Well, our first experiment with Your Turn feature here was such a rousing success, we’re back at it again this morning.

Last time, on behalf of readers, I asked you, “Should an egalitarian attend a complementarian church?

And you all showed up with such thoughtful, wise, nuanced, disagreeing opinions that I feel like we need an award from Al Gore or something. I mean, who has respectful disagreement and discussion in the comment section of the Internet anymore? Apparently we do. Here’s to being grown-ups!

So today’s question is based on an email that I receive many times a week from people all over. I think it’s a pretty common problem so I’ll kick it over to you guys and let you weigh in here. (I’ve generalized and combined details from a few different emails so that it’s not singling any one person or situation out.)

your turn

“We have recently changed our opinions on some important aspects of our theology. Specifically, we are now affirming of women in all aspects of church leadership and we believe in mutual submission for Christian marriage. Unfortunately, our families completely disagree with us – and they make sure we know it. My husband and I are on the same page for the most part – although there is still disagreement and growth happening for both of us – but with my parents and his parents, it’s getting really difficult to be together. Every time these topics come up, we end up having huge disagreements. I love our parents and I want to honour them but I don’t want to back down from something that I believe is a very serious justice issue for many women either. I can’t seem to get them to listen to us or even give us space to disagree. It’s like if they won’t be happy until we are back to agreeing with every single thing they believe, too. And they are judging us and our marriage as “less than” now. It’s very uncomfortable. So please give me some advice: How do you handle family relationships when your theological opinions change?” 

Your turn: Feel free to share your own story, tell us what you’ve learned, what has worked – and what hasn’t! – as you’ve navigated changes in your opinions within a family that isn’t willing to listen or welcome your changes.

I’ll weigh in with my own thoughts in the comment section a bit later on. Right now, I want to listen.

 

 

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  • A family member recently told me that “staunch evangelicalism is the true heart of Christianity.” What did I do in that situation? I sat on my hands so they didn’t make a fist and fly in his face. In that moment, the very best grace I could offer him was not punching him.

    My husband and I are dealing with this more and more as our faith has shifted from what it once was. What I tell myself – and it’s much easier said than done – is to let others be, and in return hope that they will let us be. Where justice issues and theology intersect, I do want to shout at family members for perpetuating sexism/homophobia/classism/you name it. But I remind myself that yelling has never opened anyone’s eyes. So I try to mind my own business for the most part, while quietly standing firm for what I’ve found to be true. Sometimes I speak up, sometimes I don’t. And sometimes I just sit on my hands.

  • tnjngns

    We “handle” it with a lot of agreeing to disagree, and “sorry you feel that way”s, which doesn’t accomplish much, but does allow for family get-togethers without angry discussions.

  • Meggie Honeycutt

    I have learned to say a careful prayer for wisdom and discernment in my words before speaking and arguing over theological matters with those close to me. I always have believed that I can’t change anyone’s mind- Jesus has to change people’s hearts. Extend grace, prayer, and more prayer in these situations- they are never easy!

  • Tiffany83

    I yearn for a community where I can discuss controversial topics and ideas in a safe way so we can grow together. My mom recently told my grandfather that I “love Obama” because I am helping people sign up for healthcare…like that makes me “one of them.” My dad deleted me on Facebook just for sharing one political article that he disagreed with. Now he can’t see all the adorable pictures of his grandkids that I post…his loss. Why are people so against reading an article that is not what they believe? Are they afraid that it might change their minds? I think so! It’s the “like wars” on Facebook….my sister liked Candace Cameron’s story so I read it (with eyes rolling). Then when I saw your response I liked it knowing it would show up in her feed and hoping she would read it! It is hard balancing friendships because I don’t read books about how to be a “biblical wife” with a picture of a lady in an apron with a mop in her hand…I told that friend I’m in the middle of reading Jesus Feminist. I’m sure she was shocked at my use of the “F” word! Haha!! I am also attending a women’s bible study and one week when it was mentioned that we should ask ourselves everyday how we can make our husbands lives easier, I asked if we could also ask him to do the same for us- to which they all laughed! I was not joking! So if anyone has a good way to “handle” relatives/friends after your opinions have changed please let me know 🙂

