Peter’s Guide to Difficult Conversations
The Book of Acts includes many ‘conversion’ stories. While we tend to focus on Paul’s dramatic conversion from chief persecutor of the early Church to its leading advocate around the world; Peter’s conversion on the inclusion of gentiles in the nascent Christian Community is equally important.
In Peter’s ‘conversion’ we can find a good model for having conversations around difficult issues that we all can use - NOT to change people’s minds necessarily — but to open up the conversation so that voices can be heard and hearts can be opened.
Peter’s model has four steps: Pray, Go, Support, and Reflect
Prayer: Peter’s first engagement with the Gentiles begins when he is in prayer and has a vision about eating unclean food. Because Peter’s friends new him to be a man of prayer they took this vision seriously.
Go: Peter (and God) knew that a conversation with the Gentiles would be difficult - but that it would me much better on their turf. If you know you have to have a hard conversation with someone, GO TO THEM. You take the risk. It shows you care and creates a comfortable place for the other.
Support: Peter brings six friends with him when he goes to Caesarea Phillipi. They serve two purposes: 1) to back him up and 2) to vouch for him with their friends back home. Often our big fear in these conversations is not the other, it’s what our friends will say about us! Bring friends you trust to support you.
Reflect: finally, at the end peter brings it back to Jesus’ baptism and the beginning of his story. Root these conversations in your personal faith story and life experience. Don’t leave it out there but make it part of your story, honor your history and your future. This also ensures that you don’t stray too far from what you believe or who you are.
This fairly simple pattern that Peter offers is one we can use today. Whether the issue is immigration, crime, racism, abortion or what to have for dinner — this pattern I hope will help you engage in more challenging and more productive conversations going forward.