4 Strategies for Families Divided by Politics

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We live in a highly charged political climate, where many people see those on the opposite side of the political divide as being “what’s wrong with America.”

But what about when this touches your family? How can you have a family get-together without it deteriorating into arguments, awkwardness, alienation and hurt feelings? Is the only solution to just ignore the “elephant in the room” and not talk about politics?

This week I did an interview for the Longmont Times-Call newspaper on this subject. The article will come out on November 20. At the same time, a family I’m connected to is dealing with this exact scenario: their family is divided politically and it is straining their relationships.

Here are 4 simple strategies that can help families divided by politics:

1. Establish ground rules

In almost any mediation situation, the mediator will begin by establishing some ground rules for the discussion. This can be done in a family setting as well.

Here are some examples:

– No accusations allowed, only perception-based statements.

Rather than, “You people are ________” say something like, “This stance comes across to me as __________”.

– Discuss issues, not identities.

Rather than “Trump supporters are  ________” say, “I disagree with this policy because __________”.

– When it starts to feel negative, stop.

Take a break. Politicians come and go, and even they are willing to work together. Don’t let politics divide your family. It’s not worth it.

2. Zoom out to see the big picture

A political campaign is a marketing campaign. Each side is trying to get you to buy what they’re selling. To do this, they employ many strategies, particularly hyperbole and portraying the other side as dangerous and evil. But as soon as the campaign is over, they change their tone drastically. Why? Because they understand the nature of political campaigns. The problem is, many people don’t understand this the way politicians themselves do.

For example: In the final weeks of the campaign, President Obama said that Donald Trump was “very dangerous” and “a threat to democracy.” Trump called Obama “a disaster”, “the founder of ISIS” and “the most ignorant president in our history.” But then this week, the tone changed completely. Obama said Trump will be his president, that they were on the same team and that he was committed to helping Trump succeed. Trump said of Obama that “he is a very good man”.

It’s a game, a contest – and each side wants to win. But when it’s over, they know how to turn off the personas and work together.
It’s similar to a football game: for 60 minutes the players on each side try to crush each other. They use intimidation tactics, they hit each other as hard as they can – but when the game is over, they exchange jerseys and hug.

It’s often been noted that in congress, after heated partisan discussions, they all go eat lunch together in the cafeteria, and people from different parties who were at each other’s throats in the negotiating room, sit down and eat together.

Here’s the point: Politicians themselves understand campaigns for what they are. It would help us to do the same.

3. Affirm the noble values of the other person’s position

People who care about politics generally do so because they genuinely care about other people. They want to make things better. They’re passionate, interested and thoughtful. Most people who hold political views consider themselves to be heroic and compassionate. In other words, people all across the political spectrum believe that they are opposing evil and advocating for the good of others. In the end, we all want many of the same things, we just differ on how we believe those things can be achieved.

To take the teeth and the animosity out of a political discussion, it helps to affirm the noble values inherent to the other person’s position, and acknowledge that you hold those same values yourself.

For example: someone might say, “I support this political party because I care about the poor” or “…because I believe that all people are created equal” or “…because I consider life sacred.” Rather than take that as an insinuation that people who differ from them politically don’t care about those things, simply affirm that you do. Affirm all of the noble values that the other person cares about – and explain that you also want those same end goals. Then you can begin talking about strategies to achieve those goals, having taken many of the accusations and value judgments out of the equation and creating a less emotional, more rational discussion, because you’ve shown that you’re both interested in achieving the same ultimate goals.

4. Diffuse the tension by inviting the other person to tell you their views without argument

Love, the Bible teaches, is not a feeling, it is an action: a self-sacrifical, giving action. Because people love to talk about themselves, one of the greatest expressions of love you can give a person is to invite them to explain their views to you, and you only listen. No arguing. No interrupting. Just listening.

Maybe that would feel like a small death to you, and it may very well be an exercise in dying to yourself – but that is how God expressed His love for us: by suffering and dying for our sake.

