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How to safely discuss faith and politics with family this holiday season

Unsplash/Jed Owen
Unsplash/Jed Owen

There is a Grand Canyon-sized generation gap in America today. Nowhere is it more evident than at a family gathering. If you’re an evangelical parent or grandparent, chances are you have loved ones who don’t share your Christian beliefs — especially if they’re millennials or Gen Zers.

How do you respond to those who find fault with evangelical, conservative views? Here are some ideas on how to navigate those difficult conversations this holiday season, without alienating your loved ones.

Begin with self-reflection
Before we can give an answer for the hope that lies within us, we have to ask whether we are clinging to a biblical hope or a false political doctrine. Are we first of all Americans, or Heaven’s citizens? Do we spend as much energy and time in knowing and serving Jesus as we do in getting caught up in the political news?

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In short, do we have a true biblical hope or a political hope? Unless it’s the former, we aren’t going to have good answers.

Admit the truth

If you’ve been guilty of conflating your politics and your faith, confess it. If family members express hurt and disillusionment from political encounters they’ve had with nasty Christians, express sorrow for what they’ve encountered and agree with them that it wasn’t right. 

Put the other person on the same page with Jesus

Let them know that they are standing with Jesus when it comes to religion and politics. Jesus was constantly being pushed to set up a political kingdom by His disciples. The crowds wanted him to overthrow the Romans and establish a Jewish Messianic kingdom on this Earth. But Jesus would have none of it.

Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar what is his, and unto God what is his” [Matthew 22:15-22]. He kept religion and state as separate spheres. He was a Jew, but not a Zionist. He wasn’t as concerned about nation building as he was about the whole world. In that sense, he was a globalist — but only in so far as he was about the business of getting people to Heaven. 

So yes, your family member is right to fault Christians and churches when they put politics ahead of the Gospel of Jesus. By putting your loved one on the same page with Jesus, you have already brought them a step closer to our Lord. And that’s the point: not to win the argument, but to win them to Christ. 

Distinguish nominal evangelicals from true evangelical Christians

The Far Right uses an acronym to make fun of moderate or liberal Republicans: RINO — Republican in Name Only. We might add another acronym: CHINO — Christian in Name Only.

A recent Pew Research study shows that a high percentage of people who self-identified as evangelicals have seldom or never attended church, and most are functionally illiterate about biblical facts and values. Therefore, not everyone who self-identifies as Christian, and acts unseemly or un-Christian in public forums, is a true Christian.

We have to separate organized religion from true Christianity, which is based on a vibrant personal relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Emphasize that policies and character matter

Many young people cannot figure out why their Christian parents or grandparents can vote for ethically-challenged politicians who carry personal baggage. We need to point out biblical facts in our rebuttal: we are living in Babylon, and are not called to build a Christian nation.  We should vote for the “Babylonian” that we feel will help bring about prosperity for our family and the peace that allows us to share the Gospel.  

We also agree that we should not remain silent about any actions by our national leaders that are immoral, corrupting to our national ethos, or harmful to our future. We have a prophetic role as the Church and it is a dereliction of duty for Christian leaders to remain silent in the face of wrongs, whether they are committed by Republicans or Democrats. Certainly, we must never fawn over these leaders or become their mouthpieces.

Remember that many great Christians are not focused on the political gospel

We can acknowledge the good things churches are doing without completely excusing the mistakes they make. Point out great Christians who are making a difference in the world through their good deeds. 

Take your loved one to Matthew 25 where Jesus lays out the description of pure and unselfish faith: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was a stranger and you took me in, I was in prison and you came to see me.” 

Show how so many more Christians are doing those things than the few crazies that get the press coverage.

It’s all in the delivery

Remember, St. Peter said that we should give our answers with respect and gentleness.  Dialogue is always better than a didactic, one-way conversation. We should listen more than we talk. Particularly, we should listen with our eyes in order to “hear” their hearts. Also, listen to their opinions. You might actually learn something.

We should always come from a place of weakness. Self-deprecation always beats coming on bombastically, as if you have all the answers. Humility will get you further than arrogance. We are not called to defend the gospel as much as to share it. The end of every conversation we have with another person is to somehow move them a little closer to Jesus.

Finally, let me repeat something we often say at Legacy imperative: What should it profit you if your family members become flag-waving, patriotic, pro-life, heterosexual, capitalist, conservatives and lose their souls?  

Dr. Robert “Bob” Petterson is an author, speaker, former pastor and founder of the Legacy Imperative, a ministry devoted to inspiring and mobilizing grandparents, parents and other advocates for Millennials and Generation Z to evangelize and disciple their loved ones who are far from the Christian faith. He has earned a Doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary and has served as East Coast president of Mastermedia International, but would consider his most vital role as that of grandfather.

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