If you lost some respect for a loved one because of whom they voted for in 2016 or because of whom they may vote for in 2020, I might be able to help.
I’m a progressive, South American social justice attorney. My husband is an American, conservative, white law enforcement officer. My husband and I couldn’t disagree more politically, but somehow we’ve learned to stay happily married even through the Trump era. What we’ve learned might bring peace to your relationships this year too.
If you’re raising your eyebrows at how we came to be married in the first place, let me assure you, it’s as surprising as you might think.
We met on an airplane. We spent our seven-hour flight talking about all sorts of things, from vacations to family, to having kids, to politics. At the time, I was living in Europe. My English was not particularly refined, and my knowledge of American culture was based on movies and sitcoms. Nick quickly understood where I stood in the political spectrum, but I assumed that an “independent” (as he called himself) was some sort of a centrist, adopting conservative economic views and more liberal stances on other “matters of society.” It turns out, I was very mistaken.
We got married just over one year later. After a few weeks living together and finding myself screaming at whatever Fox News show Nick was watching, I started to realize that I was—how to put this—culturally incompetent on the nuances of American politics. I finally accepted that I had married a conservative man. And I love that man. But no, we don’t have cable anymore.
It might also help to know that in addition to over 15 years in law enforcement, Nick has a background in military counter-intelligence and the CIA. While currently a legal aid attorney, I’m also a political scientist, a sociologist of society & religious science, and a constitutionalist focused on comparative law about freedom of religion and politics. I’ve done government and lobby work in all of those areas. So, I really love talking politics. So does he. It didn’t take long to realize that engaging these topics without grace and willingness to listen was damaging the most important relationship in my life. But so was not engaging.
Discussing politics is tiresome because sometimes I just don’t want to listen to Nick’s perspective, and we end up in “heated arguments” for our standards. There’s usually no screaming or cursing (though they may or may not happen in my mind sometimes), but these phrases were routinely heard in our kitchen:
- “I’m done talking to you about this. You don’t understand anything!”
- “What do you know about it, you’re at the top of the privilege pyramid!”
- “How can you call yourself a Christ-follower and support ___ and ___?!”
- “Oh, you see my point? Then how on earth do you not subscribe to it?”
It left me sad, angry, frustrated, and maybe in the past, even disgusted. In these heated arguments, I would either not let Nick speak at all with a nonstop set of judgments, or I would just shut down and walk out of the room.
One of the hardest things to do is learning how to talk without feeling the need to defend your choices. I’m still learning how to do that—with successes and failures along the way. Just recently, I walked out on a conversation with him over minimum wage. But things are better. Much, much better. A big part of our growth was coming to a realization.
Curiously enough, we don’t argue nearly as much, if at all, when we talk about the values that guide our political choices.
So that we’re all on the same page, we should define some words before we go on. Simply put:
- Politics is the set of activities that allow for the governance of a group, people, or nation.
- Values are principles and standards of importance.
- Policies are how political parties implement their values.
When Nick and I fight, it’s almost always about policies, not values.
Nick cherishes patriotism, protecting family, and showing respect for cultural tradition. I strongly value social justice, economic justice, and equity. These are our political values, things we’d like to see implemented through government policies. No matter what cable news tells us, our values aren’t actually at war with each other. And, even more shocking, we have a set of shared values that goes well beyond our political ones. We both care for honesty, serving our community, work ethic, kindness, loyalty, and fighting injustice.
In the past, problems would always arise when I would conflate Nick’s values and the policies that Washington (supposedly) put into place to protect them. Instead of the man I loved, Nick himself became a policy. Somehow in my mind, I connected his patriotism with policies I saw hurting marginalized communities. Nick’s desire to protect his family was somehow responsible for laws that I felt went too far.
While it doesn’t solve everything, a friend reminded me that a person’s behavior in politics is just a person’s behavior in politics. It’s only one aspect of a super complex, God-created human being.
Somehow, we bought into a lie that a person’s political inclinations are who they are.
