We’ve been doing a lot of talking on the Good Faith podcast.
However, for the first time ever, my co-host David French and I answer questions from listeners. In this special “Ask Me Anything” podcast, we respond to questions that people have wondered about over the course of our podcast in a fun, free-flowing conversation where the listeners are in charge.
Specifically, we answered:
- [For Curtis]: I have not been attending church for several years and want to start going again. Do you have any advice on selecting a church?
- [For David]: How should we interact with family members and friends who consume a great deal of right wing media?
- [For Curtis]: David’s arguments often stray from “conservative” orthodoxy. I find them thought provoking and well reasoned if not always convincing (but usually convincing). However, your arguments never seem to stray from “progressive” orthodoxy and therefore I find them less convincing and biased. Can you tell us what non progressive stances you take on the issues we face today? (Other than abortion which I am assuming you have a conservative viewpoint on.)
- [For David]: How should Christians think about entertainment and play? Why is it even ok to spend time doing activities such as games or movies? How do you go about consuming entertainment in a healthy way — especially when the content can be a bit violent, sexual, or mystical?
- [For Curtis and David]: Pretend that you had to move to the other’s current home town. David, what would you tell Curtis about navigating in central Tennessee, and Curtis, what would you tell David about San Jose? What would you warn them about, and what would you tell them to seek out?
CURTIS CHANG: David, I have a question for you.
“What practical suggestions do you have for those of us who need to interact with fellow believers who are regular consumers of right wing media or are deep into MAGA politics or perhaps Christian nationalism? I find it easier to talk to people to the left of me, but it is challenging to talk to those to the right of me because they get easily upset or defensive and look at me like I’m the crazy one. It’s hard to have a reasonable conversation with them, but I believe it is important to have those conversations, especially when they are family members, coworkers, or fellow church members.”
This is from a principal of an upper school. So he’s asking this because clearly he needs to be interacting with a wide range of people both in his church and I suspect, his school as well.
DAVID FRENCH: Welcome to my life. I live in 85% red area, and a lot of folks, including in my family, extended family, in friendships, folks who are varying degrees of MAGA.
Let’s put people into different buckets, because there are some individuals that the better course of action is to just extricate yourself from the conversation. Politely, in an amiable way, but extricate.
Individuals for whom the MAGAverse has sort of become their new religion. You can tell if politics is overriding other aspects of their lives if they begin to adopt the kind of aggression and sometimes outright cruelty that marks much of the MAGA world.
Often, that aggression and cruelty, if it’s happening in church, is being cloaked in divine purpose, apocalyptic mindsets, and real anger.
CURTIS CHANG: This is different than the zombie apocalypse?
DAVID FRENCH: Yes, it’s different from the zombie apocalypse. In many of those circumstances, if you can’t steer the conversation away from politics, you have to kind of put somebody at arm’s length.
Now, this is not something that applies as much to say, parents, but there are people that you do have to put at arm’s length because of malice and cruelty. Do not repay cruelty with cruelty. You do not repay malice with malice. You do not repay rage with rage. But keep at arm’s length.
Those folks do exist, and they are sometimes in our families. I have seen fathers threaten to break off relationships with sons for not supporting the insurrection on January 6.
That’s how deep into this some people can get. In that circumstance, arm’s length relationships are sometimes the optimal. Pray, be kind, have patience, because, Lord willing, it’s a long race, right?
This might be a detour for some folks before they return to the path. So you don’t want to burn bridges, but sometimes you have to engage in defensive maneuvers, if that makes sense.
So that’s one bucket, but here’s another bucket.
Enormous number of people reside in the second bucket, which is when politics is somewhat downstream from their lives. This is not the main thing. To the extent that it matters to them, they might be, in my view, misguided in who they’re supporting or maybe even the way in which they’re supporting them. But this is still a person whose fundamental core is that they’re the same Jim or Jane you’ve always known.
Sometimes, the stumbling block might be you – not them.
Maybe they’re not actually treating you poorly, but you can’t get over how they’ve made their decisions. And that’s where it gets difficult, because sometimes you might be correct that their decision is wrong. They’ve made a wrong call on something that either is – or might seem to be – really important, and it’s hard to get over that.
