Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Family Conflicts and Deal-Breakers

Fuller alum Erika Carney Haub writes a blog that deals with issues arising out of living in inner city Los Angeles. I've mentioned her before, and have continued to read through her reflections regularly. Recently, she discussed "deal-breakers" that can become "land-mines" when discussing often contentious political issues (I have to confess, this particular entry caught my attention because of the title: "Deal or No Deal." Unfortunately for me, there was nothing in there at all mentioning the popular game show. It's a good entry anyway!).

Erika's "land-mines" seem to be similar to what I've written about in the past, only I've called them "red flags." I've written quite a few entries over the years imploring people to be more reasonable or fair in our theological and/or political discussions, and it should come as no surprise to anyone that in this particularly hostile campaign season, I'm especially concerned about how volatile our nation's attitude has often become. This is no merely academic pursuit for me. Many members of my own family hold wildly different opinions from my own on many issues, and I find it increasingly difficult to even want to be around them for very long, lest our discussions devolve into hostile ranting on issues where we simply cannot agree, and all too often it seems we cannot even "agree to disagree" in a civil fashion.

It is often said that we should work to find common ground on those matters on which we do agree, such as the fact that (in my family, for example) most of us are indeed Christians. I agree with this advice to a point, but find that it is not a workable solution at all times and in all places. I expect that part of the reason for this is similar to what Erika gets at in reflecting on the situations in which she finds herself:
I know that for me, there are many things I am willing to shut up about. I may hold an opposing viewpoint or feel like a decision is a poor one, or simply think a different approach would be better, but for many things I can submit pretty easily. But I have discovered that, not surprising, I have some deal-breakers just as we all do. And when these beliefs or principles are stepped on, my reaction is very, very different.
Erika argues that the only way to try to prevent "deal-breakers" from becoming "land-mines" is to work on discussing these deep issues. She's specifically thinking about multi-cultural church dialogue, but I think the principle can be applied elsewhere. In a completely unrelated discussion, Rev. Mark D. Roberts comments on the observation that a church is often like a family. Far from meaning that church members should always get along, Roberts notes that this similarity includes the various disagreements and conflicts that families often experience.
It's certainly true that, even within my own family, I have relatives who live in contexts that--being vastly different from my own--cannot help but give them different perspectives on various issues.

So, there it is. I know more or less what the problem is, and I know (at least in theory) what I ought to do about it. But to be perfectly honest, the prospect of being so open with my family about my true theological/political leanings terrifies me. I've certainly tried to give them "clues" to what I think about many issues. I think my family knows that I try to find middle ground and to seek to understand even those whom I disagree with. But there are so many members of my family that seem to have such raw hatred for certain political parties, politicians, or Christians who don't wholeheartedly agree with them on some "deal-breaker" issue, that I think I have good reason to fear that they will apply that hatred to me if they fully understood just how far from agreement I am with them on some of those issues. Far from bringing us all closer to justice by standing up for what I think is right, and successfully arguing for my values, I fear that I will just end up bruised and battered, with no positive result having been gained for my troubles.

To tell the truth, there is a sense in which I find it easier to have such discussions or disagreements with members of my church. As much like a family as a church is supposed to be, a disagreement with a church member doesn't hit so close to the core of my being. Also, it's easier to leave a church (however bad an idea that might be) than it is to leave a family. And I really don't want to leave my family. For all of our disagreements, I care about them a great deal. But they truly can be hard people to live with, sometimes!

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