Hebrews 12:2 tells us that it was for the joy that was set before him that Jesus endured the cross. So, in the end, there was something in it for him, but it wasn’t a selfish motive – it was for the sake of us (him and us together) that he did it. He subjected himself to suffering for the sake of repairing our broken relationship with him — which was, by the way, our fault alone. But yet, he reached out, he offered to suffer and die for the sake of the joy of a restored relationship with us.

Even if it feels like a small death, or you suffer through listening to your family member share their views with you – one of the greatest acts of love you can give them is to listen intently without saying a word, then affirming the good values and principles in their views. You might just find that the other person is so surprised and honored that you took the time to hear them out that they are most open to listening to you in return. And rather than being toxic and divisive, your discussion can be healthy and amiable – even if you still agree to disagree on the methods and strategies.

Have you experienced a similar situation?  Do you have any other suggestions or strategies?
Leave a comment below!

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2 Thoughts for U.S. Christians in the Wake of the Election

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Someone needs to take 2016’s keys away, because it’s not acting normal.

The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl without an offense. Brexit happened. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series. And now Donald Trump just won the presidential election. What kind of bizarro world are we living in?

Here are 2 thoughts for Christians to consider in light of the election:

1. Our country is divided and we are called to be peacemakers

Here in Boulder County, voters overwhelmingly voted Democrat. 71% voted for Hillary Clinton. The majority of the City of Longmont went for Hillary. Republicans took control of the House and Senate nationally, but Democratic candidates won almost every seat they ran for here in this area.

Nationally, as of right now Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Right before the election 61% of people said that they considered Donald Trump unfit to hold the office of president, which means that most people in our country are deeply concerned with the results, including some of the people who voted for Trump themselves.

Furthermore, this election was very divisive. I read a post on social media from a young woman today that said, “Every vote for Trump was a direct assault against me, my friends and my loved ones. I will not forget it.”

For Christians, no matter what your political stance, I think we must avoid the “us and them” mentality. Such a mentality encourages people to make value judgments about other people which are often not fair, such as “Liberals think that __________” or “Trump supporters condone __________.” Those generalizations are often, if not usually, untrue, and the reason for a person’s decision for how they vote is usually much more nuanced than people on the other side make it out to be.

I liked what President Obama said during his speech today, “This was an intramural scrimmage; we are all on the same team.”

Jesus taught his disciples, “Blessed (literally: “Happy”) are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Helping people make peace with God is at the core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. An “us and them” mentality which divides people over political issues will only hinder that from happening.

Whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:21

Furthermore, resentment towards others hinders people from having a relationship with God. 1 John 4:20-21 says: If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. Yes, even someone who holds different political views than you.

We are called to be peacemakers, between God and people and between people and people. Let us not be those who perpetuate divisions, but those who encourage reconciliation.

2. Getting caught up in politics can hinder your true mission

President Obama said to the nation today, “Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, we are all Americans first.” As Christians, we go one very big step beyond that: We are not Americans first, we are Christians first.

As Christians, we have a calling to be ministers of the gospel. Jesus said to his disciples, “Just as the Father sent me, so I also send you.” (John 20:21) When people think of Christians, we don’t want them to associate us with a politician or a political affiliation or party, we want them to associate us with Jesus and the gospel message of the love and grace of God.

In a country as divided as ours is right now, it is very possible for politics to become a stumbling block and a hindrance to people being willing to hear the message of the gospel from those they disagree with politically. We can’t allow that. Our mission is so much more important.

Christians need to strive to be known not for alignment with a particular party or stances on economic policy or gun rights, but for our concentrated focus on the mission of God and the message of the gospel. This is not to say that Christians should not have opinions on such matters, it is to say that we must not allow these things to be associated with what it means to be a Christian.

May God bless our nation and help us who call ourselves Christians to faithfully follow Jesus, communicate his heart and carry out his mission.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

When You Can’t Decide Who to Vote For

This week this obituary appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

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It seems like something from the Onion, but it’s not.
From CNN:
Her husband Jim Noland told NBC12 that one of her sons wrote the obituary and it was meant as a joke, a way for her family to continue her sense of humor.
“This isn’t the first time a paid death notice has been used to send a personal message to the world,” The Richmond Times-Dispatch said in a statement.
For the rest of us who are still here, well – I guess we just have to pray and trust God. Good thing is: He’s sovereign.