When Do Politics Decide Friendship?



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 gracious 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.

J.S.



Photo from Images Catalog, CC BY PDM


This post made Editors’ Picks on the frontpage of WordPress on March 10th, 2017.

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85 thoughts on “When Do Politics Decide Friendship?

  1. “The quicker we leave, the less chance we have for weaving something better than all that politics has failed to deliver.”

    Absolutely. Perfection can’t come by convincing every person to be more like any one of us (because we aren’t perfect!)

    As much as the worst of politics can be so repulsive that it makes it nearly impossible to hang in there, that same depravity makes it important to have our own perspective challenged.

    When something is only accepted because we no longer allow an alternative we’re guaranteed to be accepting something less than ideal.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Well said, Jason. You’re right that our own perspectives do need to be challenged. I may not be able to engage with others when it becomes hostile, but certainly I can engage with my own views and question myself.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I love this post. As a person who desires to engage in productive discussion about issues facing our nation it is really disturbing that people have become so incapable of conversing about their viewpoint! There is (on both sides of the aisle) an even greater trend now towards soapbox, holier-than-thou rhetoric, rather than thoughtful and reflective debate. It’s like the insanity of the social-media mode of behaving and relating has jumped off the screen and invaded our reality – breaking down our ability to even speak cordially to our friends, family, and neighbors. The model that Christ gives is is key to believers’ interactions with others in the midst of all of this nonsense. Above all, put on love – while still confronting the destructive ideologies (from the left and the right, the religious and the non) that seek to harm and destroy…even in the names of God or of civil justice. While I pray for those governing and for our nation, I pray with even more urgency for the Church to be salt and light and love, to be peacemakers, to extend grace where there is potential for broken relationships, and to be bearers of hope where there are broken spirits. Only His Spirit can make us able.
    Blessings to you! Thank you again for this excellent post.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. I have always respected my Republican friends. But there is no excuse for defending Trump. If my friends want to support him because he is the president and they believe it is Biblical to do so, great. But if they look down on others for protesting or try to convince me that he wasn’t making fun of people with special needs or that his treatment of women is “just locker room talk,” GOOD BYE. I left my church. I am thinking about starting my own. How can I look these friends in the eye any more? I tried to reason with them, and I am NEVER going to have influence with them if I was not able to by now. I am 43, and I have always known how to keep friends. This year is not politics as usual.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I tend to agree with you. This isn’t a difference of opinion on policy. It doesn’t even come close. This is basic human existence and how we treat other humans. This administration has shown over and over again, that they don’t care about humans, they care about money.

      Liked by 5 people

  4. Amen, Amen, AMEN!!!! I love this!

    Politics should never been an end all-be all of any good, healthy friendship/relationship. It is differences that make us great, but to tear someone apart for their differences is not human, and well not great. Tearing someone apart for disagreeing with you, and then making assumptions about their character, is what makes progress halt, and sets us back as a society.

    I admit that I made the promise that I was not going to expel anyone from my Facebook friend list, but I was forced to when someone was finding me anywhere else they could (commenting on anything friends posted, and turned everything into an argument). This person had never seemed like the type, but the hate she was throwing around EVERYWHERE was just awful! I knew she was incapable of change, and I kept biding my time with other people. It turned out that waiting on others was a good idea, because my Facebook feed is now back to things I love and am happy to see.

    I was additionally unfriended by two other people for reminding them kindly that not everyone who voted for Trump is a gloater. They didn’t like that, and I’m glad they unfriended me. I don’t need that, no one needs that kind of negativity!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had a former acquaintence that told me I hated poor people because of who I voted for.

      Um, I work at a non-profit social services agency. She’s a teaching assistant at a major university. She’ll probably be a professor someday. I hate poor people? Iam poor!

      Whatever happened to liking people for what you – I don’t know – have in common?! And what about lightening up?

      Yeah, I got rid of her – anyone that takes anything too seriously, and refuses to enjoy friendship based on common bonds doesn’t need to be in my life.

      Liked by 3 people

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  6. This article is relevant to today’s world, and to me personally. My wife and I voted for different presidential candidates. It’s been difficult, not with arguments, just with non-comprehension of the other view! Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Beautifully written; thank you for sharing. With this issue, I have been trying to use the word human rights rather than politics. The way I gauge this is to ask the question, “Does this person’s beliefs intentionally undermine the human rights of me or my loved ones?” That’s my final straw. I have been cordial with post people past that point, provided they are not aggressive about pushing their beliefs onto me, but I really don’t think you can be friends with someone and disrespect their basic rights simultaneously.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. A wonderful post, and extremely relevant at this time. I have thought a lot about this, cried about this, and had a difficult time deciding where to draw the line since this last election. I believe in not judging others, and truly if you support the free country we live in then technically you shouldn’t be offended at others exercising free speech with differing opinions from yours. However, I do think it is appropriate to remove friendships at a certain point, since this election has brought out the very ugly side of some people. If you are outwardly racist, or do not believe in the basic value of all humans are created equal, then we are not friends.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I agree for the most part. I would never end a friendship solely because someone disagreed with me on a political issue. And I do think that many people on opposite sides of an issue have a lot in common, and if they could just get past the arguing and the anger and listen to each other for a minute, they might actually come up with a solution that they’re both happy with, even if nobody changes their minds.

