and give grace. This helps us understand that the “corrupting talk” we should avoid is that which tears down, doesn’t fit the occasion, and lays down stumbling blocks in the paths of our hearers.
Instead, Christians speak words that are intended to encourage other people and that show them grace. We should not confuse encouraging speech with handing out “atta boys.” Encouraging speech is that which helps another person to grow; it builds them up. Therefore, disagreeing with something foolish another person says can be a form of encouragement. It is not good for them to hold on to foolish ideas, so you are correcting them so they might believe what is right and true.
The question here is an issue of motivation. Why are you saying what you are saying? Are you speaking because you are sick of hearing foolish opinions and it makes you feel better to “set everyone straight?” Or, are you offering a contrary opinion because you know that the other person’s foolishness will ultimately hurt them and the people around them? Are you speaking for their good and the good of others? Or, are you speaking to give vent to your frustrations? The answer to those questions will help you determine if you should speak and how you should speak. We have received grace, so we speak to give grace.
We don’t have to avoid discussions about difficult issues around the dinner table this holiday season. We only have to learn to have difficult discussions like followers of Jesus who care about both the truth and the souls of the people we are speaking to.
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”
Photo courtesy: Cottonbro/Pexels