  • An added dimension to this is when you as a parent now believe differently than in areas you taught your children as THE “truth”…I think human nature is to want to rush in and and change their minds…undo the mistakes we made with one or two conversations…
    But now I see God was so patience…long-suffering…and kind and full of compassion as I walked blindly as a lover of Jesus. it was never a matter of passion or wanting to live for God…actually these things probably kept me blinder longer…
    But He patiently won me over to His Love…He didn’t hammer me…or shame me…or force me to believe truth…no, He continued to love me out of my blindness and He will continue to do so until I die…we never arrive at “truth”…because Truth is person…and we will never exhaust a love relationship with Him…because of His Grace and Love we can live a lifetime of ever deepening love toward God and receiving His boundless Love for us.
    So for me as a parent…I don’t need to go and prove now where I was wrong…God will take my children on their own journeys…and if the door opens for conversations…all I want to do is share what God has done in my heart…and never cross over that line of trying to get them to see…or to change.
    I also think it goes both ways…children can trust the Lord to bring their parents new revelations about Who He is no matter their age…and every child needs to out grow the need for their parents approval no matter the age.
    we must always remember…theses are not “salvation” issues…and we don’t have to divide over these or anything….because He doesn’t call us to be “right” or to help others to see what is “right”…He calls us to Love…and love covers all…

    • Veronica

      LOVE your reply. “He calls us to Love…and love covers all.” Beautiful!

  • kevinshoop

    Whew! It’s messy. Messy messy MESSY. I’ll tell my (ongoing) story as briefly as possible. After many years of praying, Christian ex-gay therapy, church-immersion, and other techniques, I finally accepted my sexuality. I hid it from my entire family for over 15 years, including 8 of the years I’ve been in a relationship. “Coming out” was only 1 step of many, less healthy steps. My initial strategy was to withdraw…to preemptively reject them before they rejected me. And so the relationship with my family suffered and changed mainly because of the withdrawing and the lack of openness. Finally, longing to renew relationship with family, I came out to my sister and then to my parents and extended family. Their reactions were mixed, but never was I outright rejected like many are in the same situation. There were admonitions to repent, and my reaction to these was immediate anger. I often wonder if this was the “right” thing to do, but I feel it was the most honest thing to do, because it DID make me angry. It made me angry because I had spent years and years and years fighting and praying and figuring out this issue. So, while I was careful to say that I didn’t hate them or reject them for saying these things to me, I made it clear that their words were unhelpful and hurtful. I made that boundary right away. It’s been about 5 years, and my relationship with my parents is good and keeps improving. Also, there is progress with other members of my family, too. I think unwittingly setting that boundary at the beginning has ultimately been helpful. It’s given both of us space and time to consider what the other person is going through, and to try to reach more deeply–beyond the issue and even our own identity–to be more loving to each other. It’s still very difficult, but I think I am fortunate to live in a family that does recognize that loving despite differing opinions on VERY sensitive topics is a two-way street.

  • I’m able to “agree to disagree” but my family isn’t. For the most part, we just don’t discuss matters of politics or religion. We will talk about what God is teaching us, though even this can get in to sticky territory. I’m open about what I believe but when the other party won’t allow me the courtesy of listening to my opinion (especially when I’m able to do the same for them), there’s no point in having the same fruitless conversation. I don’t expect their opinions to change but I wish they didn’t view me
    as less of a Christian because I no longer toe the party line. I’ve
    prayed, researched, and thought long and hard about my beliefs. I’m at
    peace with that. So when my family tries to go there, I remind them of
    those facts and change the subject. A couple of years ago I thought maybe the tide had turned but it hadn’t. I long for the day when we can have open, honest discussion.

  • Kristine

    In general, I would suggest that you go silent on the issue, kindly resist their attempts to keep having angry conversations about it, and begin working on relationship repair as much as you have power to.

    I say this from painful experience with both sides of my family on this and other issues, for two reasons.

    1) Whenever we humans learn something new, we easily fly overboard trying to convince others of this wonderful thing, and sometimes we also try to validate our new thoughts by proving them to others. But people need time to shift their thinking. Paradigm changes don’t happen overnight or even over-year, and massive shifts in thought are influenced as much by what you see as what you hear. Live your life with love and fruit. Be an anomaly from what they expect people of your doctrine to look like. And if that’s part of the path God has for them, eventually enough anomalies will stack up that they may reconsider.
    But when any issue is consistently pressed hard, people wall up, become fearful and defensive and just about never think open-mindedly. You often have to back off, gain trust, and let them relax enough to even think honestly about what you’re already said. There is a point at which more words are only counterproductive.

    2) Justice for women is not the only virtue. It is easy to press a point and wind up with an embittered non-convert AND no more relationship or voice, but how is that winning? Family relationships are worth keeping when possible. It is not always possible, but wherever it lies with you, be at peace with them.

    There are times to speak. But I have found that they tend to be far outweighed by the times to be silent. Being silent is not equivalent with backing down or being soft on truth – sometimes it is the best weapon in your arsenal. Be in your relationships and truths for the long haul, even if you don’t see any converts for the first decade. 🙂

    • This is WISDOM!

    • Isabelle

      You summed up everything I was going to say…only you said it much more eloquently.
      “silence is not equivalent with backing down or being soft on truth.” This.
      Refusing to engage in a quarrel and instead being a humble, loving, patient, kind servant is the best way to go. Now if I could only take this approach more often (especially with my in-laws!).

