safer people make safer conversations

log in your eye

this week is “healing the divides” week here at the blog, a few different posts centered on creating ways to love each other better despite our differences.  we started yesterday with 8 ways those from more liberal-progressive and conservative-evangelical persuasions can love each other better.  today, i want to talk about becoming safer people who can hold the space for safer conversations.

a really big thing that gets in the way of healthier-ways-of-living-in-the-tension-of-our-differences is unsafety.

it’s impossible to have unity and love when there’s all kinds of unsafe, unhealthy behavior going on.

to me, another word for “safety” is “healthy”.

safer, healthier people make safer, healthier conversations.

they bridge divides.

my take is that this skill of becoming safer people is under-developed ones in many churches. we are often good at bible knowledge & ministry programs & all kinds of other amazing tasks, but some of these basic healthy relationship skills are the lowest priority. maybe because they are much harder to practice!  in fact, a lot of our experiences have made church one of the most unsafe, unhealthy places on earth and that is part of the reason many people have given up on it all together. i understand. my experience has been that many systems–faith-based or not–stink at healthy relationship in community with one another.

learning how to be safer people won’t come in a rush, but it is so possible, especially when we are honest with ourselves about our own patterns. it’s always easy to finger point and call someone else “unsafe” but the truth is that there is always a way each and every one of us can become more safe ourselves.

part of bridging these divides is looking at the log in our own eye and working on ways to become safer people ourselves first.

as we do, our conversations will shift, we will become more graceful people, we will be able to hold a space with people who see things differently, we will learn some great stuff we need to learn, and in the end we will better reflect God’s image.

i wrote about these in down we go: living into the wild ways of Jesus in the chapter on welcoming pain and in different ways here the blog, but i thought it would be good to re-visit them this week as part of this series. many years ago i read safe people by cloud & townsend (really worth reading related to healthy relationships) and many of these ideas have evolved from there with time & experience. it’s been helpful to me to translate beyond individuals to communities as well.

i always need these reminders, especially when engaging in difficult conversations about hard things.

unsafe people (and communities):

  • tend to be extremely judgmental and defensive.
  • are quick to offer advice to others but remain unwilling to receive input or feedback.
  • think we have all the answers and reflect certainty that their opinion or perspective is somehow superior.
  • blame others for our mistakes but refuse to take responsibility for any of our own.
  • often demand trust as implicit in the relationship without having to offer any work on our end to earn it.
  • remain closed to change and are extremely rigid in our beliefs.
  • offer unsolicited advice, quick fixes, and do not take no for an answer.
  • use our power to make others unequal with them.
  • avoid conflict all together or create disproportionate conflict to somehow gain control in our relationships.
  • project that somehow we “have it all together” and rarely express our own struggles or weaknesses.

yikes! this is always such a convicting list! overall, i’d say that unsafe people & communities divide people. and they certainly can’t hold a space for the kinds of healthy, loving, honest, respectful conservations we need to have if we want to try to heal some of these deep divides between us.

but there is a better, healthier way to hold this space together.

safe people (and communities):

  • are good listeners, willing to sit with painful stories instead of fixing or giving unsolicited advice.
  • offer love and acceptance freely, without strings attached.
  • see beyond the surface to the good that’s within us.
  • help us feel comfortable being ourselves and challenge us to grow, stretch and practice.
  • value relationship over opinions or differences, and nurture a spirit of equality with those different from us.
  • receive help, input, and feedback instead of only giving it, and engage in healthy conflict instead of avoiding it.
  • are honest and kind, brave enough to say the hard things in love, while staying honest about our own shortcomings.
  • remain humbly connected to our stories and pain and are willing to share  our weaknesses and struggles with others who are safe enough.

safety should never be confused with comfort. they are two different things entirely, and that is such a misrepresentation of the word. safety is sometimes horribly uncomfortable. far harder. far trickier. far more mysterious and intangible.

but oh, becoming safer people would help create safer conversations and help heal divides that desperately need healing.

God show us how to be safer people. we want to learn.


Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • As a pastoral counselor, I can’t speak enough about the importance of safe relationships and safe environments, especially for those who name the name of Jesus in their churches and organizations. Sadly, I’ve heard more than my fair share of horror stories of churches and ‘Christian’ organizations who match up to the unsafe category almost to a T.

    These lists are absolutely spot on and deserve to be carefully considered. Kathy – this is simply outstanding … I will be sharing this link with the people in my world the days ahead.

    Thank you, friend …

    • i think you and i hear some of the same stories. so sad, but so glad so many people i know are becoming safer themselves and finding healthier places to live and learn and love and be part.

  • So much of this comes back to being willing to listen – willing to listen to opinions that might challenge our own, willing to hear how we might have hurt others, willing to enter into someone else’s story. I can’t think of anything harder, or more needed.

  • Oh this is so good, and I for sure am on the journey to becoming safer for sure. I want to read books about it, do workshops, maybe even watch movies about it? Aaaand then I realize that the process is actually living it out and practice, ug. It is not an only child toy, like an Etch a Sketch or a Lite Brite- you need other people to become safer. Annoying. 🙂
    Also, I think that it is hard too, as a therapist, to encourage healthy behaviors when it might be met with not so great results. I was talking to a kiddo today who is trying to practice better communication… but the reality is that the person/people he is trying to connect with are really unsafe. It makes it so hard to try new ways swimming upstream, I am grateful to be on this journey, so that I can one day be a safe-r parent.

  • Sadly, many of us have found that some churches are filled with people you would call unsafe. That would be one way to describe why we’re not there. We’re looking for love, understanding and acceptance, not judgment and a life manager (especially one who can’t manage their own life).


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