“I believe that one of the most damning things about our culture is the adage to never talk religion and politics. Because we don’t model this discourse at the dinner table and at Thanksgiving, we don’t know how to do it well, and we’re not teaching our children about the world and about how to discuss it.”
You know the rule: don’t talk about religion or politics in polite conversation.
Here’s the problem: if you’re an active Mormon, chances are that religion is a major part of your life. Not only that, but you probably believe that sharing your faith will help enrich others’ lives.
There are plenty of simple, low pressure ways to share your faith with just about anybody, including non-LDS strangers and acquaintances. Check out these articles for ideas: 6 Ways to Bring Christ into a Conversation and The Nineteen Least Awkward Ways to Invite a Total Stranger to Meet the Missionaries.
But what about the times when religion talk is like a walking through a minefield?
Let’s say that you want to open up a religious dialogue devoid of drama. Is that truly possible? How can you navigate such a sensitive topic while minimizing the risk of someone taking offense?
The Right Place at the Right Time
What’s the ideal way to start a peaceful religious conversation? Face to face, one-on-one, with a well established friend.
Of course, we can’t always have the ideal. If for whatever reason, face-to-face doesn’t work for you, phone or email may have its benefits. Some people are less intimidated and more tactful in writing, as it gives them the opportunity to think about their response. Phone conversations will help you hear and communicate not only words, but tone of voice, so you can gage whether or not the other person is feeling agitated or at peace.
Facebook and Twitter can be virtual minefields for controversial religious conversation. There are certainly opportunities to peacefully stand up for your beliefs online, but tread carefully.
The nice part about not being a full-time missionary is that you have more opportunities to ease into such a discussion. You may meet people who will quickly and deeply discuss religion with you, but those people and moments are rare. Most often, it takes time to develop a relationship of trust and understanding.
Once you and your friend have started talking about religion frequently and developed a “religious rapport”, so to speak, the time and place don’t matter as much. You can consider bringing it into a more public sphere, like the family dinner table or a class.
Seek First to Understand
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
-Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Want to explain Mormonism to your mainstream Christian, Jewish, Muslim of Hindu friend? Want to talk about the struggle between religious freedom and gay rights?
Consider taking a vibrant interest in the other’s beliefs first. Even if you think you already know the basics, you don’t know your friend’s unique perspective until you hear it. Ask them questions and truly listen to the answers. There’s a good reason they believe what they do; chances are high that they are a good person who understands and follows many important truths.
Once you have convinced them of your sincerity and interest, you can start to respectfully explain your perspective.
Boldness with Love
“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; that he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.”
This scripture isn’t just about the priesthood; it’s a model for peaceful relationships.
Before you talk about your differences with anyone, find out what you have in common. While you are listening to your friend’s perspective, pay attention to anything that they say with which you agree, and when they’re finished, tell them about it.
For example, if you’re talking to another devout Christian, you may want to talk about your love for Jesus Christ. If your friend is Jewish, you can mention your favorite story from Genesis. If you are talking to a gay rights activist, you might tell them how important equality and freedom are to you.
Once you’ve found common ground, explain your differences with gentleness and meekness. Be honest. When the Spirit moves you to do so, speak boldly, but do so while expressing your affection for them. The best motivation for boldness is love; if you sincerely care for them and want to improve the quality of their life, don’t hesitate to speak out.
“People may sometimes intellectually question what you teach, but it is difficult to question a sincere, heartfelt testimony”
-Preach My Gospel, 199
Sometimes even when you are trying your best to have a peaceful conversation, you may find yourself or the other person becoming angry or contentious. Or perhaps you are simply leaning on a wall of disagreement. In these cases, your absolute best move is often to bear sincere testimony. This will bring the Spirit back into your conversation.
Talk about the feelings of joy, love, and peace the gospel brings to your life. Don’t be afraid to be a little vulnerable and share how the gospel has helped you overcome personal obstacles. Who knows, you might even be privilegFed to hear the other person share similar feelings about their own faith.
Want to see these principles in action? I highly recommend watching this fantastic video produced by the LDS Church: Respecting Our Differences While Defending Religious Freedom.