How to talk with Authoritatives

A common question after people read my book or hear my presentation is how can Nurturants have constructive discussions with Authoritatives? Below are some suggestions.

Dr. John Sanders, author of Embracing Prodigals: Overcoming Authoritative Religion by Embracing Jesus’ Nurturing Grace (2020).

  1. Patience. Changing neural pathways takes time. If people are a mix of Authoritaive and Nurturant, it is easier to persuade them. It takes much more engagement and repeated reinforcement to transform solid Authoritatives (Don’t Think, 160). The story of the woman who was raised in the Westboro Baptist Church (Embracing Prodigals, 89).
  2. For Authoritatives, getting what you deserve is crucial. Bring up memories of when they received from a parent, teacher, coach, etc. a good that they did not deserve. Bring up memories of when they were gracious to another that did not deserve it. Ask, “What are you most proud of that helped other people?”
  3. Create a safe place for conversation and thinking. Authoritatives are afraid to question religious beliefs.
  4. Find out what they believe about, for instance, prayer. Do they believe God is concerned and influenced by their prayers or situation in life?
  5. Read passages in sacred texts that depict God in nurturing ways.
  6. Read stories or watch movies that depict people acting in ways that contain grace, nurturance, empathy, perspective-taking, and the like.
  7. Many Authoritatives are unaware that in religious history there is more than one view on topics such as atonement, salvation of people in other religion, and hell. Showing that devout believers have held many different views on such topics opens a door to overturn the Authoritative belief that there is only one view. [See Embracing Prodigals 49-66 and 93-95]

Here is an excellent source for general guidelines for conversations with people who hold very different views:

On social and political issues, Nurturants need to learn how to frame the issues. For instance, health care should never be understood as a “commodity” as in “affordable health care” because that use the mental “frame” of commodity which is the way Authoritatives think of health care. These two websites and books by George Lakoff use cognitive science to frame progressive and Nurturant values.

  1. Topos Partnership.
  2. Frameworks Institute.
  3. George Lakoff, Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. Pages 156-164 have specific suggestions for talking with Authoritatives. In addition to some of the above, he says to use values that most people share: security, prosperity, opportunity, and freedom.

John Sanders

John E. Sanders is an American theologian who is a professor of religious studies at Hendrix College. He has published on four main topics: (1) open theism, (2) Christian views on the salvation of non-Christians, (3) Christian views on the nature of hell, and (4) applying cognitive linguistics to theology.

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