A Model for Loving our Political Enemy
August 20, 2015—Picture a Bernie Sanders Democrat happily vacationing with a Donald Trump Republican. Can you see it?
There were four kids in my family of origin and we have turned out pretty well, if you ask me. But we have very different ideas about how the world should be run. Although raised by the same parents, two of us—and our spouses—self-identify as “liberals” and two of us—and our spouses—self-identity as “conservatives.”
Among the topics of conversation last week:
- “Illegal aliens”
- The heritage of Confederate flag-waving
- The notion that “pro-life” must include taking care of babies after they’re born
- The incidence of violence against women on college campuses
- “Black Lives Matter” versus “All Lives Matter”
Oh, and we watched the Republican debate together last Thursday night. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
Actually it was and that’s not to say that there were not moments when there was strained silence (like that moment when one candidate said that his policy against abortion didn’t include exceptions for rape and incest and that time another candidate announced that he wasn’t sure “we need a half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.”)
It’s not easy loving people whose politics are seriously at odds with our own. We tend to want to lash out verbally at our political enemies. We judge them for being uninformed or maybe even “unChristian.”
But what if they are in your family?
When Bill Bishop wrote The Big Sort in 2004, he nailed it in his sub-title: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. We who watch Fox News only talk with other people who watch Fox News. We who used to get our news from Jon Stewart hang out with other Jon Stewart fans. We have lost the ability to temper our vocalized opinions because we don’t have to.
We have sorted ourselves in such a way that pretty much everyone in our neighborhoods, our churches, and our social circles believe what we believe, get their information where we get our information, and vote the way we vote. We are increasingly diverse as a culture but segregated from diversity. We increasingly “hate” those with whom we disagree even though—at the core—we are not that different. We love our children. We want safe neighborhoods. We bleed the same color of blood.
So how do we express our fury over the way things are—whether we are furious about undocumented workers not paying taxes or we are furious about gun violence against Black citizens or we are furious about budget cuts for critical services while the 1% thrives?
I’m here to tell you that it’s not only possible—it’s rage-melting—to vacation with people whose world view is not like our own . . . if we love them.
How do we express our most heart-felt opinions to someone whose own heart-felt opinions enrage us? It’s not easy, but here’s a start:
- Ask questions rather than make accusations. “What should we do about children born to poor families whose mothers did not or could not choose abortion?” “How does that candidate’s policies support your understanding of what Jesus taught?”
- Remember that listening is more than waiting for our turn to talk.
- Pray for and with those with whom we disagree.
- Connect where we can. Do we both have dogs? Do we both love lasagna? Honestly—look for any kind of connection and start there. It’s harder to hate someone when you’ve played with her dog or you’ve shared a home-cooked lasagna dinner with him.
I’m grateful for my family and I love them so much that we spend vacation together every summer. We’ve been doing it for 25 years now. It’s perhaps the only week of the year when oil and water actually intermingle just a bit. But maybe this is what the Kingdom of God looks like.
Jan Edmiston, Co-Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) with T. Denise Anderson, is the associate executive presbyter for ministry in the Presbytery of Chicago, where she has served since 2011. Prior to that she served congregations in northern Virginia and New York. She completed her MDiv at Andover Newton Theological School and her DMin in Christian Spirituality at Columbia Theological Seminary in 2001. She has graciously agreed to let us repost some of her blog entries (including guest bloggers) from A Church for Starving Artists.
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