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10 Ways to Deal With Right-Wing Christian Relatives Over the Holidays

How non-believers and liberal Christians can appeal to basic human kindness to repair strained relations with right-wing Christian family.

Holidays are stressful enough, but if you’re a non-believer—or even a liberal Christian—with right-wing Christian relatives, things can be even harder. There are so many landmines to navigate: Attempts to convert you; arguments about politics; offensive “jokes” that are really unvarnished bigotry; absurd claims and beliefs that threaten to cause you eyestrain from all the rolling.

Is there a way to protect yourself from all this without losing your relationship with your family? While there’s no way to make your conservative Christian relatives act with decency and tolerance 100% of the time, there are steps you can take to minimize the damage. Here are some suggestions.

1. Remember that you have leverage. Dan Savage is always recommending to newly out gay people to remember that they have leverage when dealing with recalcitrant or even angry parents: Their presence. Liberals and atheists can learn from this. If your family really is overbearing with attempts to convert you or incessant hollering about their right-wing beliefs, simply tell them to cut it out or you will cut out your visits. Try to avoid picking a fight or being dramatic about it. State your expectation that they keep the Christian right nonsense to a minimum around you, and if they can’t keep up their end of the bargain, refuse to see them until they realize that the price of having you around is that they learn to talk about something other than religion and politics. 

If they decide they cherish ranting about the evils of gay marriage or abortion more than they cherish you, that’s sad, but at least you can take comfort in the fact that you’re sparing yourself some major headaches. But even if they do agree to dial it down, odds are high that your relatives will try some funny business while you’re around. So be prepared with these next tips.

2. Do not argue over points of fact. Sometimes you will feel the need to push back, if only to establish your boundaries. There’s a good way and a bad way to do this. One thing to avoid is trying to correct them when they say blatantly untrue things. Yes, it’s maddening to hear your relatives spout lies about science, politics and history that they picked up on AM radio and Fox News, but ask yourself honestly, has correcting them ever resulted in anything but denials and hurt feelings? When a relative asserts that global warming is a myth or that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim, remind yourself that he doesn't believe these things because he's made an honest mistake and is open to correction. He believes these things because he wants to believe these things. Unless you can make him stop wanting to believe it—and you can’t—there’s no point in arguing. Even if you can look up the facts online, he can point to some other source telling the lies. This will never get resolved, and you are wasting your breath.

3. When you do push back, make it personal. That doesn’t mean you have to just throw your hands up in the air and take it while your relatives spout provocative lies around you, however. The key is to reframe the issue as a matter of personal boundaries. “When you say those things about the President, Grandpa, it makes me agitated and angry. Can we talk about other, more pleasant things?” “Mom, our time together is so brief, and I’d hate for it to be used up talking about issues you know we don’t agree on.” “Uncle, your comments about gay people are hitting close to home. Some of my best friends are gay, and I can’t, in good conscience, hear people say negative things about them without speaking up. Could you leave it at home?”

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