Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Family Forte: Navigating the Differences

by: Topher Wiles

Photo Credit: Closer Magazine
How do you navigate the myriad of family differences that exist in the political realm, the pandemic viewpoints, the religious spectrum, and more?  This important query stems from a middle-aged friend of mine whose child has a vastly different political viewpoint, bringing them to ask me how to handle this challenging family dynamic.  That is a big, messy, tough question that I’m scared to answer. Yet, as I dwell on this challenging situation longer, I think the answer to the question is simple and it was modeled by a wise man known in history as Jesus of Nazareth.  

In families, you value others by making time to dialogue with them and ask questions. 

Author Marvin B. Copenhaver states, “Contrary to some common assumptions, Jesus is not the ultimate Answer Man, but more like the Great Questioner. In the Gospels Jesus asks many more questions than he answers. To be precise, Jesus asks 307 questions. He is asked 183 of which he only answers 3. Asking questions was central to Jesus’ life and teachings.”

As I’ve been reading through the book of John I notice many different types of people that Jesus gives value to through dialogue and questioning.  Obviously they didn’t view religious, political, & life situations the same way as Jesus did.  Yet this wise man whose time was heavily desired by all invested time in listening to others. 

Consider Nathanael the honest skeptic in first chapter of John who himself asked the question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Yet Jesus valued this honest skeptic and his belief by investing time in dialoguing with him.

Take a look in the third chapter of John’s book that details a lengthy conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and religious elitist. Jesus asks him a though provoking question about understanding heavenly things before blasting Nicodemus with an earth shattering quote for this pious legalist when Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Pharisees struggle with the concept of God loving more people than just their chosen group so Jesus invests more time valuing Nicodemus, the religious elitist, by unpacking that statement.

Do you remember the Samaritan woman at the well in the fourth chapter of John’s writing?  Yes, as a Samaritan female growing up in a patriarchal society, she was likely the outcast, the oppressed, the outsider compared to a Jewish rabbi like Jesus. Yet Jesus values her when many would not by entering into a challenging question and answer period that resulted in many lives being changed.

The Jesus even shows us a completely different type of person He valued when He spoke with the Roman official at the end of John 4 about the healing of the official’s son.  If you were a Jew at this time, a Roman was basically your sworn enemy!  Yet Jesus gave value to the enemy of the state in dialogue.

Jesus even values the youth in his time.  There is a strong argument that many of the disciples were teenagers when they began following Jesus.  It’s possible that the writer and disciple, John, was only 13 years old when he began following Jesus. At the time of the Last Supper in John 13, we find this young disciple sitting in the place of authority at Jesus’ right hand as the group chatted about the upcoming betrayal.

As you read this great book of good news, I’m sure you’ll find more, but I bet you’re starting to get the point.  If Jesus values so many different people in dialogue, the honest skeptic, the religious elite, the outcast, the enemy of the state, and the youth, I know that you can value them too.  How do we handle differences of opinion within a family?  We give value to the people and we enter into dialogue with them just like Jesus did.

Might I suggest a few ground rules for family discussions that may help?

  • Begin by asking for a deliberate time to discuss your difference of opinion. Say, “Susie, can we carve out some time at dinner tomorrow night at dinner from 6-7pm to discuss our differing opinions on the upcoming presidential election? I would be glad to listen to you.” Asking permission as a parent gives them the opportunity to back out if feelings are already hurt and wounds are too raw to deal with right now. Setting up a specific time, such as a meal, can ensure the discussion has a beginning and an end. Value them by letting them know you will listen.
  • Set a rule that you will only discuss one topic at a time and give opportunity for everyone to share opinions on that topic before moving to the next. For example, do not start with discussing the pandemic then move on to debating nuclear warfare before both people have had the opportunity to share their viewpoints on the first topic. Value each other by sticking to one topic at a time.
  • If things get “too hot to handle,” anyone can call for a break in the discussion. Take a break for perhaps 15 minutes, or whatever time is needed, before discussing again.
  • Agree on the outset that you don’t have to agree to love each other. Their value to you is not dependent on them agreeing with everything you say. Sometimes agreeing to disagree is one of the most intrinsically valuable rules you can have.

Friends, we know that families struggle and differing viewpoints often bring discord and stress.  Remember to be like Jesus in valuing the differing family member by listening, asking questions, and engaging in healthy discussions with them.  You’ll be glad you did.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” – James 1:19 


The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.

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Thanks for your input. May you be blessed today!