The trouble with avoiding controversial topics

Young people usually only get one side of every issue - because we don't tell them the other side
Young people usually only get one side of every issue – because we don’t tell them the other side

Lindsay blogs about it on her Lindsay’s logic blog.


According to these definitions, a controversial topic is simply one on which many people disagree. In some cases, this may be due to the topic being merely opinion. If you are asking which ice cream flavor is the best or which sports car is the best or which season of the year is the best, these are all matters of opinion and there is no right answer. There is no absolute truth in these cases because the inherent question is about what people prefer. Different people prefer different things.

But in spite of the fact that there is a lot of disagreement on the best ice cream flavor (vanilla, in case anyone was wondering), we don’t usually try to shut people up when they express an opinion, even if it differs from ours. And we usually don’t call these opinions “controversial.” In fact, I have never heard anyone refer to ice cream flavors as a controversial issue. (What a conversation that would be. “I like vanilla best.” “Oh, don’t talk about ice cream flavors because they’re so controversial.”)

When people talk about something being “controversial” they usually do it when it’s not just a matter of opinion, but they want to believe it is. They want to use the disagreement out there to avoid taking a side on an important topic.

Sometimes they don’t want to take a side because it’s unpopular. If they take a side, the people on the other side might not like them.

Sometimes they don’t want to have to put the effort into studying the issue. Laziness makes them avoid finding out which position is the correct one.

Sometimes they don’t like the implications involved in taking a position. What if believing one way or the other means they have to change something about their life? Perhaps give up something they enjoy or do something they don’t like?

Sometimes they have the mistaken idea that a “controversial” topic doesn’t have a correct answer and thus neither side should be dogmatic.

Some see taking a side on something that evokes a lot of disagreement as somehow “divisive” or “polarizing” and therefore bad.

Whatever the reason, these people want to stay “neutral” and not take a side. And, often, they don’t want to hear anyone else’s position on the matter either.

And this is where I want to turn this topic to parenting. I have met people who fell away from their faith after being raised in a Christian home, and this is what I’ve noticed about them. The parents are usually uncomfortable with listening to the other side of “controversial” issues. Does God exist? Too controversial. Is there unjustified evil and suffering? Too controversial. Should abortion be legal? Too controversial. Are non-Christian religions false? Too controversial. Is premarital sex morally permissible? Too controversial. Nothing can be discussed, because we all have to feel happy – and be seen by the neighbors to BE happy. So shut it and keep smiling.

It reminds me of this post from Beyond Teachable Moments, where the author was interviewing a woman who lost her faith in college before returning to the faith.

Read this:

 Throughout the phases of my childhood, expose me to different types of social situations with people from all walks of life. I think having experience talking with a wide range of people with differing worldviews is so important. In other words, get me outside the safe Christian “bubble”, but do so with the support of parents and with an open discussion of why people think/believe differently and why we believe what we believe. Do not just tell me “believe this because I told you it is true or because I said so.”

Learn what is going on in popular culture within my peer group. What are kids my age thinking, watching, and listening to? Be involved; don’t view every outside influence as a threat, but help and encourage me to analyze situations and make decisions accordingly. Don’t try to shelter me from everything. I need to develop confidence and a foundation in the little things if you expect me to be able to take on the big things at university.

Don’t use me to make you look good in front of other people at church, I can see straight through that. It does not feel good and drives me far away. What matters is what is going on inside, not what is projected. Looking perfect and going through the motions does nothing. The very basis for Christianity is what is going on in the heart. Only by letting Jesus work in your heart can actions follow with true authenticity.

If every topic is off limit in the home, then the child will very likely drop Christianity like a hot potato when she hits college. You do not teach a child how to debate controversial topics by shushing them in order to maintain your happiness – or to keep up appearances. It’s even worse when the shushing is done with screaming and arguments. Controversial topics must be discussed openly and respectfully. Work has to be done by parents to study these issues. Debates (like WLC debates) must be watched by the whole family. Both sides of issues must be represented properly. But how many times does this happen in Christian homes? And how many times does this happen in the Christian church? You can attend an evangelical church for from birth to death in America and never hear one iota of useful information related to controversial topics. The parents don’t know, the pastors don’t know, and that’s the way they like it.

Many Christian parents are happy for their kids to “be nice” and “look good” while they are home even if they go wild in college. It’s so “unexpected” they will say later. They did such a good job – took them to church every week, and they got their Bible memorization and praise hymn singing badges. Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that not knowing anything and not teaching anything about controversial issues is a great parenting technique. Parents and pastors are sure that it’s more “pious” to just believe things without evidence, and not discuss and debate alternate points of view. And easier, too – leaves more time to for “devotional” activities, which don’t require study. The more we spiritualize Christianity instead of debating it, the more likely our children will turn on God.

The most alarming thing is when I tell Christian parents and Christian pastors this, and they start to make excuses about how faith is beyond reason and evidence. How do you stop a problem like this when the parents and the pastors are more focused on looking good and feeling good than they are on knowing whether what they believe is true? You can’t. We have to recognize that this pious refusal to get down and dirty with the truth claims of Christianity is motivated by laziness. It’s not praiseworthy at all to chase Christianity into some mystical realm beyond the reach of logic and evidence. Yet this is the dominant view in Christian homes and churches.

4 thoughts on “The trouble with avoiding controversial topics”

  1. very well said. We deliberately had our daughters attend public schools instead of the “safer” christian schools because we wanted them to hear what the world has to say and then have the opportunity to discuss how what we believe relates to worldly opinions. How often have we all seen young people who were raised in that “christian bubble” mentioned by the author who go crazy as soon as they are out in the world?
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Another of my blog posts relates to this topic as well. Children should be sheltered, but it has to be done correctly. They need training before they make their own way in a world full of evil. That’s what parents are for. But training isn’t about isolation. It’s about preparation. The purpose of sheltering should NOT be to keep them from knowing about evil or wrong ideas. It’s about protecting them until they can develop the framework (worldview) to make sense of the wrong ideas and the maturity to handle them.

  3. Uh…I don’t think the autor said to send your children to government schools. My guess would be that children raised in Christian homes and “educated” in government schools leave the faith than those educated in “Christian bubbles.” Government schools teach religion, it’s called secularism. Why do many Christian parents think it is a virtue to send their children to secular temples to be taught? Would they think it was a virtue if Islam was taught rather than secularism?

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