But could it be that conversations marked with discomfort and conflict offer the best opportunities to represent Christ?
John Hartley, a guest speaker hosted by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the executive director of Pathways for Mutual Respect, says Christians should be willing to lean into those uncomfortable spaces.
“Conflict itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Conflict is something that can help lead us towards something new. It can help us recognize ways we need to grow [and] help life to emerge. It’s kind of ironic thing.”
Hartley has a few tips for talking to your coworkers, friends, and family about controversial topics. “The first step is to ask really good questions. The kind of conflict that happens may not be as troublesome as we might assume it would be.”
Strongly-held convictions have stories behind them. Sharing our stories in conflict and listening to the stories of others can open Gospel conversations.
“We get to talk about our thoughts and feelings about things and maybe it’ll make its way back to that controversial issue where our opinions differ. But we’re meeting the person — the actual person — we’re not just meeting their differing opinion.”
Hartley gives an example: If you were to walk in on two friends arguing over a heated social topic, there are a few ways you could approach the situation.
“If…I just come up and I just share my opinion, I’m probably going to amplify the conflict,” he says.
“But if I go into that situation and I’m seeing this political conflict — who knows, over gender or sexuality or race or whatever it might be — and I take the time to truly ask questions that will help me to understand the person, I might end up talking about that person’s childhood in a neighborhood that was underprivileged rather than talking about, like, racial conflict.
“Then there are all kinds of fruitful ways for me to talk about the kind of love and care that I found in Jesus amidst those types of things.”
Hartley says this model really follows the example Jesus gave as He sought to change people’s hearts.
“I think one of the beautiful things about Jesus is He entered into spaces and He actually saw the reality of the people in that space, whether it’s the woman at the well or it’s the woman caught in adultery or it’s Nicodemus. He moves past the topic that they have on their minds to the matters of the heart that are actually moving within them.”
Pathways for Mutual Respect works with Christian and Muslim communities to build bridges and start productive conversations.
“We work trying to find ways that committed followers of Jesus can spend time with committed Muslims, and in the process, recognize what kinds of shared concerns they have for their city,” says Hartley.
“When we’ve worked on projects where we’re getting conservative evangelical pastors together with…conservative Muslim leaders, we find, ‘Oh, look, you’re concerned about bullying in school? I’m concerned about bullying in school. What does Islam teach about how we should handle that situation? What does Jesus say about how we should handle that situation?’ And now a new kind of conversation becomes possible.”
These conversations take humility and a willingness to listen first. Hartley suggests if you want to learn to represent Christ in moments of conflict and build relationships, take some time to examine your own heart first.
“What’s really moving you when you think about whatever that controversial topic is that you’re kind of concerned about — something that is happening in the workplace that bothers you and you feel like your faith leads you to want to take a stand? What is it that’s at the heart level driving you in that? Maybe that will provide hints at how you might seek out an understanding of the other person’s heart.
“I think that place of heart is where Jesus most wants to work.”
Header photo courtesy of Pathways for Mutual Respect.