Why cutting people off doesn't help
Let me just get right to it.
I imagine after the last week or so, many of us are saying, I never want to talk to a ____ voter ever again.
I want to talk to you about why that’s a bad idea.
In all likelihood, you’ve heard the stories about the political polarization in our nation, and the toll it’s taking on families. But, here are a few examples:
From a recent article in US News & World Report:
When a lifelong Democrat told her 21-year-old son five months ago that she was voting for Donald Trump in the presidential election, he cut her out of his life. "He specifically told me, 'You are no longer my mother, because you are voting for Trump',"
One woman separated from her husband because he voted for Trump in 2016. Two of her grandchildren no longer speak to her because of her support for Democrat Hillary Clinton. She has also become estranged from other relatives and friends who are Trump supporters.
Another Democratic voter said her brother disowned her after she refused to support Trump four years ago. Last year her mother suffered a stroke, but her brother - who lived in the same California city as her mother - did not let her know when their mother died six months later. She was told the news after three days in an email from her sister-in-law.
In interviews with 10 voters - five Trump supporters and five Biden supporters - few could see their wrecked personal relationships fully healing, and most believed them destroyed forever.
And while this is a very small sample size, it’s not hard to imagine these same outcomes happening amongst relationships and families across our nation.
This is so painfully awful and tragic.
While the immediate implications of severed relationships can often be understood, I’m not sure we always think through the long-term consequences of this brokenness.
The story of the ancient patriarch Abraham comes to mind.
Seen as the originating figure of three world religions—Abraham is a prominent example of the tragic results that can befall a relationship, a family, even a nation, when relationships are left to remain broken and shattered.
Setting aside Abraham’s initial separation from his family when he left his home of Haran due to the call of God, it’s not hard to see other examples of emotional cutoff.
If you know the story, Abraham went with his nephew Lot to a new land but separate soon after due to a conflict regarding their livestock and workers.
Then there’s the story of Hagar, an Ancient Egyptian servant of Abraham’s wife Sarah, who gave her to Abraham to bear a child. When Hagar gives birth to a son Ishmael, in a jealous rage, Sarah demands that Hagar and her new baby be thrown out of the camp.
Abraham’s two sons become the father’s of two people groups – Isaac the father of the Jews and Ishmael the father of the Arabs.
The process of cutoff, established in a family, can intensify through the generations, and the cutoff that is present in this family continues to show up down the generations to the ongoing struggles now in the Middle East.
Whether it’s in a relationship, a family, or even a nation—cutting off and abandoning our relationships now will almost certainly lead to further pain, dysfunction, and brokenness down the road.
In short, we’re trading momentary comfort for long-term distress.
But is there even any other alternatives?
For starters, we can look to the example of Jesus.
Jesus is described as the avenue through which God reconciled the world back to God.
2 Corinthians 5:18-20a says it this way:
All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. We are ambassadors who represent Christ.
God has given us—you and me—the ministry of reconciliation.
The word reconcile means to restoring or returning a relationship to its previous condition.
That word ministry means its our duty, our service, our job you might say.
As followers of Jesus—its our job to reconcile relationships—just as God has reconciled the relationship with us.
As important as this task is, I do feel the need to add two very important caveats.
First, having listened to the voices of many Indigenous and African-American persons, there’s no right relationship to go back to. Right relationships still need to be formed.
Second is this. I’m not asking you to stay in abusive relationships. I’m not asking you to maintain relationships where the other person has no intention of being respectful or considerate. I’m not asking you to try to make peace with someone who refuses to acknowledge your humanity, your sexuality, or your ethnicity.
And while I am sure there are some relationships in our lives in which it is not safe for us to return to,
I’d bet there are just as many or not more relationships we’ve chosen to abandon because it felt—in the moment—like it was the best thing to do.
And more, as one author has said, when cutoff has become an established means of managing anxiety in relationships, it becomes easier and easier to walk away from other important relationships in life.
So, what can we do?
How do we find reconciliation in our relationships?
How can we end the bitter polarization in our nation?
I believe it starts with you and me.
These last few weeks, we’ve been talking about managing our anxiety and finding serenity in these tumultuous times.
We’ve been taking lessons from the idea of Family Systems Theory and seeking to apply it to our lives.
Perhaps the most fundamental truth in all this is that we cannot change anyone else—we can only change ourselves
I can only reconcile a relationship by myself seeking reconciliation.
I can only seek an end to the polarization by seeking peace.
I can only work for conciliation when I seek right relationship.
And please, know this.
It’s not about sacrificing your values, beliefs, or opinions in the name of some milquetoast feel-good-ism.
Rather, its about being able to be who you are and say what you believe in a respectful and civil way, hearing the other person, yet being able to maintain your own thoughts and opinions while staying in relationship with them.
A simple way to do this is to separate our thoughts from our feelings.
When speaking with someone who voted for an opposing candidate, we may feel threatened or attacked when they explain their reasoning.
Again, its not inconceivable that at times someone we know and love is verbally or emotionally attacking us.
But, odds are that we’re feeling is completely different from what they’re thinking.
If we can recognize our feelings:
Maybe that it doesn’t feel good to have hear our own ideas countered.
Maybe that that we’re uncomfortable having this conversation.
Maybe that that we’re scared of what they might say.
We can begin to think:
Oh, this person also doesn’t like to have their own ideas countered.
Maybe they too are uncomfortable with this conversation.
Maybe they too are sacred of what I might say.
And when that happens, we’ve begun to take the first steps in recognizing the other person as a human being and worthy of relationship.
Look, I get that it’s easier to often just run away and hide.
It’s easier to storm off in a huff and be done with it.
It’s easier just to write people off.
But, please, if you hear nothing else from me today, here this: cutting people off from our lives doesn’t solve anything.
Look at the example of Abraham’s family!
Look at the example of our American nation!
Do we really think we’re better off because of this?
Do we really think having mother and son, grandma and grandson refusing to speak to one another is going to help this situation?
Trust me on this. It’s not.
I grew up in a very conservative Christian culture that was all about cutting people off, labeling people as evil and wrong, and doing our own thing in the corner by ourselves.
Having been there, I can tell you; it’s boring, it’s lonely, and it’s isolating.
I don’t want that for anyone—even the person who voted for the opposing candidate.
I believe reconciliation is possible—but it’s got to start with us, you and me, following the way of Jesus, taking on the task we’ve been given to do, the ministry of reconciliation.
Bringing right relationship to our families, our communities, even our nation.
A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a guy who I disagreed with on a whole host of issues—and big issues too!
Politics, theology, sexuality.
But, despite these huge difference, we had a great conversation and left with mutual respect for one another.
Because we weren’t afraid to say what we believe in a passionate but respectful way—and we were willing to listen and consider the thoughts and opinions of the other.
And, chances are—no, I am sure of this—neither of us had changed our minds regarding absolutely anything.
But, we’d begun to build a relationship.