Does political polarization—that ever-increasing gap between political convictions—fill conversations around you with razor blades? Maybe attack (or duck-and-cover) mode has become the norm. Your church or group or coffee house is a house divided.
A friend described her experience of an inflamed phone conversation with a Christian relative. Both resorted to derogatory language about the opposing party or its voters. My friend left alienated, hurt, and disappointed.
“In the end, our conversation was no longer neutral ground to understand each other,” she said. “We can’t seem to admit what our parties do wrong.”
It’s a disturbing trend. An astounding 22% of evangelicals believe civility is unproductive in political conversations. Twenty-five percent consider their candidate’s insulting personal remarks toward an opponent to be justifiable.
But it’s even more concerning and uncomfortable when a friend doubles as a perceived adversary—because few of these differing values feel nonessential. How could someone I felt close to be blind to how trampled I feel?
Somewhere amidst the conflict, we’ve lost each other. We’ve lost respect, trust, and connection.
As Christians, we’re commanded to return blessings for insults (1 Peter 3:9), live at peace with all as far as it depends on us (Romans 12:18), do everything in love (1 Corinthians 16:14). How did we get here?
Resist what’s wrong not only through politics, but unity and exposure to the other side
Search engine and social media algorithms create echo chambers of those who agree with us. So we’ve lost resilience and the ability to learn from views and people that make us more thoughtful, compassionate, well-rounded, receptive to outside experiences.
In fact, some of those we disagree with are primarily part of Christ’s Body—not just the opposition. And “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21). In Acts, Paul intentionally dives into thoughtful conversation with those who disagree. Though admittedly, his only “candidate” is Christ.
Paul writes regarding the feud over food sacrificed to idols, “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him … Each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another.”
And then the kicker: “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 14:3, 12-13; 15:7, emphasis added).
Political polarization: Whose sign is in your front yard?
Maybe this perspective influences actress Candice Cameron Bure, who explained why she wouldn’t be returning to the Emmy-winning debate talk show, The View: “I just don’t publicly want to talk about politics. Not because I don’t believe that my viewpoints and opinions are important, but I would much rather share Jesus with people. That’s really my passion.”
Similarly, one pastor refuses political signs in his actual front yard, explaining that because Jesus is who people truly need, he doesn’t want anything in the way of them coming to Him.
Ask those you’re guiding, “What’s on the most important sign in your life’s ‘front yard’? How would those you talk with about politics define your top priority?”
Recall Jesus’ rebuke of Peter when Peter slices off the ear of a member of the mob arresting Jesus. Jesus heals the ear—probably to Peter’s confusion. He saw Jesus as his political king. But later, Jesus clarifies to Pilate, “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting” (John 18:36).
So how can you elevate the King of Kings in a house divided?
5 ways to make Jesus King in political polarization
1. Change your goal in conflict.
Conflict is an opportunity—but not to win. Or always agree.
Most inflamed conversations don’t birth changed minds. Heels dig in deeper as you defend positions: “fight, flight, or freeze,” not “listen, understand, alter my perspective.”
Conflict, more specifically God’s conflict, is at the center of why God sent Jesus. And God’s passed on to us this expression of what He’s done:
Through Christ [God] reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20, emphasis added)
Recently, while contemplating someone whose different values felt like they were taking a cheese grater to my liver—complete with the anxiety and anger—I remembered Romans 5:8: While I was still God’s enemy, God closed the gap between us. He demonstrated His love by dying for me.
I had to ask God, Help me treat my “enemies” how You treat Yours.
Yet God orchestrated our relationships. Conflict is often His assignment. It flays open desires that push and pull us (James 4:1). Which means it’s a key moment to guide someone closer to Him. You’re dealing with core desires—and sacred ground.
Ask your friend: Underneath the issue, what do they want most?
Their conflict is an opportunity to understand and love (honor and become more like Jesus) and grow stronger beyond how we’re the same.
Ask, “What do you believe God wants to do here with these different values between you? What could it look like to love people well and show them You?”
