By Dr. Tim Kimmel
We just finished one of the most contentious political seasons in most people’s memory. It was a reminder that politics often requires us to hold our nose when we vote. But because of the emotionally charged issues on both sides of the political debate, many families find themselves deeply divided. Siblings have been pitted against siblings; parents against children; even spouses against each other.
And the fact is that the issues that took center-stage in this recent election were huge. How they ultimately play out will have enormous ramifications when it comes to people’s ability to maintain safety, health, opportunity, community, voice, family, freedom, and hope. But when you add in to the mix candidates carrying a lot of toxic baggage and a 24/7 media that can only thrive by pandering to people’s fears and inflaming their passions with warlike rhetoric, it’s not surprising that close relationships end up in the crossfire.
When emotion seizes the high ground in debate, it’s hard for reasoned and respectful dialogue to take place. Emotional disagreement has a way of marginalizing those who take an opposing view. They go from someone who sees things differently to someone who doesn’t care about others, are preoccupied with their own selfish best interest, are out of touch, foolish, or unpatriotic. Both sides can think these exact same things about the other.
Ultimately elections take place, votes are counted, and winners are identified. It would be great to think that everything goes back to normal. But in the throws of all the emotionally charged political differences, that doesn’t necessarily happen when it comes to the unspoken conclusions one person in a family tree has made about another. It’s easy to feel unfairly characterized and ultimately marginalized within your own family.
All this said, there’s a good chance your family may need to take some deliberate steps to heal.
Isn’t it interesting that the next big event on the calendar after our national election is Thanksgiving—a day when families are drawn back together to share a meal and count their blessings. But when the political wounds are still fresh, being genuinely thankful for each other can be a challenge for some families. We’re inclined to offer generic gratefulness through gritted teeth behind fake smiles, or worse, we let our Thanksgiving gathering descend into arguments or discussions that end up taking a relational toll on the people doing the arguing as well as everyone else who feels caught in the crossfire.
Fortunately, Jesus offers a better alternative. He sees the intrinsic value in people and He bridges the gulf between hearts through the power of His grace. His grace sets hearts free to love each other authentically, deeply, and genuinely. Grace is giving someone something they desperately need, but don’t necessarily deserve. Since God treats us with grace, we’d all do well to treat each other the same way—especially in the aftermath of an election that put the relationships within families to such a huge test. There are four wonderful freedoms God gives us through His grace. This Thanksgiving, we here at Family Matters would like to suggest you bring these center-stage to your Thanksgiving gathering.
- Grace gives the people we love the freedom to be different. Love should assume the best of another person even if they hold very different political positions than you do. They may be just as desirous for the good of others with their position as you are; they just feel there’s a different path that needs to be taken. Even if you can’t find anything within you that agrees with their conclusion, love still shows them respect as an individual to hold to a different position. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:5-7
- Grace gives the people we love the freedom to be vulnerable. There are deep and often close-to-the-heart reasons why a person embraces certain political passions. These might launch from their fears, their hurts for other people, or a deep sense of injustice they are feeling. These feelings are tender and fragile. Often they are direct extensions of God’s heart. We should never marginalize someone for having them. Home should be a safe place for everyone in the family picture to work through these things without fear of being mocked, marginalized, or written off. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6
- Grace gives the people we love the freedom to be candid. We need to be able to share the deep concerns of our heart without fear of being attacked. When a sense of respect and a desire for unity of hearts leads the way, difficult things can be discussed without long knives needing to be drawn. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. Hebrews 12:15
- Grace gives the people we love the freedom to be imperfect. Regardless of how passionate and well-intended someone might be in their political convictions, they may still be wrong. Last time I checked, no one has perfect insight into everything political. No one. Most people’s political positions evolve over time. Since all of us have had it wrong on some issues along the way, it makes sense to be gracious to our loved ones in the meantime. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
Life around the campfire with the disciples had to be interesting. You had a formerly despised tax collector, a couple of zealots who had at one time wanted to over throw the Roman Empire by force, a couple of guys with short tempers, and a thief. But Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).
It helped them get through some tough differences. It’s a good plan for Christian families trying to celebrate Thanksgiving in the aftermath of a tough election.