How Christians Can Change Their Minds on Controversial Issues

Changing your views on a controversial issue can be tough. So how do you do it? Here are a few practical choices that might help.

How Christians Can Change Their Minds on Controversial Issues

Be honest. When was the last time you shifted viewpoints on a controversial issue?

From personal experience, I'd say most people's views on politics, justice, poverty, abortion, immigration, and mental health are pretty rigid. Change is tough. And in our culture of polarization, it's hard to shift any position without having some sort of label stamped on us. "You're woke" or "You're a Christian Nationalist."

When it comes to change, I think there are several myths Christians are prone to believe.  

Myth #1 | The Most Mature Christians Are the Ones Who Never Change

The longer you're a Christian, the more humbling it is to change. By changing, you're saying something about the way you used to think was wrong. Gasp.

But if the goal of the Christian life is conformity to the image of Christ, this means our spiritual growth will necessitate change. Conformity isn't instantaneous. It's a sanding process where the rough beliefs we once held are shaved away.

The problem with making bold statements like, "The person you see today is the same person you'll see in ten years," is that you're assuming most of the conforming process is over.

Myth #2 | I Will Make the Perfect Changes If I Just Get Alone By Myself and Read My Bible

"I just do what the Bible says."

I'm sure you've heard this line a time or two. But the problem is many Christians think differently on controversial issues. Sure, they share the big stuff such as the Apostles Creed, but they differ in so many different areas.

Case in point, a few months ago I was driving with a friend and we got on the subject of politics. I shared I had voted for one political figure and he shared that he had voted for the opponent. The ironic point was that in retrospect, both of us wished we would have voted third party! Both of us loved Jesus and studied the Bible. But our interpretations prompted us to vote for opposing candidates. The truth is that our interpretation of scriptures is often more informed by experience than we might care to admit.  

Think of your own life. How did your unexpected health crisis change the way you read the Psalms? How did a relational breakup change the way you read Hosea? And how did your years volunteering at a homeless shelter change your view of Micah 6:8?

Myth #3 | People Who Make Changes Are On a Slippery Slope

First, it is true that Christians can drift or lose their first love. But I've also found this argument is often used as a scare tactic that puts Christians in one of two camps. A) They never change because the cost of doing so is too high. B) They change everything overnight and feel like a completely different person.  

Yes, change done for the wrong reasons can lead to shipwrecking our faith. But change done out of a desire to follow Christ can make us more like him.

Primary Reasons Christians Change

The other day I asked friends on social media to tell me why they thought people changed their minds. Here were a few of the answers:

One, they like to change. They're a facts and data kind of person. It's part of their personality. They love asking questions, meeting new people, and the process of change makes them feel alive.

Two, their bubble shatters. For years, they thought one way, but then something happened. They went through a close relational breakup, a key Christian leader who shaped their understanding let them down, or they had an experience that took them beyond their previous limitations. Now they're suddenly open to views they had previously discarded.  

Three, they met the right person who interacted with them in the right way. Maybe they'd always interacted with people inside their denominational bubble, but then they met a fellow Christian who loved Jesus and thought differently.  

Byer's Choices

Within Christian circles, there tend to be two camps. One says, "Bless God, I'll never change. And anyone who does is on a slippery slope to looking like the world."

The other says, "Change is awesome! Let's blow up everything we ever believed and start over."

But I think we need a better way. If you are considering a change on a controversial issue, but you want to make changes in a thoughtful manner, here are some choices I'd recommend.

Choice #1 | Embrace the Wesleyan Quadrilateral as a Framework 

Say what? Let me explain.

As someone who has learned a lot from the eighteenth-century preacher, John Wesley, I think his so-called "Wesley Quadrilateral" can help. It looks like this.

Scripture is the main one. But then we have tradition, reason, and experience. Practically speaking, here is how I follow this in my life.

Scripture | I do everything I can to keep God's Word fresh in my mind. Currently, this involves a combination of memorizing scripture and reading different translations. This changes me and the way I behave.

Tradition | This one is tricky. One of the reasons I'm not Catholic is because I think they overvalue tradition. But one of the dangers of being a Protestant is we tend to undervalue tradition. To combat this bend, I try to read big books by smart people who are dead. For example, I've been reading Augustine's The City of God and am challenged by his views on suffering (which I've found much different than many contemporary Christian writers).

Reason | God gave you a brain. Don't underestimate it and don't let others bully you into beliefs you cannot reconcile in your mind. I think of reason like I do talking to a financial advisor. I'm not the smartest guy on finances. But I want someone who will give me solid reasons for why I should or shouldn't invest in X. If they can't, I don't care how smart they are.

Experience | Make it a point to place yourself in environments or situations that stretch you. Live in a suburban neighborhood? Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Is your inner circle all friends of one ethnicity? Change it up and add friends from different backgrounds. The older we get, the easier it becomes to settle into a routine where we're exposed to the same types of people. So be intentional in varying your experiences.

Choice #2 | Do Your Major Changes in Private

Recently, I heard a conversation between Phil Visher and Ed Stetzer. And in case that first name doesn't ring a bell, Phil Visher was the creator of Veggies Tales (which was at one point in one-third of American family homes).

Since 2016, Visher has offered a strong critique of the American Church. And many of the concerns he has raised I share. But here is where it gets tricky. From my vantage point, he spends a lot of time asking questions while providing little clarity. And during this exchange, he admitted why. It's because he is still processing many of the questions he raises.

While this approach can be helpful at times, I think there are also dangers. For example, at various points, I've had questions about the role of women in ministry, social justice, and race relations in America. But rather than hash out my questions on the TMC podcast, I interacted behind the scenes with books and diverse Christian leaders who became my teachers.

Choice #3 | Change in Community 

This one is big. If possible, find others who have walked through a similar change and learn from them.

Of course, what do you do if you're making changes that your community rejects? This is where it gets tricky. But the world is a big place and you are not alone. The same questions you're wrestling with today are the same questions millions of other believers face as well.  

Choice #4 | Avoid Overcorrection

The other day I was teaching one of my kids how to ride a bike. And as I did, the greatest struggle they faced was overcorrection. They'd go to the right, then swing hard to the left.

Changing positions on a controversial issue is tough. And when you change, it's tempting to overcorrect. I can't tell you how many times I've seen this in Christian circles:

  • A complementarian switches to egalitarian...but then says there is no difference between genders.
  • A Christian sees a rise in Christian Nationalism...but then goes on to view every conservative believer as a Christian Nationalist.  
  • An undisciplined Christian finds tremendous value in the structure of a fundamentalist congregation...but becomes so ridged she is almost unapproachable.  

Correct. But don't overcorrect.

Choice #5 | Stay Humble

The ultimate change we will experience is when we meet Christ face-to-face. Until that day, there will be many parts of us that do not look like him. And it's best to remember what we once were.

The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

But then he goes on to add this little line in verse 11: "And such were some of you."

When you make changes on controversial issues Christians debate, do so with humility. Don't badger others for believing the same beliefs you held for many years. Extend grace and be kind. :)

What do you think? What choice should I add to this list? How do you make changes? Login to leave a comment below.

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