And in those circumstances, drill down on the parts of the relationship where there is still commonality. Is the stumbling block in this relationship really them or is it really me?
Sometimes it might really be me. So I try to drill down on commonality and rebuild my feelings and my heart for them around that commonality.
CURTIS CHANG: What would be examples of commonality that you would drill? Is it like the Memphis Grizzlies?
DAVID FRENCH: No, it can be what’s going on with your kids. Let’s not be surface. Although Grizzlies are important, let’s talk about your kids. My mom’s in the hospital. What can I do for you? Like that kind of drill down.
Sometimes if it’s a more casual relationship, I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve steered conversations away from the border to SEC football. That’s a tactic. If you find yourself in a conversation getting aggressively political, steer away. But I’m talking about meaningful relationships. Drill down into the areas where you know somebody might be struggling or experiencing joy that has nothing to do with the thing that divides you.
Be ready to have a kind, yet firm, answer as to why you disagree.
If they have been living in that right wing world, they might not have heard your perspective at all.
In church, someone asked me, “David, why don’t you like our president?”
I just settled on one quick reason. I said, “You know, I just wish he lied less.”
With pure sincerity, they said, “Donald Trump lies?”
If you’re dealing with people who’ve been immersed in that right wing infotainment bubble, they’re operating from often a completely different set of understandings. So be prepared with kindness, but with conviction, explain where you come down and why.
At the same time, you’re making it clear you’re not making the relationship contingent upon any of this. You’re not making your love or your care for them contingent upon any of this.
This is just where you stand and why. Be prepared to answer that question, but also don’t be the person who is demanding compliance with your political view as the precondition for the relationship.
CURTIS CHANG: Which is a trait, a vice, that afflicts left and right equally. It’s not something that is just on the right, but on the left. I find here in the Bay Area very much the sense of that acceptance and agreement are conflated. And that is a real danger in relationship.
I have experienced this on the left very powerfully. This idea that you must comply, you must agree with me for me to feel accepted. But we can accept one another without agreeing with one another.
DAVID FRENCH: I’ll give you a really interesting moment in Mayfield, Kentucky, which was leveled by tornadoes. I was volunteering with Samaritan’s Purse to try to do what I could to clean up with some friends from college. A whole bunch of people from all around the country had come to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse. We’re all serving there together, and there was this lovely younger mom who was there, and she was getting after it, man.
The amount of work she was doing was unbelievable. We started talking and having a great time. And then she looks at me and says, “I am tired of the deep state sending these tornadoes to punish the red states.”
CURTIS CHANG: There was a branching fork in your conversational path, right?
DAVID FRENCH: Yes. And so should I engage on the idea that tornadoes are summoned by government officials who can manipulate the weather, or should I not? And I realized not. Because here’s somebody who had been there for a week. I was just up there for a day. What am I going to do? Start lecturing her about conspiracy theories when she’s been giving the last week of her life to helping these folks who’ve been just blasted out of their homes?
In our hyperpolarized time, you hear somebody say something wildly off base, and you immediately write them off. You either have to set them straight or you head and turn in the other direction. Don’t do that.
The last thing on this is about persuasion. I’m going to go to the “elephant and the rider” analogy, Curtis. This is Jonathan Haidt’s analogy.
The rider is our rational mind, the part that says 2 + 2 = 4. The part that says SEC football is better than all other football conferences. The basic facts. That’s the rider.
And we often think of persuasion as talking to the rider. If I communicate to the rational part of your mind, I will change your mind, and we’ll go off happily ever after.
But Haidt says there’s an elephant which is everything else: your upbringing, your relationships, your identity… everything else.
If the rider wants to move but the elephant doesn’t, you’re not going anywhere. But if the elephant wants to move, the rider is coming along.
When you think of persuasion, speak to the elephant. How?
It’s not that you abandon rationality, but you double down on love, you double down on kindness, you double down on relationship. You double down on all of those things that really reach the full core of who a human being is.
HOSTS: Curtis Chang and David French
PRODUCER: Victoria Holmes
The Good Faith podcast comes out every Saturday on The Dispatch. Listen and subscribe here or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Curtis Chang is the founder of Redeeming Babel.