    • This is excellent, it is so important that we allow others their own journey. Sometimes we feel that we must “take a stand” to have integrity, and it may sometimes be appropriate, but I believe as I am older, it is seldom better.

      When I open my mouth, I try to think, “Will this bring healing?” Focusing on the positives, and there are always many, is much the higher road. And love, always love. Family is so important. Keep the relationship if you are ever to have a voice in the future.

    • Annasgirl

      Having lived for over seven decades, in my life, I can most assuredly agree that silence combined with committed love to the relationship has been a very successful strategy. It is after all, the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that changes opinions, lifestyles, theologies and even general Weltanschaung. My mother, who had lived a God centered and Holy Spirit infused life since childhood, gently challenged me when she was 75 years old. “Are you telling me that the Holy Spirit has not been part of my life for all these years because I have not had, what you call, the Baptism of the Spirit?” The in-congruence of my passionate argument with her struck me, as well it should have, and resulted in a much needed adjustment in my attitude. We are not called to convince people to change their way of thinking, we are not called to approve of their lifestyle, we are called to accept them, love them and see them through the lens of the Cross. In my view I would rather have the relationship than to be right. I believe in the adage, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”

    • I feel the exact same way. I love how you pointed out how we often go way overboard trying to convince others of something that has been transformational for us. I can’t tell you how many times on blogs and articles and facebook I see people who have come to hold egalitarian beliefs aggressively criticizing women who express satisfaction with complementarian beliefs. And I think, “You are doing to them EXACTLY what you resent having done to you!” And, as Kristine says, for many of us, it took years for our ingrained ways of thinking and beliefs to change. You are probably not going to change that in one conversation, and you are definitely not going to change it by insisting that they are wrong.

  • Okay, I am going to attempt to keep this as brief as possible. But here we go.

    For a while near the end of 2013, I could not have a phone conversation with my dad without it dissolving into a debate. My father strong opposes the LGBT community, and gay marriage, intensely. I have embraced Jesus feminism, and now completely refer to myself that way. I also have many friends and family that simply stand on the opposite side of the line, standing strong in legalistic Pharisaical mentalities. It has only been in the past couple years that I have gathered my faith into my own hands and made it my own between me and Jesus instead of taking everything my parents believe as gospel.

    I have had to shut my mouth. I have had to set boundaries. I have had to refuse to engage in debate, point-blank telling my dad, my family, and friends that I will not enter into debate that will end badly. I will speak truth, and will discourse with them, but I will not allow close relationships to be destroyed. Sometimes I am quiet, and I weep when i am alone or with my husband. Boundaries, though, are keeping my heart alive.

  • Nikki Webber

    This is a tricky one! My husband’s family are extremely conservative complementarians, and it has been a hard transiion for all of us. One thing I’ve learned is to carefully choose my words so that I’m not being deliberately confrontational, which can be hard for me. If my MIL asks how our worship service was, my temptation is to say “our pastor and her husband played on the team” – I filter this so as not to be confrontational and simply say, ‘both our pastors played today’.

    I don’t want our differences to nuance every aspect of our fragile relationship.

    I also seek to establish their trust by allowing them a lot of one on one time with our child and with my spouse. They have sought to use these opportunities to ‘send along’ some complementarian literature or an intervention of some sort, but I am hopeful that given time, giving them the benefit of the doubt and establishing trust in our relationship will pay off.

    I used to try to interject my changing orthodoxy at every opportunity, but I am learning through His unforced rhythms of grace that a changed life and a soft heart will speak far more words than my arguments.

    There are times where like Frodo, I bemoan that this ‘ring’ ever came my way. Then my inner geek surfaces and I remember Gandalf saying ‘all you have to do is decide what to do with the time you have been given’. I am taking this one hard, difficult day at a time, and I still have much to learn about being my precious Jesus and laying down my pride around Particularly ‘Religious’ Friends and Family Members. Both them and I are broken sinners, saved and redeemed at the foot of His cross.

  • lindyireland

    Some subjects are defensive triggers for certain people, some are open wounds. And some subjects are just peoples’ hills they’re going to die for. I think that the wisest thing to “fight for” when these subjects are raised is the opportunity to change the subject. Similarly, I love it in a worship service when we recite one of the creeds together – it provides a great perspective when we stand together and recite the things we AGREE on – let’s emphasize those things. And somewhere down the road, someone may completely change their position – but that person might be me!

