In a recent study by Barna, a plurality of nonbelievers reported negative feelings after encountering a Christian sharing their faith. It’s not hard for us to see why. We’re in a stage of public discourse that feeds on anger and outrage more than respect and dialogue. So how can Christians interject into this space with a spirit of peace and compassion? Here are three tips to help your conversations keep a gracious and respectful tone.
Proactively remove yourself from an echo chamber
It is very frustrating to watch the abundance of straw man fallacies and ungracious characterizations between debaters. This is partially a heart problem. As humans, we always have and always will struggle with pride. But we also have a tendency to surround ourselves with people we agree with. The farther we are removed from a diversity of opinions, the more likely we are to misunderstand them, and misrepresent them. This is one of many reasons why it is worthwhile to nurture relationships with people you disagree with. Not only does relationship give you more opportunities to bring others to Christ, but it will help you think more carefully about your own views.
But didn’t Paul tell us not to be unequally yoked to nonbelievers?
Paul does say not to be unequally yoked to nonbelievers in 2 Corinthians, but in 1 Corinthians he says, in reference to withdrawing from Christians in the context of church discipline, “not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.” All relationship is not unequally yoking – your closest relationships (such as close mentors and your spouse) should share your faith, but that is not the same as cutting off all nonbelievers.
Avoid unnecessarily offensive language
Part of “being all things to all men” includes being careful with your words. But rather than being careful with our language, we are often concerned with being right. That can result in saying, for example, “the homosexual agenda is infiltrating our culture.” The word “agenda” is only ascribed to promotion of views that the speaker believes is evil, so if you are speaking to someone who doesn’t share your view, all they are going to hear is how you have marked them as the enemy. If instead you affirm your love for all people, then speak to the morality of sexual acts as revealed by scripture, the conversation will still be difficult, but not as polarizing as the first example.
Isn’t this just political correctness? And what about the cross of Christ causing offense?
The cross of Christ is certainly a cause of offense, but that doesn’t spring from the apostles preaching as offensively as possible. It simply comes from the truth. We would do well to remember Paul’s words: “Speak the truth in love.”
Affirm your opponent wherever you can
When Paul went before the pagans on Mars Hill in Acts 17, he didn’t lead with temple prostitution or polytheism or any other host of potential issues. Instead, he started with “I perceive that you are very religious,” and used that as a jumping off point. It’s clear that we will talk about the points we disagree with believers on – in a sense, that’s our goal. But starting on common ground with someone (as opposed to quoting scripture when they don’t believe it) can be very helpful. For example, when talking about relativism, you could say “It seems like you care a lot about injustice, and I think that’s great. Have you ever thought about where justice comes from if naturalism is true?” That’s much more inviting than “Because you’re an atheist, you can’t tell me rape is objectively wrong.”
With these methods, I hope you will have more gracious and fruitful conversations in order to make Christ Clear to those in your life.
Logan Judy is a Christian blogger and science fiction author with a Batman complex. At A Clear Lens, he focuses on worldview analysis and pop culture, as well as co-hosting the A Clear Lens Podcast. In addition to his work on the ACL website and podcast, he is also the founder of Cross Culture, the host of the Cross Culture Podcast, and the author of three novels. He tweets @loganrjudy about writing, apologetics, entertainment, parenting, and Batman.