    But I think the last year or so has demonstrated that there are some people who I’ll just never be able to get along with. You mentioned that some people are so enmeshed in their views, and so angry about them, that you can’t talk to them. I agree with that, but I’m not just talking about those people. (Anyway, I could easily just avoid discussing politics with them but remain friends.) But for some people, the political opinion itself is something I find so offensive, it’s hard to be that person’s friend.

    For example, I’ve learned in the last year that there are a significant number of people who believe that African Americans are naturally lazier and less intelligent than Whites (according to a poll released in 2016). Or they believe in some insane conspiracy theory that involves a group I belong to, so by extension, they think I must be involved with the conspiracy.

    Before 2016, I thought that people with those types of beliefs were just archetypes, and most real people were more reasonable than that. But last year’s election showed me that there are actual friends and relatives of mine who think this way.

    Now, I haven’t actually ended any friendships over politics. But I have to say, it’s made me see a lot of people very differently than I used to.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, agreed. There are some opinions that are objectively harmful and inherently hostile. Those opinions in themselves deserve as much pushback as possible. I’m still interested in knowing how and why people hold those kinds of opinions, whether to reverse engineer them or to reach from the inside. I’m reminded of how MLK Jr. handled division from the inside of his given institutions (though of course, he ultimately paid a steep price for doing so). However, I’m not certain that everyone is called to navigate such harsh waters.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I was just watching a TED talk on the same issue. We can’t really bridge the divide by fighting one another. However, there is something else as well. It is entirely possible that the other side, ones who we approach or they approach us, may not at the end change their opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Oh yes, I agree completely, especially with that point about religious imperialism. If we dismiss, demote, demean, etc. others due to their political beliefs, this doesn’t make us much better than groups like ISIS (of course not to such a huge extent; no one would terrorise others due to this – at least I hope not!).
    I’m going to be writing an article similar to this soon. Please check it out and tell me how you find it!
    This was a greatly interesting article and you just earned a follower!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow.. I love this refreshing, mindful and smart perspective on the whole political climate in our country today. After reading it I still feel energized and good inside. (Unlike the majority of the political posts we read on-line.). I’d like to see more of this. Thank You!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Reblogged this on Time to be Fearless and commented:
    This article is about a three or four minute read, but well worth a look. It’s a refreshing perspective on today’s political social media climate. It’s nice to read commentary that doesn’t make me feel like I need a shower after reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. There is, in my opinion, a rather vast chasm to be overcome when overt racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, etc., are cast as mere differences of opinion. If someone else finds that those beliefs are excusable for any reason, so be it. I do not.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Sadly though, we do lose respect for the people who are so buried in their political choices that they believe anyone who does not agree with them is wrong. WRONG and bad. There are no safe areas in that discussion. This type of person is hard to respect. I am an immigrant and have found myself Married and dependant on such a person. That is a bit of a trap don’t you think? c

    Liked by 1 person

  16. While I agree with the post completely.. I have to say that the question wouldn’t arise if all of us understood and more importantly imbibed that we are all a result of our experiences.

    This however is an idealistic expectation. Politics forms a very critical aspect of our lives,given the impact the presidents decisions have on our Lives..while I don’t agree with Trump’s supporters,I believe in every man’s capability to take a decision as important as this. Each person is responsible for this directly or indirectly and we might as well own up to our roles in the ecosystem..

    Like

  17. “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.”

    A most excellent point. Moral vanity requires us to dehumanize others so we can attempt to attain some kind of insulation or safety from erroneous beliefs. However this moral superiority, especially in current politics, is nothing more than a sort of vain repeatings (Matthew 6) that leads to stopping thought, rather than encouraging respectful debate. No marriage, friendship, or family relationship would last if everyone made the other person view subjects and events in the same way. Just as every believer in faith has an idea of God on a group level, each person has their own relationship with Him that cannot be legislated. Every person is complex and simplifying their politics or faith and then judging them accordingly, always produces hypocrisy. This is so much of what Jesus taught, that we all get it wrong at some point. We all fail to humanize others due to our moral vanity. That is part of our intrinsic humanity, and if politics becomes one’s god, as it did for many deadly regimes, then great trouble is sure to follow.