  • Garet Key

    I have had to accept a little more distance in my family relationships than I once would have hoped for. We do get together and I’ve had to learn to bite my tongue at times, because maintaining quality family relationships is just as important as my theological views and I always have to do a mental calculation of when to speak out and when to keep quiet. My family know where I stand now, and grudgingly accept it, it is now part of mainly friendly family banter. There is definitely a time to speak and a time to be silent, it’s just really difficult to always judge which is which! On a journey! garetkeyongod.wordpress.com, @GaretKey

  • nortoam

    I have had to just not ever bring anything up with which I disagree with my family. Prime example, this past Sunday my parents wanted us to come to church with them prior to my dad’s birthday lunch (that I was attending). I told them I couldn’t come because I wanted to be at my own church because our Minister to Children and Youth was preaching. Then I made the mistake of saying that I was looking forward to her message. At the luncheon (at my parents’ church fellowship hall), my dad asked if they needed to fill up the baptistery to re-baptize me after my woman preacher church service. I had to just act like I didn’t even hear it. I just refuse to argue with my family over theology because I know nothing I say or do will ever change how they feel.

  • Vicki Judd

    My two youngest sons (30 & 32) have aligned themselves pretty strongly with the new reformed group – particularly Mark Driscoll and John Piper. Even though I am an ordained minister, and have been in ministry most of their lives, our youngest son in particular has come to hold the position that a woman should not serve as an Elder or Senior Pastor. After years of study, and my own struggle to reconcile what a few select scriptures say with the whole of scripture – I hold an opposing view. For a while, I tried to read Driscoll & Piper in order to defend my position. But it came to the place where I decided that I valued the relationship with my sons over this part of my theology. It’s not a salvation issue. They still respect me and what I do. (Somehow, they don’t see what I’ve done with my life and calling in opposition to their stance on WIM. Go figure.)

    Things came to a head a few months ago when I sent them an article that made fun of some of their favorite young pastors. They were really offended. They were not angry, but they were hurt that I would make fun of the men for whom they had great respect. My youngest son said, “Mom, I just couldn’t figure out why you would send me that!” And I thought, why indeed?

    So, I stopped. I stopped reading what those men write, and what is written about them. I stopped listening to their sermons. When I come across an blog or news article about them, I pray for them as my brothers in Christ and let it go. I have stopped reposting blogs and articles that are critical of them and what they teach. I can be for male/female equality in the church, without being against my brothers and sisters in Christ who believe differently. I will keep on faithfully walking out the call of God on my life, saying “yes” to Him, embracing opportunities and walking though doors. I’m not going to wave the flag of WIM, I’m just going to keep doing what God has called me to do. If the subject comes up around my boys, I just let it pass without getting defensive.

    I choose to extend grace, because God knows I need it. I memorized Philippians 2 and I’m trying to live it.

    • Mia

      You are a very wise woman. Thanks for sharing.

  • Rev-o-lution

    I am a clergywoman and most of my dad’s side of the family does not support women in church leadership. We disagree on a number of issues including lgbtq inclusion. What we have found is that some issues really are too painful to discuss. I recently hosted our family gathering and we went hiking, played games, and other fun activities without discussing our faith or politics. We had a really great time together. While I am sad that I can’t have those conversations with them, I am also happy that they do not try to change me and that we can at least still get together and be family.

  • Sarah

    I have experienced this in the past couple years in my family on the issue of gay marriage. I’d come to hold in tension the belief that gay marriage as a privilege for members of a free democratic society should exist but that as Christians homosexual behavior is sinful. My dad, an evangelical pastor, came to agree with me, but said he would never say that publicly for fear of losing his position and/or financial support. Just this Christmas my grandfather asked me what I thought. It’s because of years of hard work that he trusts my opinion, and when I calmly and honestly told him what I thought on the issue – which is way outside of the box for my grandparents – he said he would think about it and that it was very interesting how I’d described it. I think it all comes over time with patience, trust, and speaking the truth in love.

