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How Do I Deal With Preachy Family Members?

What to Do When Family And Friends Evangelize

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How Do I Deal With Preachy Family Members?

Is your family making you miserable with their attempts to convert you?

Image © Getty Images

Here at About Pagan/Wiccan, we get frequent email from people asking for help with relatives or friends who insist on preaching at them. Typically this comes in the form of either really aggressive evangelizing (leaving Chick tracts on your dinner table, screaming that you're going to hell), or passive recruitment tactics ("Why won't you come to church with us just once? Are you afraid you might enjoy it?"). Sometimes, it's the person on your email list who forwards you all those ISN'T JESUS GREAT!!! chain letters, in which recipients are told to spread the word even further if they're proud to be Christian.

It's bad enough to be evangelized at by strangers, but when it comes from friends and family members, it presents a sticky social wicket. After all, if you've got to have dinner with these folks on a regular basis, you can't very well scream "Leave me alone! You suck!" at them. On the other hand, it's unfair that you have to endure proselytizing from people who, in theory, should be able to respect your beliefs, even if they don't agree with them.

So, what do you do?

For starters, you do the same thing you always do when you have a problem with someone. You tell them that their behavior is bothersome. Yes, they should probably know that they're being obnoxious, but when it comes to preaching, people tend to have tunnel vision. So, start with the basics. Let the person know that what they're doing is offensive. That's the first step, and it doesn't have to be a big shouting match. You can avoid conflict by not being accusatory. Instead of saying, "Mary, you're always preaching at me and trying to make me go to church and I hate it!", you might try "You know, I understand that your religion is important to you, but I don't think you realize that my faith is important to me as well."

The second thing you need to do is recognize that a lot of times, this behavior comes from people who genuinely want to help out. They're not preaching at you because they're trying to be mean. They're doing it because they love you, and they may be worried about you. Typically, it's done with good intentions, although often those good intentions come across as obnoxious and disrespectful. If, in all other situations, you don't have a problem with this particular friend or family member, try to find a way to work through it by talking.

If the person is someone you see regularly, try to make time for just the two of you, with no kids or spouses around to get in the way, and tell them how you feel. You could start out with, "I know you're worried about my soul, and I appreciate that, I really do... but I need you to respect my right to believe differently from you, even if you disagree with it." Once you've established that, you'll need to tell your friend or family member -- again, being pleasant -- that it's putting a strain on your relationship when he or she evangelizes at you.

There's always a possibility that talking to the person won't do any good, or that her feelings might get hurt, but you won't know if you don't give it a shot... and they're definitely not going to change if you don't address the issue at all.

Sometimes, if the evangelizing is just one more in a string of obnoxious behaviors and disrespectful actions, you may have to take more drastic measures. If you only see your family once a year, when you visit for the holidays, is it worth it to make yourself upset? Is this a battle you fight every single year, with no changes? Be sure to read about Surviving the Winter Holidays with Your Non Pagan Family for some specifics on how to get through the holiday season without making yourself - or anyone else - miserable.

Now, what about those people from your more peripheral acquaintance who keep sending you those prayer chain emails? You know, that lady from work who shoots you five YAY JESUS messages a day? Well, you can block them. You can delete them without opening - and you know which emails those are, because the Subject Line will include a FW: at the beginning. Again, you can try talking to them. "Jane, I'm so glad we're friends, but I notice my email box is getting very cluttered, so I'm asking everyone to take me off their "forwards" list. Thanks for understanding!"

No matter what you decide to do, remember that while you can't change peoples' beliefs, you can change how you react to them. If someone you love won't stop preaching at you, you may just need to learn how to tune them out, instead of causing a major rift in your family.

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