    So what do we do when we believe that friend appears to believe something we have deemed as bad or wrong? First, we ask honest questions to help clear confusion. God, after all is not the author of confusion, but we are often confused and misunderstand because our stony hearts get in the way. Acknowledging this fact is helpful. That you nor I will ever know every truth. Instead we can practice discernment. What is this person actually saying? What is their assertion based on? Where did they get this information? How was the information delivered? Did this person analyze both sides of the issue? Are there more than 2 sides? Is it possible that not all aspects of the issue have been fully revealed on purpose to cause chaos and division? Has thought stopping clichés and images been used in the dissemination of “facts” in order to manipulate certain peoples at certain times?

    The next thing is to pay attention and listen – without prejudice. Meaning we take our conceptions of an issue or event and press the pause button so to speak. We humble ourselves and let the person have their say. I don’t know how many listening related deaths have occurred in the world but I’d say few. So really, even if we hear something that we don’t like or even greatly offends, we humans are strong enough to endure that given moment. We can assess at that moment if the person is reasonable enough (or if we are too) to ask meaningful questions after taking the time to assess their main points. If the person cannot be respectful, regardless of their opinions, then yes, we take space from that moment. If the person is repeatedly disrespectful to us personally, then indeed it is time to consider whether the relationship makes sense. Otherwise we can practice true tolerance (which is indeed a practice for each of us) by remembering no one has all the answers and that a truly human being, is like ourselves, going to have flawed thinking or simply different thinking.

    Finally I’d like to note that the Bible is an excellent resource for times like these. In the midst of wars and rumors of (cultural) wars, it’s helpful to remember that we can only control so much. One doesn’t have to be a believer to see how the historical accounts and stories in the Bible reflect all times. There is always strife (which as Christians we attempt to avoid), hypocrisy, condemnation, smugness, hate, and evil. There is always also love, forgiveness, redemption, and hope too. Life goes on and on and on.

    It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling. Proverbs 20:3
    Thank you for letting me share my thoughts!

    Like

  18. I agree people should try to be more tolerant of each others’ ideas and beliefs. As a centrist I am in the unfortunate unique position to get berated by both the left and the right. I can say despite best efforts it seems that people have become fanatical to the point where some friendships cannot be saved. When a “friend” calls you a fascist, racist, Hitler,Nazi it’s kind of hard to continue to call them a friend. I feel that this country is divided and that people have simply stopped listening to each other. I’m not sure what the answer is but calling people insidious names or being quiet and backing down for fear of being called an insidious name, are equally not good answers to the problem. Thank you for your post.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Definitely a relevant, timely discussion. I don’t remember the country ever feeling so divided. It’s hard to know how much of that is an actual increase in tensions or a difference in perception stemming from the amplifying effects of social media, the internet in general, and the rapid fire 24/7 news cycle. I have had a few friendships suffer this past year. I’d say related to political differences but not because of them. Instead, I think in discussing some of our political differences, we both realized that the friendship wasn’t rooted in as solid a foundation as we thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Your post is very timely. I am glad to know there are others in the same boat. I have a wonderful friend who I have a very different political stance from and we were able to have a calm conversation about politics and move on. I know she is a good person and has a good heart despite her support of the opposition.

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  21. This is a good topic and a recurring not only because of the divisive US elections but also because of human behavior on social media. I think it boils down to sensitivity. Social media makes it easy for people to share their thoughts. That is a great thing because it makes exchange of ideas free and fast. However when thoughts are shared online unfiltered, a simple exercise of freedom of expression, whether innocent or malicious, may come out as offensive to any person with an opposing view. It’s always good to engage in a calm discussion but when conversations happen online via social media platforms, you lose the benefit of a face to face conversation, and may run the risk of starting a word war by merely leaving a comment. When the other person is not a stranger, but your mom, a colleague or an old friend, that could be a problem. Should politics decide friendship or relationships? Definitely not. But does it? Probably.

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  22. We should try and understand that this level of divisiveness is not uncommon in our own history. The first example was our own War for Independence. Few realize that the polls of the day (which were obviously not as scientific as today.. ) were in the 50% range. Meaning 50 % of the country was NOT in favor of splitting with England… and you know darn well that issue was very.. and literally… divisive. Fast forward to the Civil War. That was the conflict where brother-fought-brother.. to the death, over politics. Forward to Vietnam.. polls of the day (much more scientific than in 1776) showed a 50/50 split in public opinion regarding the war. In that war one 50% was louder than the other 50% and we ultimately got out.

