How We Talk When We Talk About Politics
My dad and I don’t argue like we used to.
Allow me to deconstruct that: My dad and I argue, but how we do it has changed.
I’ll back up now and explain a bit about myself. After all, I’m the lone columnist here who doesn’t either live in DC or work in politics. What’s my angle?
Well, here goes:
I grew up in Alabama, a deep red state and the buckle of the Bible Belt. My family epitomized both of those distinctions: conservative politically, faithful religiously. Kind of. See, my mom and sister and I covered the religion end of things—going to church every week, saying the blessing at meals, leaving Bibles strewn about the house. My dad managed the politics—letters to the editor of our city’s newspaper, subscriptions to American Spectator and National Review, vociferous objections to mainstream TV news coverage.
As a Good Girl growing up (see also: People-Pleaser, Approval-Seeker, Rule-Follower, Teacher’s Pet), I objected to my dad’s weekly absences from church as strongly as he objected to any sort of acquiescence to a belief system with which he didn’t fully agree. Looking back (hindsight’s so good it doesn’t even require corrective lenses!), I can see that his convictions were even stronger than the convictions of so many of those who surrounded us in the pews on Sunday. Which is admirable, but I preferred uniformity among the ranks.
It seemed clear to me that our family had a rogue agent who must be forced to fall in line if we were to be “normal”—and what adolescent doesn’t strive for perfect conformity at all costs? So I wrote him a letter very kindly explaining that he really should believe in God so he wouldn’t go to hell. Charming, right? Shockingly, we remained a trio of women in church each week. As I got older, I argued with him more, and a wall began to rise between us born of misunderstanding and frustration.
The funny thing was, we actually agreed on a lot of things—we just didn’t realize it yet.
I went off to college, then dental school, then moved to New York City. I was finally entering my adult life, and I was taking ownership of my own beliefs for the first time. A thousand miles from home, crossing the boundaries from red state to blue state, from religious culture to secular culture, I was examining my beliefs and answering questions about them. I was a conservative Christian, a staunch member of the religious right, living in New York City. I was due a gut check.
Suddenly, Democrat and gay and unbeliever had faces, and were people I cared about. Talking to them about my politics and may faith helped me learn how to go from having arguments to having conversations. My beliefs did not do a 180. I’m still a Christian, and I’m still to the right of the political fence. But I’ve learned what it means to get and to give grace. Realizing God’s grace—the extent of his generosity and patience and forgiveness—made it annoyingly impossible for me to approach disagreements with the same belligerent tone I used to cling to.
When I called home, my dad and I began having long conversations. Chastened by the lessons I learned from my fellow New Yorkers, I didn't try to strong-arm him into faith (though I may have dropped some C.S. Lewis onto his desk over holidays). The further I was from home and from the comfort of being surrounded by people who agreed with me, the more I began to find out that the way I approached my dad earlier in life was probably largely ineffective. And horribly condescending. Go figure! But we did have long conversations about news and politics. My father had his own political profile, and though its source was different, it actually looked a lot like mine.
Like a lot of you, I’m not involved in politics professionally, but I do care about politics. I’m wary of the ways we often interact—in person and online—when it comes to the issues we care about. I don’t want Christians to become a group known for being vociferous about—and divided by—political policies. I’m ready for more of us to work on letting the cross that we have in common be our starting point and argue well from there. If you’re here, I hope you are too.