  • Lindsey Thomson

    I have to remember, as we all need to, that they are just as passionate on their views as I may be of mine. And in a lot of cases have done just as much study/research on the subject, but hold, dearly, a different opinion. Who am I to tell them their view is wrong? Just as I am offended that they think I am wrong, remember that they are offended that you think they are wrong, too. And honestly, while a lot of the issues a may be politically (or emotionally) charged, they are probably not be the hills we need to be dying on. People like Sarah have opened my eyes & in some ways changed some of my theology or ways of thinking, but only because she is not so prideful to say she is the only right way & everyone else must change because they are wrong. She is quick to point to Jesus, quick to remind all that we are in this together. That ultimately our goal is to show this broken world a savior. And while someone picketing at an abortion clinic or political stumping for the “biblical definition of marraige” is like nails on a chalkboard to me, and I in no way think that makes Jesus attractive to people, it also does no good for me to belittle them. I see a lot of comments talking about how your families make you feel “less than” for believing differently. But as someone who is likely more conservative than most here, I would say that I am often made to feel “less than” b/c I am old-school and not progressive enough. Like I have just not been enlightened by Jesus as much as you, and clearly you are a better Jesus-lover than me b/c you have discovered the error of the old way & I have not. So be careful to realize that your family may feel just as belittled by you as you do of them. God has done a lot of work in my heart in a lot of these issues in the last few years. But honestly, where He has done the most work is teaching me that where I stand on a lot of these issues is just not that important. Embracing that where I stand may not be the best way, the most correct way, or the way the rest of the world agrees with, and being ok with that is a better road. I am called to live out the convictions I feel God/HS has given me, but I can agree to disagree b/c they are, too. I don’t have to post every article that argues for my point, or passive-agressively let everyone (including family) on my FB feed know I disagree with them & their dearly-held beliefs. I can just be silent in the name of unity. Not silent in that I never let anyone know how I believe, or have a productive conversation with those that will allow it, but silent in that I don’t have to be right all the time. God has changed and softened my heart and made me more ok with gray area (even though each side likely doesn’t feel it is a gray area). The only black & white issue worth fighting for is that Jesus is real, he came to earth, he died for EVERYONE, and is coming back. Salvation is available to all. We are on the same team – even if I often feel like their way of “playing the game” – for lack of a better metaphor – seems to be scoring one for the other team rather than our own sometimes. We are still in it together, and want the same goal. Let’s focus on that. I don’t have to be right. I am trying to remove the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ that existis for me – not just with the world but within the Church/with other believers as well. We are called to love this world, but we are also called to love each other. I will fight for peace & unity in the church, but most of all I will fight for LOVE. Me dying to my pride and choosing to love those that believe differently than me. And hopefully as I love them well, love them despite not loving me back, making fun of me or acting as if I need to be re-baptized for my beliefs, they will see that what they believe on those issues is not nearly as important as showing Jesus’ love to those around them. Choosing not to speak does not mean being ashamed of your belief, it means that you, too, realize it’s not the most important issue. The most important issue is that people who don’t know Jesus are dying everyday.

  • Anna

    Having grown up in a Catholic family, I’m now part of an evangelical church where I feel 100x more at home that I ever did at the church I grew up in. This has, inevitably, caused massive divisions in my family. I’ve had the slanging matches with my mum where she’s refused to see that at the end of the day, I believe in the same God as her. (I may or may not have tried to reason with her that she’s got it lucky if my biggest rebellion in life is to be a Protestant because “it could be worse, I could be a DRUG DEALER or something”).
    4 years on and it’s still a struggle. When I go home, I’m torn between going to church with my family because that’s a nice thing to do, and going to a different church where I’m more comfortable. There doesn’t seem to be anything productive about 5 members of the family going one way on a Sunday morning while I jump in the car to go elsewhere – it’s like that’s purposefully dividing instead of uniting us. But for as long as I’m not a Catholic, I’m not sure my family will ever truly support me.
    I’m not sure I’ll ever come to terms with that, if not for the knowledge that the love of God is bigger than the theological or denominational distinctions we broken humans have imposed on his church, his bride.

    • If I may interject some hope…when I was 21 entering my senior year of college, I was kicked out of my house for leaving the Catholic Church …I lost everything…I wasn’t sure my dad would walk down the isle of a Protestant church…he did…and over many years…and much forgiveness my parents and I are finishing better than I could ever imagine…my 89 yr father goes to mass everyday…but what use to stand between us has been replace with Jesus only. We have never talked about the past…forgiveness can do that… Don’t give up hope…keep walking in Love and forgiveness…giving much grace and God can do more than you can imagine…

  • This is such an important and challenging topic — thanks for hosting and listening, dear Sarah. For much of my life, this wasn’t a problem, because I avoided even admitting to myself that I didn’t agree with the viewpoints expressed by those I loved. It felt so threatening, and sometimes, it still does. Sometimes it’s really hard to see that people I deeply love hold (what I perceive to be) very unloving beliefs. And whether or not we go into discussion about hot-button topics depends on the nature of our relationship, on how close we are and whether we’re both willing and able to listen.

    Here’s what I try to keep in mind: as Glennon so beautifully said on Momastery last week, my job when I see someone doing something I don’t approve of is not to judge, but to put down my stone. To recognize that I, too, have been unloving, unkind, elitist, homophobic, whatever it is I abhor in another. I hate facing this, but it’s true. I have been ignorant of grace, and yet I am still loved, still given grace.

    The second thing is that I err on the side of mercy, toward my past self and toward the person in front of me. When someone I loved started expressing views I didn’t agree with, a lightbulb went on as I realized: I’ve judged people who hold these exact beliefs. I’ve judged them as crazy and awful, and yet here I am, sitting with one of the best people I know, someone who truly loves God, someone who is holding onto an unloving viewpoint. That was the moment I knew I had to put down my stone. So yes, I tell my truth, I listen, but mostly, I work on putting down the stone and seeing — really seeing — the beloved person in front of me.