This may come as a surprise, but personal values and political values are not the same. One can have a strong appreciation for the personal value of self-transcendence (e.g., having a spiritual life) and uphold the political value of separation between church and state. Or have traditional family values, yet liberal political values. Or one could believe in safety and freedom for their family, feel threatened by another, and thus support policies that may make sense from that perspective.
Since Nick and I have a set of similar personal values, I had mistakenly expected them to reflect in a shared way in the political realm. I don’t like to admit this, but there’s more than one way to fry eggs even though I don’t understand the taste for over-hard.
Despite our political differences, my husband and I are held together by something more important than who wins the next election—we share a desire to follow Jesus and love each other well. Jesus is the ultimate guide for our values. Sometimes we do it the right way. Sometimes we conveniently use the Bible to justify our own personal inclinations (the wrong way).
So, we’ve learned to keep ourselves in check. We have to soul search. We have to be honest when we look at the Bible:
- What does it clearly say?
- How does that translate to current issues?
- Where are we admittedly coming to our own conclusions as best as we can (but ultimately, imperfectly) because there is no clear cut answer?
Then, of course, there are times when my personal values are in conflict with the values I adopt from following Jesus. At these times, I remember something Paul, a writer of the New Testament, wrote:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”
Nick and I have not perfectly figured out how to discuss politics without (me) getting upset at times. I don’t always understand his political choices. We may or may not jokingly patronize each other’s opinions. But we are getting better by making sure we:
- Take turns when we talk
- Genuinely try to listen to each other’s point of view and remember the personal experiences that shaped them
- Try to avoid making generalizations
- When we strongly disagree on a policy, we work to remember the values that are driving it
- We accept that we won’t convince each other to significantly change our minds—though we’ve noticed some changes in both of us
I’m still surprised sometimes to be married to someone who views the world so differently than I do. It would be much easier to stay in my echo chamber. If he were a friend or a co-worker, I would not engage in political talk at all—it’s just energy-draining. But we’re married. And the fact that we love each other has forced us to learn that there are, in fact, good people on the other side of the aisle.
We’ve learned that we can choose humility instead of hostility. We can listen instead of assuming. We can choose to relate to one another instead of judging each other. We can respectfully disagree and love unconditionally. In fact, we must.
I wonder what it would be like if we were all married to someone on the other side. If we were forced to find a way to truly live in a relationship with someone we disagree with. Oh wait—if we follow Jesus, we actually (kind of) are. It’s Jesus’ prayer (John 17:20-23) and even a command that we live as one (1 Cor 1:10, Eph 4:3). How well we love each other is the mark of whether we are following Jesus (John 13:35).
You may not be married to someone in the other party, but you work with them. You may be related to them. You may have recently avoided them or blew up on them or rolled your eyes at something they said. How you interact with that person matters immensely. If our political values prevent us from loving others like Jesus and from living in peace with others, then we must choose which set of values to uphold. Is politics first? Or is the Kingdom of God? The key is making sure your answer to that question is in alignment with what you say and do, every day.
Nick and I are regularly evaluating our personal and political values against our faith, and we invite you to join us. Do you know your political values from your personal values? Try writing them out and compare them. If you believe in God, keep going and also compare them to your faith. Then instead of adopting a “we are on opposite sides” attitude, invite that friend or family member you love but have been avoiding since 2016 for a drink and be ready to listen. We must constantly remind ourselves that two are better than one and that we are here to act as Jesus’ hands and feet.
I’m a progressive, South American, social justice attorney. I fight poverty. My husband is a white, American, conservative law enforcement officer. He fights crime. Who we are is so much more than how we vote. We’ve learned to see each other for the incredible human beings God has created us to be.
Our differences only make us “incompatible” when we allow the political division to separate us instead of letting God unite us. Despite the fact that we deeply hold opposing political views, we refuse to be divided. Whether or not we ever agree, learning to stay united in this political climate is not only possible, but it makes each of us better—as individuals, as a couple, and as citizens.