When Difference Doesn’t Divide

Many families probably have some version of the old rule: never talk about religion or politics.

I’m from the South and this axiom has helped me through many a family reunion. Sometimes, there are some topics that just are not worth getting into.

But then – sometimes – open, honest conversation about the things we hold dear is very much worth it.

Journalist Elizabeth Bruenig traveled to Texas last spring to visit with Joe and Daniel Aguilar: both life long Republicans and passionate Evangelicals. Joe, the dad, supports President Trump; Daniel, the son, does not.

Ms. Bruenig invited them to traverse this religious-political minefield together and they accepted the challenge.

Research has revealed a surprising continuity between older and younger evangelicals [with] young white evangelicals voting for Trump at roughly the same rate as their parents and grandparents.

But a fraction — less than 20 percent — didn’t, and Daniel was among them.

Most of us have been shaped by people we love and so it makes sense that consistent views about countless topics, including religion and politics, will continue across generations; we are inevitably influenced by the people who raised us. Young adults often embrace the values of their parents and grandparents uncritically because of the strength of familial ties. Because “this is who we are.”

As we mature throughout adulthood however, we question, challenge or even reject this generational family uniformity.

Discovering “this is who I am” while still respecting the power of “this is who we are” is the tricky journey of countless generations of young people.

Joe and Daniel Aguilar show us how to navigate these waters.

Ms. Bruenig pressed this father and son to talk openly about their differences of opinion. She watched how they each maintained their commitment to their own religous and political values without disrespecting the views of the other.

Back and forth, on and on: the Green New Deal, taxes, climate change, abortion, with Joe holding that Trump’s essential toughness set him apart from the other slick, polished Republican alternatives, and Daniel pressing as to whether that belligerent approach to politics really accomplishes evangelical goals.

When people who care about each other attempt to negotiate the terrain of ‘sincerely held beliefs,’ it’s best not to blunder into it.

Rather risky conversations work better when we engage with a passion for the relationship that is even greater than our passion for our beliefs.

These kinds of precarious conversations demand an intentional commitment to take care of one another.

Even as father and son staked out a mostly generational conflict between the evangelicals who readily accepted Trump, and those, such as Daniel, who remain skeptical, they still shared signs of affection: little jokes (“You know, Daniel, I can change my will at any time . . .”), an arm around the shoulder, a hand resting on the back of a neck.

Whatever the costs have been — and for many, the price of Trump’s policies has been cruel and devastating — the Aguilars seemed to exhibit the faint hope…that evangelicals attached to Trump and those who oppose him can find some common humanity to hold them together, even in the heat of contention…

So here is the challenge to “our big, raucous, bickering American family:” holding onto the hope that we can find “some common humanity to hold [us] together, even in the heat of contention…”

We haven’t held together very well in the past.

Our most egregious sin against our common humanity occurred during the war between the states. Literal families ended up with loved ones fighting on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line and our American family allowed our raucous bickering to become a bloody chasm.

We repeated our foolishness during the 60’s when passions over an unjust war far away and continuing injustice here at home fueled furious cycles of anger, accusations and animosity.

These days are not near so evil as past days have been. But they are bad enough.

I absolutely agree with Elizabeth Bruenig that “for many, the price of Trump’s policies has been cruel and devastating.”

Even so, it’s high time We the People learn from our past mistakes and figure out how to maneuver these odd days without lurching into yet another bloody chasm.

Our so-called leaders aren’t showing us the way so maybe people like Joe and Daniel Aguilar can teach us something.

If we are going to avoid the deep divides and instead, allow our differences to enrich us, then we need to learn how to have civil discussions about difficult topics; we need to learn how to let our conversations become bridges.

If we – like Joe and Daniel – will engage with one another in good faith and an intentional commitment to take care of each other, then just maybe the lessons of our past can help create a new future where our common humanity actually does hold us together.


Read Elizabeth Bruenig’s article “In God’s Country” in the Washington Post.

Our Big, Raucous, Bickering American Family is an excellent blog written by Debilyn Molineaux, Executive Director of Bridge Alliance US and past president of Coffee Party USA.

Consider joining a Living Room Conversation online. This is a good first step and helpful training for engaging our differences without deepening divides.

See another blog Charlotte wrote in response to Elizabeth Bruenig’s article: In God’s Country. This one about Bruenig’s interview with Pastor Robert Jeffress’ of First Baptist Church, Dallas: An Eye for an Eye.

2 thoughts on “When Difference Doesn’t Divide

  1. The only ones i completely can’t bear are the ones who 1. Swallow every Trump or GOP lie without question. 2. Dehumanize “others.” others-calling them criminals, vermin, rapists. 3. Call people names. 4. Constantly bring up HRC or President Obama with no evidence or foundation and yet cannot defend DT in any positive way.

    I try to treat people respectfully. That does not mean I have to respect their POV or their opinions.

    1. Of course, Ellen. When we have an actual relationship with someone who is deceived by propoganda, we have an opportunity to help/nudge/guide them to truth. Also, when we have a caring relationship we can call out any ugly dehumanization. These friends and family members need help. Let’s be there for them.

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