  • Moving back in with your parents is not a recommended idea. I moved back home three years ago after graduating from a private Christian college with no direction for the future. As a gay Christian man who has developed a passion for writing, it’s a very sticky situation. It’s very frustrating when my parents refuse to talk about biblical sexual ethics or consider anything besides me finding “the one” who will make me straight. My parents don’t understand my desire to minister to LGBTs, so I stay at home while I save for grad school and keep my mouth shut. I’m hoping when I go to grad school and I’m able to come out publicly I will begin to have meaningful conversations with my parents. It will be easier to have healthy boundaries.

  • Alicia Buhler

    Theology and faith have always been central to my family and a primary topic of discussion, so as my theological views have shifted I have sought to find new common ground with my family. I have done this both by finding new topics for discussion – such as hobbies or interests that we hold in common – as well as recognizing and naming that each of us is trying to live as faithfully as we know how and that is actually something that we hold in common.

  • Hannah Sachs

    I think that this is a very challenging situation, and as even the few comments below reveal, a rather common one. I am naturally very passionate and have a propensity to defend my beliefs without hesitation. That said, I have recently begun to realize that when my family reacts so poorly to my beliefs, it is often out of fear and not anger. They are afraid that I am wrong, they are afraid that I may disagree with them in what they view as crucial areas, they are afraid of where my beliefs will lead me, and sometimes, they are maybe even afraid that I’m right. In light of this fear, sometimes I have to take a breath, whisper a prayer, and graciously bring my beliefs to the table. But sometimes it means clenching my fists under the table, biting my tongue, and humbly listening. Both can be powerful, and both require an active, listening relationship with God. Above all, no matter how my family fearfully responds, I hold fast to the promise that “perfect love casts out all fear,” and I am oh so thankful for this, because you know what? Sometimes I’m afraid too.

  • There are certain instances where silence is going to be the best policy. Don’t allow them to bait you into a heated argument or draw your marital relationship into choppy territory. My husband and I are of an opinion that differs greatly from our parents’ (his family especially) in terms of theology. When my mother-in-law makes an offensive or baiting comment we most often let it sit in silence and guide the conversation in a different, more peaceful direction. It doesn’t mean I will back down from my beliefs, or that I will not fight for them in other, more effective arenas. But I’ve realized the relationship between us and our families is more important than my need to be right or have the last word.

  • I grew up in an evangelical church of a mainline denomination (a rural United Church of Canada). Most of my family before that were evangelical with a charismatic lining. It’s definitely the strongest in my grandmother, in general an amazing loving women but does pull the “the Bible says” occasionally as a weapon, even when it is debatable how much the Bible really says it. Aside from the occasional complaining about the UCC, we basically didn’t talk about there being any differences in the Church growing up. That’s my family in general – just don’t talk about your problems.

    When my wife was born, her parents didn’t attend any kind of Church but thought they should revisit it now that they were parents (as was common for that generation). Unfortunately, my mother-in-law grew up liberal edge of United Church of Canada: God probably exists but don’t count too much on Jesus being anything special and it is really about creating a loving community. My father-in-law grew up a fairly conservative Mennonite Brethren. Through my wife’s childhood they tried to find a church that would keep both happy, so moved around including Presbyterian and Fellowship Baptist. They’ve now accepted that they won’t be happy in the same church so he attends an Evangelical Missionary (Wesleyan evangelical + Anabaptist, huge social justice focus in the downtown) and she attends a liberal UCC (very academic middle-class). They take occasional potshots at each other, particularly in front of us to prove why theirs is better, but have mostly agreed to keep it out of a topic of discussion.

    After some time in Canadian Baptist (moderate evangelical) and then some time with a liberal UCC, I ended up in the Anabaptist stream. My wife’s journey was similar. We now attend a Brethren in Christ Church. There are occasional tensions, like that BIC is not affirming which is often treated as the only question that matters to a church (we are affirming, but we don’t consider it worth schism over), but never really any outright argument. I think we’ve pretty much all accepted that we all think we’re doing what is best and we’re never going to change the others.

  • This is something I’ve been in the thick of lately myself as I had two family members in the same week tell me that my writing was a cute hobby but it didn’t make much money as so maybe wasn’t it time for me to step down and support my husband more in his role as a pastor. I did a couple things:
    1) Sputtered. I was caught totally off guard and tried to say things about egalitarianism and being fully alive in Christ but I think I mostly came off as defensive because I was caught off guard
    2) I listened, because the fight isn’t worth the relationship. I’m not going to jump into the Mark Driscoll, or adopt complementarianism but in the middle of their words I found a few truths. I had become focused on getting what I needed in our marriage that I had nearly stopped focusing on what Kel needed. So for me their theological challenge, while it was hard and made me feel defensive and even question my work, has had a positive effect on my marriage.

