Family and Politics: Why I’m Against ‘Keeping the Peace’ and Why You Should Be Too

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There are times when we need to speak up.

We live in an age of sharp division. According to the Pew Research Center, an “overwhelming majority” of Americans (86%) believe the country is more politically divided than it has ever been before. These political and ideological differences aren’t merely a matter of red or blue states; these same sharp divisions exist within many families, potentially alienating parents from children, sisters from brothers. When we disagree with those we love about some of our most closely held beliefs, must keeping the peace always mean keeping quiet?

I faced this conundrum at a recent gathering with my extended family. I felt I was doing fairly well. I was speaking up, respectfully, when confronted with beliefs I perceived to be one-sided. I was intentionally avoiding heated conversation while still carefully voicing what I believed was right.

Then I overheard a family member make an overt connection between “God’s plan” and a political party—a statement with which I strongly disagreed. I wasn’t directly part of the conversation, so I didn’t want to awkwardly insert myself into the situation. But I felt a strong desire to express a different viewpoint. What should I do?

Steering clear

If “keeping the peace” means never rocking the boat in order to avoid family disagreements, then I’m against it. In fact, it is my faith that often prompts me to not stay silent in these situations. It’s my commitment to faith-in-action that nudges me to graciously speak up in the hope that everyone involved will be challenged by an honest exchange of ideas. This commitment can be hard to sustain; hardest, perhaps, with those we love the most. For many of us, controversy is the last thing we want to stir up in our families.

Familial relationships are complicated. They often encompass differing opinions on faith, politics, lifestyle, education, parenting, and so on—opinions that hit at the heart of who we are in the world. Perhaps this is why many of us tacitly agree to steer clear of hot-button topics in favor of keeping the peace. We may feel we have to ensure conversations are all surface and little substance or run the risk of creating a seismic rift through the foundation of our relationships.

Kingdom peace

I’ve come to believe that keeping the peace doesn’t mean what we tend to think it means. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9), yet he also spoke of sharp family division that can be caused by faith in Him (Matt. 10:34–39). For his early followers and for us, following Jesus may be the very catalyst of family conflict. Clearly the peacemaking Jesus spoke of is more expansive and nuanced than merely the avoidance of conflict.

Scripture tells us that the “peace of God … transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). In John 14:27, Jesus makes this distinction: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Jesus doesn’t give as the world gives. His peace isn’t our peace—it isn’t measured by our standards.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7), we get a clear picture of the upside-down nature of the kingdom Jesus inaugurated. The “blessed” are not only those who are peacemakers, but also those who are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, and seeking justice. In Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount, Richard Rohr says that Jesus’ teachings present this kingdom as a “new image of reality that challenges conventional wisdom” in part because “the outcast is in the head-start position.”

Necessarily then, Jesus’ peace isn’t comfortable—and it certainly doesn’t mean simply maintaining our comfort zone. At times our work to live out the values of God’s kingdom may not feel all that peaceful. The values of Jesus’ kingdom frequently ask us to sacrifice our comfortable status quo in favor of putting our faith into action in real, tangible ways.

Relationships matter

Conventional wisdom tells us to avoid (at all costs!) familial discussions about religion and politics. Yet our faith may in fact lead us directly into disagreement with relatives and other close members of our community. It shouldn’t surprise us; Jesus himself spoke about disciples leaving everything to follow him—including their own families (Mark 10:29–30). Unlike those early disciples, many of us often resist allowing that level of discomfort to creep into our relationships.

This resistance is understandable, of course, for Scripture also consistently speaks to the importance of maintaining healthy relationships. In Matthew 15:4, for example, Jesus reiterates the Old Testament command for children to honor their parents. Psalms and Proverbs are replete with familial instruction; the Epistles echo much of this as well. I’m not suggesting that we simply get on our proverbial soapboxes and speak our minds, regardless of the relational cost.

In Micah 6:8, God requires his followers to enact justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with him. These principles pose crucial questions for when we face controversial discussions within our families: If we don’t act on behalf of the vulnerable or speak out about injustice, are we being true to our faith? Likewise, if our speech lacks mercy and humility, are we falling short of our call?

The delicate line

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SOURCE: Christianity Today – Alexis James Waggoner