How Not to Avoid Comfortable Conversations about Religion
Dr. James Emery WhiteJames Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
- 2014 Dec 04
There was an intriguing, but not unexpected, article on WikiHow titled “How to Avoid Uncomfortable Conversations about Religion.”
The eight pointers, just in time for the holidays, went as follows:
1. Resist the urge to argue. Instead, just smile and say, “Interesting.”
2. Meet it head on with honesty. Say, “I’m not comfortable talking about that and I’m just not willing to have this conversation.”
3. Ask them why they brought it up. If it seems trivial, or even trolling, it gets exposed and often ends.
4. Redirect the conversation. Ask about their job, children or health. Or go for the joke and say, “No thanks. I haven’t been able to talk about religion since the last time the Cubs won the World Series.”
5. Suggest a better time. This will allow you to control the environment, length of time, involved parties and other factors.
6. Excuse yourself. Go to the bathroom or greet someone else nearby.
7. Bring in another conversationalist. Ideally, one that would like to engage the conversation – then excuse yourself as they delve in.
8. Be straightforward. Tell them this is neither the time nor place for such a dialogue. Or, if you would prefer, say “I have a strict policy never to discuss religion.”
Such guidelines would no doubt be welcomed by most people including, sadly, those who follow Christ. But it is precisely having such a conversation that lies at the heart of our mission.
So what if we turned this around a bit?
As in, “How Not to Avoid Comfortable Conversations about Religion.”
Perhaps the list would run like this:
1. Don’t argue, just contend. There is a difference between debating and contending. Debating can quickly become a game of winning; contending is trying to make points and plant seeds in a winsome and compelling way.
2. Be honest about the role of faith in your life. If you are a Christian, then be one, and let them deal with the weight of it. It’s actually the most attractive and intriguing thing about you.
3. Ask them why they have rejected it. If someone dismisses something like Christianity, simply ask them “why?” Let them share, and let the conversation take the natural route their sharing leads.
4. Redirect the conversation away from trite, flippant, dismissals of Christianity. For example, if they bring up hypocrisy, simply say you agree with the repugnant nature of it, and so did Jesus – and that the heart of the Christian faith is Jesus, not those who pretend to follow Him.
5. Suggest a time to talk more about it. It’s so easy to say, “I’d love to hear more about your thinking. Would you be game for a coffee so that I could hear more about your beliefs?”
6. Excuse yourself from fringe and inflammatory expressions of Christianity. Many will want to try and tie you to one or another “pop-culture” denigrations of faith (think Westboro Baptist “God Hates Fags” signs at funerals). Don’t let them.
7. Bring in someone with the spiritual gift of evangelism. There is nothing more strategic than tag-teaming with someone at a party who has the gift of evangelism and can carry forward a strategic conversation. It’s called a “Matthew Party” (based on Matthew throwing a party, inviting all his very lost friends, but also inviting Jesus).
8. Be straightforward. If the WikiHow list suggests you tell them this is neither the time nor place for such a dialogue, or “I have a strict policy never to discuss religion,” consider being equally straightforward. Such as, “If you know anything about the Christian faith, and our belief in not only heaven but hell, how much would I have to hate you not to proselytize?”
The point is that conversations about Jesus lie at the heart of everything we are trying to do on this planet. Yes, we pursue social justice, compassion for the poor, care for the widow and the orphan, and more.
But where someone spends eternity is everything. Which means it’s worth a conversation or two.
Comfortable or not.
James Emery White
“How to Avoid Uncomfortable Conversations about Religion,” WikiHow, read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.