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Dear Aaron,

Many people I know and love have a quite rigid and narrow perspective on the world, yet call themselves Christians.  For instance, they seem to be very opinionated in regards to politics.  They believe Obama is a communist, Muslim terrorist who was not born in American and is bent on destroying the world.  I don’t see how they would ever want to be Christians, when they hear the other people — the ones that have committed their lives to Christ — sharing hatred rather than respect and compassion.  I mean Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, but this attitude is not at all what I understand to be consistent with people who are followers of Jesus.  I’m not sure how to handle this situation.  It’s very discouraging.

I am certainly not trying to get people to become Democrats or change their political views, but rather to share respectful and factual undertanding of our world.  How can I talk to these people and point out to them that their hateful attitudes are not very Christ-like and that they are actually damaging people in the process?  How do I correct their information so that they can base their opinions on the facts?  How can I influence them in a way that can be respectful, so I do not offend and get drawn into a power struggle?

Thank you in advance.

First of all, thank you for trusting me with these questions…  No doubt these are tough and take much time and consideration.  Know that you are certainly not alone in your concerns.  I too struggle with how to speak to people who disagree with me, not so much when it is face-to-face but more about being frustrated and discouraged about what people who call themselves Christian believe.  In fact, communion for me lately has been a reflection on how in spite of our differences Christ invites us to the same table.

No doubt my first impulse in speaking to people with differing perspectives, is to correct their erroneous viewpoints and then try to implant a better ones.  Unfortunately, we really only have a small window of opportunity to influence people we talk to, even if it is on a daily basis.  So the question is more of how to maximize your influence and thus mold a different perspective.

I think that Jesus’ style of influence was done in relationship.  His manner was very different with different people he came into contact with.  Consider his conversation with the woman at the well versus that with the Pharisees.  According to the law it was the woman who was living in sin and the Pharisees who deserved respect and authority, however knowing each Jesus chose to condemn the religious leaders and to calmly and politely share the gospel message with an outsider.

Jesus also spent much, if not most, of his time challenging the people’s way of thinking, rather than teaching specific truths.  The rich young ruler is a great example.  Jesus answered his question at first the way that the man expected him to, then through him completely off balance when he challenged him to sell everything and give the money to the poor.  The reaction to so many of Jesus’ teachings and parables must have been people walking away saying “hum” and scratching their heads.

Not sure if you read my series on “Recipe for Influence,” but those posts are a sort of beginning on that.  It may be more meaningful to teach them critical thinking skills by allowing them to discover where those perspectives are coming from and that they are simply regurgitating information that is planted there by other influences, whether it is from the media or other like-minded people.  Research shows us that if the person comes up with their own reasoning for their position, it can influence them toward a different perspective much more effectively. 

For example you may want to challenge them with questions like:

  • What do you mean by that?
  • Can you tell me more about that perspective?
  • Will you share specific examples that make your point?

Often it will be difficult if the person has not developed their own perspective but is simply sharing thoughts that they picked up from someone else.  It may be difficult to hear some of that perspective, but going in with the idea that you are developing a relationship with those around you and teaching them to critically think about their world may be the best way that you can help to free their thinking.

I passionately believe that the message of salvation and Scripture has a life unto its own.  It is not coincidence that Jesus was described at the Word itself becoming flesh (John 1).  The word “salvation” in the ancient context has the nuance of “wide open spaces,” which to me implies that if we raise people to seek for God with all they are, that they will find God instead of being chained to ideas about God that have been handed down to them.  That is also to encourage you to open up to them.  Likely they can share information that is new to you and they may challenge you to reconsider some of your own points of view.  That is the beauty of genuine relationship that builds influence.

Be prepared that this journey often has the feel of being unmapped and unscripted.  In exercising influnece in this style means that you have to give up your tendency for the need to be right and take the leap of faith into the arms of God with the firm belief and trust that God will be there to catch you.

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About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

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