  • jswwrites

    My mom is very religious but “ant-Christian” (and not saved). I learned a long time ago to avoid conversations where there would be instant disagreement. She knows our views, knows I have an international nonprofit because I felt God sending me, knows we make decisions with prayer and His leading. But we don’t talk about it in anything other than very practical terms. I don’t get into theology, and don’t allow it to go there. The old saw about politics (which we also avoid with her!) and religion is true, and you won’t win any hearts and minds by arguing. You WILL win them over when people see you live out your beliefs, calmly and consistently, and see the fruits. This is what happened when we decided to homeschool 14 years ago – before it was “in” and people understood. We said what we were doing, we did it for 13 years, our kids did great, graduated early, and are lovely people. My family, with no arguing of the merits or philsophy or anything, is very pro-homeschooling now. It “just” took living it out with grace and faithfulness.

  • Marie Smith

    One thing worth remembering in questions like these is that we can’t control other people’s opinions of us, and we can’t force anyone but ourselves to change. All we can control is our own responses, and the gentler and more loving our responses, the less room there will be for our families to continue the attack. Another thing to remember is that families struggle to comprehend people changing, but in time, the same change becomes less and less shocking.

    My parents-in-law are evangelical pastors and very forthcoming in their opinions, which tend to be much more conservative/traditional than my husband’s and mine. We’ve found that in time, though, my in-laws tend to get used to our position, and no longer think of it as shocking or heretical. For example, I was once asked to fill in for a Sunday school teacher, and at the end of the lesson, one of the kids said to me, “How did God make people?” I answered honestly that I didn’t know exactly how he’d done it. I told my MIL afterwards, because the kid had asked in a very cute way. She told me I should have said that God sculpted Adam and Eve out of mud and then breathed into them. I said I wasn’t sure that WAS how he did it, and my husband agreed with me. Which clued my MIL in to the fact that we think God probably didn’t make the world in seven 24-hour days. She was absolutely horrified, and we could see her mentally questioning our faith. Now, some years later, she considers us key people in their church, albeit key people she doesn’t always agree with.

    In retrospect, it probably would have been fine to give my MIL’s answer, given the age of the kid. I’m not sure how helpful controversy is to 9-year-olds, though I plan to engage with our own children’s questions at an age appropriate level.

  • A lot of these responses are describing a shift towards the progressive. It’s worth sharing how my family of die-hard liberal intellectuals has had to cope with my conversion to evangelical Christianity. Of course it’s similar to any other family. Especially when I was newly converted, I wanted to talk about it all the time. I felt newly free, from chains I associated with aspects of my upbringing, which was implicitly critical of my family. My new positions were threatening to them, and their resistance was threatening to me. We hurt each other’s feelings. Nobody changed their minds.

    Since then I have taken the same wise advice written several other times here, which is to live what I believe rather than argue what I believe. I am a feminist Christian with skin on. And being vulnerable and alive and REAL as a thing that many people think is a green kangaroo? Might be the most effective argument there is.

  • For me the problem was that I was worried about what they thought of me. Because I remembered what had been said about others who went more liberal on their views, that they were compromising and abandoning their faith, etc.
    Once I let that go (over many years), it’s been fine with family/former church members/whoever. They can think what they want about me, and I am happy to discuss my views with them or not.

  • Kelly W

    The family I came from is agnostic… with a faint thread of Catholiscism. When I found faith, I wasn’t permitted to explain or ask questions, and I was a confused teenager. My divorced parents were horrified by my decision to go to Bible College (!). Appalled when I wouldn’t drink wine (for 2 years I was unsure if it was important to abstain, so I did for that time). Incredulous when we married young (at the time few people chose to move in together but my parents counselled living together to avoid immature decisions, which they felt marriage in the early 20’s might be). Over the years, I’ve tried to live my faith, and there’s been little opportunity to talk it out.

    So with our kids – we encouraged questions and debate. We made it an open table (and oh, you should hear it around our supper table!). I’ve always known God was big enough for our questions our fears our failings. Hopefully we’ve been able to share that. At times I have hugely disagreed with our kids about their decisions, but LOVE wins (not always instantly) but love wins. I agree with everyone who has said to put relationships ahead of disagreement. Live it!

  • Deb78

    Whew – this one hits home for me because I struggle in this area with my mother. If I remain respectfully silent she assumes I am in agreement with her. When I gently try to speak up, she becomes very defensive. Thankfully she live far away and these conversations don’t come up very often. The last time I was firm with her and kept telling her that we would have to just respectfully disagree and the conversaton was finished.
    I just talked about this w/ my minister/missionary cousin yesterday and he summed it up with “I think there are some who will never change and the hard part is that we have to love them too. That pisses me off.” Love it!

