April 19, 2018

Word: How to relate to an fundamentalist

Nellie Smith was raised as an fundamentalist

Nellie Smith, Alternet -  What does work? In my experience, it’s empathy, honest conversation, and a whole lot of patience. Although I’d been probing at the weaknesses of fundamentalist ideas since I was a kid, my ideas only really started to shift as I developed relationships with people who didn’t fit my worldview. These were people who respected me, who accepted me unconditionally, and who stayed in dialogue, never shaming me even when I said things that were ill-informed or demonstrably false. Some of them had been hurt or discriminated against because of evangelical ideology and their kindness to me wasn’t fair or deserved. In retrospect, their acceptance of me looks a whole lot like an uncomfortable word that evangelicals love to throw around: grace.

Such grace is admittedly a lot to ask. I would never demand it of anyone and I frankly don’t know that I’ve gotten there myself. But for those who can manage it—who can listen to damaging ideas and somehow still be tender, who can ask lots of questions and really listen to the answers, who can resist the urge to shame, and who can be in it for the long haul—my experience is evidence that everyday human kindness can absolutely be the catalyst for change. Misconceptions can be worn down by the substantive grit of a real story. But know that it takes time. It takes lots of time.

And, in the end, you should be realistic: for many who grew up as I did, the cost of leaving their worldview, community, and reality will simply be too great, no matter what you say or do.

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