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Ask Jayson: Dealing with Judgmental Christian Parents

underwoodDear Jayson,

How do I get my extreme Christian parents to see that their views of the world are antiquated and no longer functional? They’re super judgmental and difficult to be around at times. I love my parents. I just want to see them love the world and people around them more. Background: I’m not Christian so they don’t value my opinion a lot of times.

Thank you,
Frustrated

Frustrated,

I think the chances of you getting them to “see” anything is problematic. You have a couple strikes against you. First of all, you’re their child . . . it takes some extremely well-adjusted parents to accept the fact that their child might be more enlightened than they are in any area. On top of that, you don’t share their Christian convictions. So you’d have to convince them that you know more about the views of a conviction that you don’t share.

As far as they’re concerned, you’re probably too blinded by the lies of this world to be an accurate guide.

There’s no magic bullet here. This is probably going to be a very long game. But here are a few suggestions to get you going:

  1. As hard as it seems, choose your battles. Don’t go to war with both of them. If one or both of them say something terrible in your presence when they’re together, bite your tongue. There’s no way that you come out of a situation like that a victor, and subsequent conversations they have about you in private later are going to bolster both of their defenses against your shenanigans in the future.
  2. Start investing in a relationship with the more compassionate of the two. Go out of the way to spend one-on-one time with with that parent. Again, bite your tongue. This is all about relationship. You need to make some deposits into the old relational bank account so that you can make withdrawals later.
  3. Take some time to learn their language. Why do they believe what they believe? From within the framework of their worldview, why should they believe anything different? Do you know some Christians who you find more palatable? Spend some time with them and see how their perspective is different.
  4. Look for opportunities to talk with the parent you’re investing in. Wait for moments that feel comfortable and open up the conversation in a casual way. Ask them questions about how they see things and be willing to listen. The more you show signs that you’re willing to understand them, the greater the chance that they’ll reciprocate. Don’t go all in here. Just have a small conversation about one aspect that troubles you. As best as you can, don’t be confrontational.  Be willing to pull the ripcord if it starts going south. Hopefully, the more you can draw this parent into a comfortable dialog about these issues, the more they’ll be an advocate for you with the other parent.

This isn’t going to be easy. One of the difficult things about some extreme Christian ideals is that they can be culturally inoculated against opposing views. It’s like a game of emotional Jenga. There’s often a fear that if you pull out the wrong block, their whole worldview will collapse. To protect themselves, it’s easy for them to demonize opposing ideas as being ungodly or liberal.

Lastly, if you’re able to affect any change here, it’s probably not going to be as much as you’d like. This places the responsibility on you to decide how much change you’d be happy with and how to have a relationship with them that you’re comfortable with.

In the end, they know how you feel. Learning how to communicate that you love them as they are, without having to sacrifice all of your principles, will probably have a positive effect—since that’s kind of what you expect from them.

I hope this helps!

Peace,
Jayson

Did I nail it or blow it? Let me know in the comments.

Have your own question? I’m always taking submissions to Ask Jayson!

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. froginparis #

    Nailed it! This is how I deal with my parents. It was hard at first because I had to see my parents as people. People who had a different opinion than mine. Then figuring out some kind of accord to relate to. Now on occasion, I can have conversations with the more compassionate of the two and share my opinion-with theological documentation and a well thought out logical basis-and it will be heard.

    It is a lot of work to extend grace to those with close minded or antiquated views, but in the end the boundaries make it worth it.

    June 28, 2014
  2. Even though I’ve got two progressive and loving Christian parents, I know people who are that judgmental about their beliefs. I don’t know that I myself would have the patience to try and speak toward their worldview, but I applaud those who can (or at least try).

    June 28, 2014
  3. I think that was a pretty good response. The basic point is to be ironically more Christlike than they are. More patient, more understanding, but at the same time braver. Not cruel or foolhardy, but bold. Some good advice about biting the tongue, too. I’ve seen situations like the one you described and you’re right; there’s no winning those kinds of arguments, especially in public.

    June 29, 2014

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