  • Heather King

    OOOOF DAH, it’s so hard. There is a fine line between agreeing to disagree and passive-aggressive behavior, no?

    In my situation, which is definitely one in which the liberal Christian daughter consistently shocks the conservative family with opinions, is that I must believe that grace is there for both of us. I’m willing to say “I don’t know” even when no one else will say it. For the most part, I’m quiet, I don’t want to “go there” because there is usually absolutely no reason to do so. One can sense when it’s pointless, you know? No one is budging, we’re just talking to hear ourselves and too much pride gets involved.

    So sometimes I tell stories. They are just simple true stories of my life and the people in it. I write them, I speak them and I let it go. Because story has the power to change hearts and minds but only if that’s not what I’m striving for….I want to just live love and kindness to a degree that is staggering and sometimes jaw-dropping and limitless and liberal. I want my family to simply bear witness to that, and if it doesn’t help them to respect what I believe and think, I will still fall back on grace. I must.

    So not only do I hate wearing heels, as you know, but I also hate confrontation. I avoid it, I suppose.

    It hurts to have your family not “get you” and to feel a little bit or a lot like you don’t belong. Belonging is a really big deal for our hearts. I wish those that disagree could love us despite any differences, but we’re human and we fail a lot at that.

    Obviously, I have a lot to say on this.

    xoxo

    H

  • Jess

    We encounter this a lot, and I mean LOT. We both grew up in very conservative ( fundamental and bible church) families and now that we are out of the south and being able to form our opinions and having a spiritual formation without many of the uniquely southern hang ups we find our selves at odds theologically on origins, gender equality, end times, sexuality, the importance of the sinners prayer, justice, what if any place politics has in church…um everything. We have found a variety of things to be true. First love must reign. Our relationships with these folks are more important than who wins or is “right” sometimes that means knowing when to speak and when to keep silent, after all I’m not the Holy Spirit. Second, prayer changes hearts and minds more than arguments. We have to lovingly pray for the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts and theirs. So do the comments like, “all we need is the Bible to know how to live “or “all I need to know about creation is in genesis one,” or ” hasn’t God just given them up to their own desires? ” make we want to throw my head back and howl, YES! But no one is well served by doing that. So for us it is lots of patience, kindness and not feeling the need to make people agree w us, and having the ability to graciously create space between those who want us to be like them.

  • Cynthia

    As I read a lot of these comments, I’m thankful that I don’t have to deal with these problems. My SIL and I are very close – and also opposites in most of the areas being discussed. She is fundamentalist, Bible church. I am ELCA Lutheran (a lot more liberal). I support LGBT issues like gay ordination and marriage equality and women’s equality in the church. She does not. She believes that everything in the Bible should be taken literally. I do not. Several people in these comments have talked about salvation issues. We don’t let our differences get in the way of our love for each other because our differences are not salvation issues. We both know we will be saved because we both accept Jesus as our savior.

  • I’m with most people here, choosing not to engage when I know it won’t get me anywhere and will hurt relationships — but I also have this constant feeling that by not speaking up I’m protecting my personal relationships and social stature at the expense of people who actually need protecting because they are marginalized by majority-think in my community. So, I feel a lot of guilt about how I handle things, although I try hard to preserve my relationships first.

  • Alison

    I struggle with these issues as well, and I have to constantly remind myself that they are just as entitled to their viewpoints as I am mine. If they are rude or intolerant, that’s about them completely. Always offer a soft response and really and truly, try your best to refrain from opining when you know it’s going to stir the pot. These changes within us are ours alone and we don’t have to identify them for anyone else, nor do we have to explain them to anyone else. A lot of times (at least for me) I’m looking for validation when I bring up these changes. I want to know that I’m not on the wrong path. But that’s where an intimate relationship with Jesus is of utmost importance because he’s going to ask you to do some things at some point that go against the grain. You have to be secure enough in your faith to be able to withstand walking and standing alone on some issues. It’s scary at first, but incredibly empowering as time goes on. Hang in there and remember above all, they love Jesus too and Jesus loves them.

  • Lindsay

    It is really refreshing to read so many of these comments. Many of them are so honest. For so long my husband and I have wondered if we were the only ones dealing with these issues. So thank you those of you who have shared their experiences and honest feelings. Truly refreshing.

  • Handsfull

    Wow – this is ridiculously timely! I am going to see my family in 5 days time – the family who are still in the fundamentalist cult I was brought up in and left almost 17yrs ago. I am feeling nervous and apprehensive and terrified and hopeful – and these comments have helped me so much! My beliefs are now so very different from my family’s, but one of the very few things we still have in common, is that we all love Jesus. What has been reinforced in my heart is to try to focus on what we have in common, rather than what divides us. Oh, and to pray often for a tender heart, wisdom, discernment and huge amounts of grace! Thank you, Sarah.