Changing Minds in a Broken Culture
Anyone else been so disheartened by the egregious diatribes and polarized views of America this past year or two? Civil discourse used to be a staple of American life, with participants holding opposing views, of course, but still maintaining basic respect for the people on the other side, even if not their beliefs. Contempt and angry hatred now appear to characterize “conversations” about politics or world views or religious beliefs.
So how do we Christians participate? How do we address views we deeply disagree with, even among our own family of faith? First, we listen. James clearly instructs us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” (1:19) That means “slow to Tweet” also. A recent article in Christianity Today, “A Lesson in Listening,” cites studies which delve into “confirmation bias,” the phenomenon where people perceive their own biases reinforced by articles, books, news, etc. that they read. Our own biases make it hard for us to hear what the other person is saying. We often make assumptions based on stereotypes or media-influenced views.
But a second study showed that it’s much harder to change people’s minds where they have strong opinions. Just listening alone won’t change anything. You have to “frame your argument around the moral values of the person you are trying to persuade.” So, in terms of political views, “the most successful arguments were those where liberals appealed to conservatives’ value of respect for authority, and where conservatives appealed to liberals’ values of equality and and fairness.”
I believe we do have to speak up, especially when we are dealing with our fellow Christians who have views we consider to be unChristlike. But we don’t have to “win” the argument or convert them to our view. We just have to speak up. It’s up to the Holy Spirit to work on them after that. You have to throw the idea out and just leave it there for the other person to look at or walk around or poke with a stick. They can walk away from it and come back to it later to think about again. But if you try to throw the idea ON them, to make them adopt it, they will react defensively by jumping back or pushing the idea away. They have to make their own decision to pick up this idea and make it their own.
Think about it this way. What if you wanted a friend to adopt a certain pet and you took that pet over to them and shoved it into their arms and said, “You need to adopt this animal.” They would likely reject it, even if they liked it, because it was YOUR idea, not theirs. But if you brought the pet over and told them what a great animal this was and just let them look at it and pet it and see your fondness for it, they might start warming up to the animal. Then if they got to spend a little time around it, they might start playing with it and loving it on their own terms. Pretty soon they want to keep that pet as their own. You did your part by presenting them with the idea; they made the choice to adopt it. But you did make the choice and the effort to expose them to the idea. Our job is to plant the seed. As Paul says in I Cor. 3:6,9 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. . . .For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.