Translating Fundamentalese: Empathic Listening

I’m reading NonViolent Communication

Marshall Rosenberg with his two puppets: the sneering jackal and the big-hearted giraffe: two parts of ourselves.

Marshall Rosenberg with his two puppets: the sneering jackal and the big-hearted giraffe: two parts of ourselves.

by Marshall Rosenberg. He has a chapter on listening empathically instead of taking things personally. This is probably the most difficult part of dealing with my family: listening to their needs rather than their judgments and accusations.


1. Where are you going to church these days?

2. How can you walk away from the Lord?

3. You know the truth. You’re just rebellious.

4. We just follow the Bible.

5. We can’t even eat with you now that you have been withdrawn from.

communion trayTaking it Personally Translation:

1. I’m pretty sure you are going to a liberal church, or not going to church at all. Don’t you know that the Bible condemns those who forsake the assembly? And only hard line Churches of Christ have correct assemblies.

2. You should be ashamed of yourself. We taught you right, and now you’ve shipwrecked your faith.

congregation sing3. God will judge the rebellious. Your heart is dishonest. Nothing you say to us is really what you believe. We’ve quit listening.

4. And you don’t follow the Bible, so you’re lost, deluded and without God.

5. You are the most despicable person we know.

Empathic Translation:

1. I miss our connection and I feel lost when I think about trying to renew it.

2. We are scared. We don’t understand where you are spiritually. We miss you. It’s lonely without you.

3. We can’t understand how anyone could change their mind like you have. We’ve never encountered that kind of freedom in ourselves. Our lives would collapse and our discipline would go out the window if we let go of the fundamentals of our church and faith. We depend on our congregation and our group to help us define ourselves. Whenever we encounter someone who has taken the steps you have in your faith, we have to put up strong walls to keep ourselves from slipping down the slope of unbelief. You make us scared that we will go off into chaos.

4. We need the security of knowing we are doing the right thing. We spend most of our time trying to reassure each other that we are doing the right thing. When you leave us, you rock the boat and we are afraid we will fall out and drown. Please stop scaring us.

5. Our sense of self is so fragile that we could be influenced by your departure. We have to make a firm boundary to make sure we won’t leave our church and leave our salvation. You scare us.


About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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5 Responses to Translating Fundamentalese: Empathic Listening

  1. kathy says:

    I absolutely love this blog! I was not raised church of christ but was raised with similar thinking. I recommend Richard Rohr’s readings to anyone who loves this blog! Thank you. Kathy

  2. Steve says:

    This post comes across as condescending and a bit all-knowing. I am not Church of Christ, but I do believe in the Scriptures. Many of these are legitimate concerns. Let’s explore.
    1. Where are you going to church these days?
    Very legitimate. Those who believe in Christ as their Lord and Savior are concerned with your well-being. We are commanded to assemble, and from a human standpoint, it makes sense. Birds of a feather and all that.
    2. How can you walk away from the Lord?
    A bit harsh, but of course we don’t see the entire conversation. A person who doesn’t attend Church, most likely HAS walked away as they are not a member of the visible Church any longer.
    3. You know the truth. You’re just rebellious.
    Again, possibly harsh. Context would be needed.
    4. We just follow the Bible.
    Here is an issue I have with Church of Christers in general.
    5. We can’t even eat with you now that you have been withdrawn from.
    If they believe this, then you need to respond, with Scripture. Assert the consequent, and then show how Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors.

    • Mark says:

      Hi Steve,
      Thanks for your comments. It is interesting to hear what you think of these musings from an outsider’s point of view. The article was intended to be less harsh and more empathic, but you heard it as condescending and all-knowing.

      When a hard line Church of Christ person asks, “Where are you going to church?” They are also saying, “And if you don’t say a hard line Church of Christ congregation, then I have a whole lot of other things to say to you.” They are, after all, the One True Church because they have the only valid baptism, the only valid worship service, the only valid interpretation of the scriptures and the only valid congregational organization.

      Hard line Church of Christ conversations tend to trigger painful emotions for the ones who have left, such that they need a support system, this blog being part of that support. I know some ex-coc-ers who make sure not to greet members they see on the street or at a restaurant if they can help it, because the conversations usually go badly. In fact hard line Churches of Christ teach lesson after lesson on how to put pressure on people who have left, how to inflict the most guilt, how to make a person feel the most shame, including official withdrawal, not eating with, not staying with, etc. Because the stakes are salvation versus eternal damnation. Normal decent respectful boundaries fly out the window in the face of such high stakes. Also, the hard line CoC speaks in code, as do all tribes, such that when we hear a phrase that seems innocuous to outsiders, it means a whole other can of worms to those who have been indoctrinated. When a Japanese business man says, “That would be difficult,” he means, “No way!” Just so, when we hear key phrases from the hard line CoC we have alarm bells go off.

      So you can probably imagine that if we, as ex-coc-ers, want spiritual encouragement, we have people we go to, or fellowship with, that help us in that regard. We never go to hard line Church of Christ people for those conversations. We do not take their conversations as opportunities to engage in honest and open dialog. We take these conversation openers as daggers to defend ourselves against.

  3. This is spot on! Fellow former noninstitutional COC-er here, too. I’ve tried very hard over the years to cultivate a little more empathy when dealing with my family and to remember that they are coming from a place of both love (because they want me to go to heaven) and fear (because we no longer share the same worldview and they don’t know what to do with that).

  4. garycummings says:

    The COC cult had its own double speak,as this post has pointed out.
    I have heard of of this before.
    Where do you go to church ? = Unless it is a “faithful Lord’s Church” you are screwed.
    “You are just rebellion against God.” = How dare you question us!
    “You are just bitter.”=We do not care about what you think, just go to Hell.

    A lot more can be said.

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