Should We Let Politics Determine Our Friendships?

Not every person on the opposite side of politics acts like the caricatures you’ve seen online.

Should We Let Politics Determine Our Friendships?

lovelyishe asked a question:

What is your opinion on the stance that you should end a friendship because of differing political opinions? Is there a time when you believe it is best to drift apart from them or no?

Hey dear friend, this is certainly a difficult, relevant question today, as it seems political differences more than ever are not merely a disagreement of opinions, but becoming an aggressively different opinion of human value, with all kinds of dangerous implications.

I’m fortunate and blessed to have friends with a wide range of political beliefs who are open to discourse or even changing their minds. Not every person on the opposite side of politics acts like the caricatures you’ve seen online. There are many, many thoughtful people across the spectrum that do not fall easily into our biased categories.

My concern is not that everyone has to agree a particular way. My major concern is that our beliefs have sound reasons behind them. When I hear the stories of enlisted soldiers, military veterans, the mentally ill, the desperately poor, victims of racism, both pro-life and pro-choice advocates, immigrants (like my parents), and abuse survivors, I can begin to see why their experiences have shaped their positions on specific issues. The more stories I hear, the more I can understand. I can become a student instead of a critic. I can more easily reach across the aisle, not necessarily to change minds, but to build bridges where our stories are respected in the overlap.

Of course, this bridge-building cannot happen with everyone. Sometimes a person’s politics are so explosive and divisive that it seems they only want to watch the world burn (or as it’s said, it’s a zero-sum game). There really are people who cannot be engaged with, no matter how graciously we approach. But unlike the terrible circus we see online, on Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr, most people are way more three-dimensional than that. It’s only ever a last, last, last resort that I would ever break off a friendship because of politics.

In the end, speaking from a Christian and spiritual perspective, I have to ask: Are politics even real? Because really: What are they? Politics, if we’re to squeeze history into a drop, are mostly a manmade, brain-constructed, temporary process by which we attempt to cooperate on a large scale. And no one has the total answer on how to do this. In fact, the trouble is that each “camp” thinks they have the total answer, which is why we’re so quick to grade each other and break ties.

Just think of how crazy it is that we would allow politics to destroy a friendship rather than allow the friendship to guide our politics. If you cut off a friend because of their political beliefs, this dehumanizes a person by trying to remake them in your own image, which is no better than religious imperialism. In other words, when we use someone’s political beliefs as a measure of their human worth, we become a “political fanatic.” And if you think, “We need to air lift the other party onto an island prison!” (a thing I actually read online)—that’s trying to fight fire with fire, and no one has ever been transformed by mercenary tactics.

We need each other, even (and especially) if we disagree, because the entire diversity of human opinion is required to land on unity. I don’t mean there are no bad ideas (there are a lot of bad ideas, on all sides of politics). What I mean is, if we instantly dismiss someone from an opposing political party and treat them like a dogmatic cartoon, then we’re just putting each other’s eyes out. But if we treat each other worthy of hearing, there is a very small chance that someone might possibly change their position on a major issue. Otherwise, there’s no chance at all. And even then, the point isn’t to coerce, but to connect.

I don’t mean to sound pretentiously abstract or idealistic about the political system, as we need to pay attention to its influence and also criticize the damage it has caused. We do need to push back against bad ideas. But I think disconnecting completely from a friendship because of several disagreeable opinions is a fatally serious decision. It shouldn’t be done flippantly. Even so, I think drawing boundaries is better than cutting off a friend altogether. I choose to stay in conversation, to hear stories, or we’ll never have the grace and staying power for humility and changed minds. The quicker we leave, the less chance we have for weaving something better than all that politics has failed to deliver.

This article originally appeared here.

J.S. Park
A former atheist/agnostic. A recovered porn addict, skeptical Christian, loves Jesus. Have a fifth degree black belt and I can eat five lbs. of steak in one sitting. Have a B.A. in Psychology and M.Div from SEBTS. Both degrees negate each other, i.e. I’m still a dummy. Have a mixed German shepherd named Rosco, have two toenails growing out of one toe, and I’m addicted to coffee, ginger ale and tomato juice. I'm the author What the Church Won't Talk About.