2. Pray for those you guide, wisdom to act for true peace, and your own heart.
Pray for those you talk with, and ask for wisdom to truly love them well. Ask for God to share with you His posture toward them.
Jesus commands to first “take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). Ask God to reveal to those you lead any ways their hearts aren’t like His.
When entering an unhealthy or loaded situation, chew on 2 Peter 1:3-4. Pray together for God’s power to return a blessing in the face of every insult (1 Peter 3:9).
You could gently remind your friend self-control in political polarization stems from:
- Walking with God’s Spirit.
- Security in God as judge and defender.
- Value apart from others’ opinions.
- Identity unhitched from our ability to be superior or change others.
And that secure identity alters the way we argue.
3. Revamp your conflict tactics.
For Christ-reflecting conflict, suggest your friend start with principles like affirming your relationship—the most important signs in your life’s front yard, so to speak. We don’t see eye to eye on everything, but I’m glad God didn’t make us the same. I like hearing your heart. I want to keep listening.
Then ask them to consider the “4:29 Rule” (as in, Ephesians 4:29). Are their words:
- Building up rather than tearing down?
- Appropriate for this occasion—including the person’s life circumstances? What do they know about this person’s story and journey toward God?
- Giving kindness, even undeserved?
Proverbs, too, is full of tactics.
- “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (15:1).
- “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back” (29:11).
- “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (18:2).
As an aside—text-only or social media convos subtract presence, thoughtful expression, humanity, and understanding from our interactions. (Jesus came to us as the Word made flesh.)
Instead, how could this person tangibly, generously show love right now? Maybe it’s making an effort toward quality time for positive memories rather than belaboring the conflict. Maybe it’s dropping a card in the mail to verbalize, “Hey, our relationship is more than this conflict.”
4. Identify the interest beneath the issue.
Perhaps, like another friend of mine, you’re troubled by how distant your friend’s beliefs seem from who Jesus is. Or that they’re slapping Bible verses on political rhetoric rather than allowing the whole of the Bible to speak.
Neither of you is likely 100% agreed with a party’s actions or beliefs, or a one-size-fits-all solution for an issue. Portions of both parties warrant respect and repentance! But there’s no “Jesus for President” party. And sometimes we simplify the complexities of political solutions.
So rather than the outworking of a belief, encourage your friend to seek to understand the other person’s interest, passion, story, or pain beneath the issue.
There’s a good chance they share core beliefs: compassion for the poor, liberty, wisdom. Discuss productive, creative ways to advance values you share.
Truth: We’re much more likely to accept any outcome when we feel heard.
5. Listen and receive.
Political polarization can create relationships where people no longer feel emotionally known and accepted.
So encourage those you guide to check their listening patterns. Do they…
- Emphasize people feeling understood, even in disagreement? Pro tip: One-on-one discussions are better for this. No audience, no being the odd (wo)man out.
- Use receptive expressions (soft eyes, nodding, eye contact, uncrossed arms)?
- Suspend judgment?
- Communicate humility about what they don’t know and keep a thick skin?
- Invite conversation, rather than forcing it, knowing when to exit when too heated?
- Wait after speaker has stopped talking, to see if they have more to say?
- Listen to what’s being said, rather than planning their reply?
- Avoid sweeping statements and inflammatory or loaded words?
- Refrain from finishing sentences, interrupting, shaming, dominating, overtalking?
Encourage them to watch the other person’s responses as indicators of whether they feel respected and heard—not just whether they’ve gotten a point across or made progress in changing their mind.
The bottom line
Following her inflamed conversation, my friend confessed, “At the end of the day, my [relative] isn’t for the things that frustrate me about her political party. Her party doesn’t represent her character.”
Ultimately when dealing with political polarization, let him with perfect beliefs and practice cast the first stone.
Instead, play out your loyalty to King Jesus and “Accept one another … just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7, NIV).
Copyright © 2023 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including Passport2Identity®, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills for Work-in-Progress Families (Harvest House), released October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.