    Now.. here’s the thing in all cases… the divisiveness passed, and in the end people just plain got tired of fighting and being divisive and cooler heads prevailed to end those conflicts. It’s almost cyclical in nature that every few decades everyone gets politically fired up over some issue that tests individual political feelings. What makes our current national state of affairs so divisively opinionated different from the other historical events has been one man striking a tone for about 40% of the population who made him president. Contributing to the divisiveness was an outdated electoral system that by some numerical quirk allowed that minority vote to happen… 60% the folks being so diametrically opposed to him across a gamut of social, moral, and experiential deficiencies, and those 40% who voted him in being so disenfranchised with government so much that they preferred a president with those character flaws just to upset the ruling class traditions. All this over a single man.
    BUT.. this too shall pass, and that’s my whole point here. The thing that has brought us through each and every event like this has been the Constitution. Believe in that… as therein rests the key toward getting back to more.. quieter times. In the meantime.. I suggest the 60% majority try understanding why those 40% are so pissed at the world. In the end we are all Americans.

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  23. Friendships based on politics are not true ones all people hold onto their ideals and rhetorics but as they say in Rome do as the Romans do so what can one do use logic and commpassion

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  24. Fabulous post. I love your message of unity. I get so tired of seeing the fighting between factions and friends, and sometimes have a hard time staying out of it myself. But I just really want to see a bridge being built between people so we can begin to tame the craziness that’s going on in America right now. Your comments are spot on! We need to see each other as humans again, not political positions. Maybe if more people call for unity we’ll eventually have more of it.

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  25. Absolutely ! Everyone cannot have same perspectives. The boot of perception lead different persons to different paths. It is natural that while discussing such matters, there is always going to be a clash of opinions. And that is exactly the way it should be. The best people are those who listen to other people and really think about the point they are trying to make. And if the person is not capable to think about , some issues might stir in. So do keep your point but also don’t forget to think over other points as there is always a chance to improve your knowledge.

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  26. It is a sad thing when we decide to put our political views before friendship. While I see where people are coming from they see that their strong values are getting violated and cannot comprehend maintaining a friendship with such a conflict, but I think we need to tweak the lens narrower a little and realize that politics won’t share your company on a quiet evening, be there in hard and good times and really you’re more likely to influence people towards your point of view if you remain friends with them right?

    Liked by 1 person

  27. I personally think friends can avoid letting politics get in the way of their friendship. My best friend of all time has a complete opposite view of politics but I love him for who he is. Anytime politics come up, if its important to us we will argue, if its not we will let it go, but in the end we if anything grow from each others insight.

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  28. Political organization and in turn political identification is indeed a social construct, yet it is superficially an active force by which many of our lives affect and are affected by this culture of politics. To what extent does politics play a role in the formation of individual and collective identity? Thought provoking, certainly a good topic for me to also discuss on my Anthropology blog thanks!

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  29. A great shame people leaves politics and media decide how they should think and act.

    Men who had been friends for long having their relationships destroyed by some petty dispute over a political leader,issue or moral.

    Perhaps their friendships weren’t that strong to begin with but if it were the case, such a great shame because no politicians or issues will stay by your side when you’ll be on your deathbed, a lifelong friend however may be the last sight you have before you are leave this world.

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  30. This is an interesting conversation. The unfortunate truth is while many people have the mental propensity to converse and befriend people who have different political beliefs, many do not. Partisanship is becoming extreme. If someone even suspects you’re conservative or a leftist you’re ripped to shreds (even if you are an extremist). I personally don’t align with any particular party because I believe in this country. Not a damn donkey or an elephant or a color. This junk has gone way too far but it has reminded me that people care more about their team than this nation.

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  31. This is a great post and different political views are definitely having an effect on friendships especially on social media. I recently had a “Facebook friend” unfriend me because I was staying positive things about Trump when I was a former Bernie supporter. A lot of my liberal friends find it difficult to hear anything other then what they believe or agree on. We like to think we live in an “open minded” world but we are as close minded as ever! Thanks for sharing this 👍

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  32. I agree with most of this post. I think the part where people may involve “politics” into their friendships is when that “politics” stands for things that are not acceptable, like bigotry, denial of the truth about climate change, racism, and other similar stuff.

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  33. Well stated. I love having friends with a wide array of political views. It makes for great conversation. The ones I walk away from are those who attack others instead of ideas. It is not their political stance that makes me walk away, but rather their lack of respect for other human beings. I enjoyed your blog. Thanks!

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  34. Pingback: Could You Be Cool With Her If She Voted For Trump? – The Progressive Pugilist with D.V.H. Esquire
  35. I think a friendship of mutual respect and appreciation for one another’s different views is one of the most valuable friendships to have!

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