7 Tips for Handling a Forced Political Debate at the Holiday Dinner Table

Author’s note: This is part two of a two-part series on being an effective pro-life advocate at family holiday gatherings. Part one is here: 6 Things Every Pro-Life Advocate Needs to Know Before the Holidays.

7 Tips for Handling a Forced Political Debate at the Holiday Dinner Table

In my first article on this subject, I explained that political discussions with extended family are some of the most complicated dialogue situations to navigate due largely to the power dynamics. I also discussed several reasons why the holiday dinner table is not an ideal time or place for persuading people to change their mind about abortion.

But what if your pro-choice aunt does bring up abortion or another political topic at the dinner table and tries to pull you into a debate with her? Here are seven tips for making the best of that situation:

6 Things Every Pro-Life Advocate Needs to Know Before the Holidays

Author’s note: This is part one of a two-part series on being an effective pro-life advocate over the holidays.

6 Things Every Pro-Life Advocate Needs to Know Before the Holidays

I’ve been speaking about relational apologetics more often lately, a phrase that I define as “cultivating relationships with people who have different beliefs, for the sake of genuine friendship and for discovering truth together.” One of the most frequent questions I get asked after discussing this topic is how to handle potentially volatile political discussions with family members, such as in the context of a big family dinner at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Even Saturday Night Live has made light of how politically charged Thanksgiving dinners can become:

As my colleague Rachel Crawford noted during a discussion of relational apologetics that we recorded for the Equipped for Life Course Podcast:

I think that a large part of long-term apologetics is going to be coming from what sort of relationship you have with the other person. . . . Having relational apologetics with a family member, especially if they are your mother or your grandmother and they are not a peer, that is going to be especially difficult. . . . that poses an extra challenge.

Family members present several challenges that may make engaging in discourse with them particularly  difficult if you want to be persuasive. I’d like to explain why that is and offer several practical tips for optimizing your chances of changing people’s minds in this context.

Here are six things to keep in mind before you arrive at a big family gathering this holiday season:

Personal Experiences Don’t Prove Anything

The Problem with Results-Oriented Reasoning

Most pro-life people have at least one major goal in common: we want to see abortion become illegal. So why do we disagree so much about how we should get there? Primarily, it’s that we have different beliefs about what is effective. If we all agreed that a given strategy had the highest probability of succeeding in the shortest amount of time, then we could probably all get on board with that strategy.[1]

There are many reasons why we disagree so much about what is likely to work. People have different experiences, different personalities, different strengths, different mentors, confirmation bias, misunderstandings, sin, and good old-fashioned stubbornness. It’s pretty difficult to do much about these things. But there’s another factor that contributes to our disagreements that we can actually do something about, because it is a very correctable error in reasoning: We have an ingrained impulse to be results-oriented. If we all learned to recognize that impulse, we would actually have fewer disagreements.

Being results-oriented means believing explicitly or implicitly that a given action is praiseworthy or blameworthy on the basis of the results of the action.[Tweet that] In other words, when someone is trying to evaluate the effectiveness of an action, an argument, a method, or anything else, they look at the results. If it had a positive result, they declare the action/argument/method to be effective. If it didn’t have a positive result, they declare it to be ineffective.