Off Limits

By: Aaron Hixson

Ah, the joys of the holiday season – a costume party here, a “Friends-Giving” there (that’s Millennial for “potluck”) – but the greatest part of every holiday party is that moment when someone has a temporary mental lapse and suddenly the room is plunged into a conversation about one of the topics in the Unholy Trinity of Polite Conversation - Politics, Religion or (newly added) Sexuality. You get bonus cringe points if someone finds a way to insightfully point out that, “At the end of the day, sexuality is both a political AND a religious topic..” – they’re not wrong, but this conversation will raise the national security threat level if we aren’t careful. What do you do now?!

Talking about controversial things can either be terrifying or bonding (yes, it’s a thing) depending on your personality. But no matter what, it doesn’t have to produce sweaty palms, slamming doors or awkward silences.

In light of the Holy Sexuality series we just finished (speaking of awkward conversations), let’s look at a few principles that might keep your holiday dinner from becoming *that* kind of memorable.

Look, I’m a big proponent of research, conviction and careful thinking. I want people to know what they believe and why they believe it. But I also think it’s vital that we be people of kindness and grace who don’t always have to have the last word – in other words, we need to balance grace and truth. (Sound familiar?). How do we do that around a table of (ideally) turkey and (hopefully) zero deviled eggs (gross)?

First: Get Curious
While this might be hard to believe, most people who are wrong are not wrong on purpose. And while this is even harder to believe, you might be the person who is wrong! We spent 6 Sunday mornings talking in great detail about what the Bible says about sexuality and gender, so I’m clearly not asking you to waver on conviction or empty your brain of facts. But I think the more we can lead with questions like...
  • Why do you think that?
  • Who has most influenced your thinking?
  • Why do you feel so strongly about this?

...You’ll ensure that you actually understand the person who is talking rather than the version of this person’s opinion you heard somewhere else. You’re talking to a person made in the image of God – get curious about their views and why they hold them. You just might find out that their hot take on politics says more about their hurts than it does about their economic policy.

Second: Stay Calm
It’s helpful to keep in mind that, while your blood pressure might be rising as this conversation continues (is it my mashed potato habit or the conversation?), there will not be a “winner” crowned at the end of this meal. There is no scoreboard! And since that’s true, our goal should not be “winning” but rather pleasing God and modeling Christ- likeness. There is a place for passionate pleas, but when it comes to conversations around the dinner table, the calm person wins. Oops. It’s about winning. But I think you get my point – the Scriptures have lots to say about flashy anger, and it’s not good. So let’s keep our collars cool (why is it always so hot in here?) and our ears open. Once it’s time to say something that’s not a question, just remember that how you say what you say is as important as what you say.

Third: Move On
While I’m not normally one to back down from a good old fashioned battle of the wits (inconceivable!), when we’re being honest, most of us would admit that the dinner table or the dessert buffet (amen) is probably not the best venue to hash out our ideological differences. Try to prioritize understanding the other person, and then inviting them to further conversation at literally any time that is not right now. Try this: “Hm, that’s interesting! I’d love to talk more about this sometime. By the way, who decided that chocolate- mint chips would be a good idea for these cookies?!” Sure, that’s another controversial topic, but I don’t know a lot of dinner parties that ended because of somebody’s (righteous) hatred for the combination of mint and chocolate.

Think about it this way: your main message to your family member (friend? Both?) is I want you to know that I love you, more than I want you to think I’m right. You’re essentially saying, you are more important to me than expressing my view.

You > My View. It’s math.

Everyone’s other favorite thing, right alongside family holiday political debates.

Here’s to a holiday season with many lovely gatherings where Jesus and His love shine brighter than that weird smelling candle your great aunt loves so much. talking to a person made in the image of God – get curious about their views and why they hold them. You just might find out that their hot take on politics says more about their hurts than it does about their economic policy.