Wednesday morning, as we informed our children that Donald Trump had shocked the nation with his victory over Hillary Clinton the night before, my husband looked into his closet and said, “I think I’ll wear black today.”
My normally reserved husband has worked for presidents from both parties and rarely speaks an ill word against anyone. And yet in this moment, he felt inclined to say, “I may not have agreed with George W. Bush, but I always respected him and believed he was a good man.” The implication was clear: He was disappointed in Trump’s election.
I hadn’t voted for Trump—confident that Clinton would not win our state, anyway—but I still struggled, for my husband’s sake, to suppress my delight that Clinton had lost and that Republicans had retained control of the House and Senate.
We are a house divided when it comes to politics.
I grew up in Oklahoma, the reddest of the red states. I graduated from Hillsdale College, a bastion of conservatism, and served for almost 10 years in Washington, DC, as the press secretary for one of the most conservative members of Congress. My husband grew up in Southern California and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, a bastion of liberalism. He is an unashamed liberal Democrat.
When we were dating, I worried about living with someone who didn’t share my deeply held political beliefs. I knew James Carville and Mary Matalin somehow managed to navigate a bipartisan marriage, but could we? I expected our political differences to be an obstacle that would hinder our marriage. Instead, I have found that our shared faith provides a roadmap, and living with someone with opposing political beliefs has made us more complete followers of Jesus Christ.
In the wake of this bitter presidential race, many American Christians might find themselves wondering the same thing: How do we live together? In the hope that our political differences within the church can make us all better followers of Christ, I offer this love letter to my husband as a model of the type of mutually beneficial and loving relationship we can share with those on both sides of the political spectrum.
To the liberal that I love:
Thank you for humanizing the opposite side of the political fence. As I live with you every day, I cannot pretend that those who disagree with me are ignorant or evil. They merely have different ideas about how to accomplish the same goals—a peaceful, prosperous country that protects the rights of its citizens and provides opportunities for all.
Thank you for making me aware that my political behaviors and beliefs are sometimes diametrically opposed to the teachings of Christ and the gospel message. I don’t know why I never realized before that Christ’s greatest admonition to “love thy neighbor” rings hollow when I’m pounding out a press release (or a Facebook post) bashing those across the aisle.
Thank you for demonstrating the power and appeal of humility.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to practice loving those who are different from me. Just as we can’t run a marathon until we finish a 5K, before we can accomplish a gargantuan feat like loving our enemies, we must build up our “love muscles” through daily repetition and challenge.
Thank you for reminding me that what unites us (both as Americans and as Christians) is more important than what divides us. In other countries, opposing parties often represent completely different political systems, like fascism versus democracy. In America, Democrats and Republicans for the most part agree on the essentials: rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and individual rights. We’re just arguing about the best way to protect them and advance the common good.
Thank you for reminding me that God is not an American, a Republican, or a Democrat. That seems self evident, but it’s sometimes amazingly hard to separate our religion from our politics.
Thank you for not demonizing me for my beliefs, for not questioning my intelligence, for extending grace to me when I am wrong, and for believing that we both want what is best for our country even if we disagree on the best way to accomplish it.
Thank you for listening to my viewpoint, trying to understand, learning from me, and reconsidering your opinions. Who would have thought you’d become chairman of the board of a pro-life clinic or that we would become foster parents? Thank you for recognizing that we both care about vulnerable individuals. We have found a “third way” together: seeking to protect unborn babies but also actively working to love and support their mothers, who often find themselves alone in the world and facing a difficult decision.
Finally, and most of all, thank you for providing a consistent reminder not to let our political differences get in the way of our true purpose on earth: establishing the kingdom of God and reflecting the love of Christ.
From your loving but staunchly conservative wife
To the voters on both sides, I want to offer additional words of encouragement. For those splintered from family and friends over the results of the election, here are a few lessons born out of the crucible of a marriage between two people who have committed to love and respect each other even when it’s hard.
As the old adage says, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Showing respect and love is a smart political strategy. More importantly, it’s what we are commanded to do in the Bible. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34–35).
As Christians, our first priority is not to convert others to our political beliefs but rather to bear witness to the unifying love of Christ. Love first and most, and only on that foundation can real dialogue occur. As Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1).
My husband and I don’t try to convince each other that one is right and the other is wrong. It’s not worth it for us. Civil discourse and the exchange of ideas are absolutely essential to maintaining our democratic republic, but they are not essential to a loving Christian relationship. You can live together, love each other, and serve one another (and even raise children together) without agreeing on matters like universal healthcare, the size of government, or tax policy. In contrast, you cannot live together very well without love and respect.
Respect one another.
My husband and I respect one another’s minds and motives. We are both educated, intelligent, and decent people. We don’t believe or imply that the other is less valuable because they come to different political conclusions. We assume the best of each other.
Likewise, try to assume the best of those who may have voted differently than you. Try to see them as God sees them—as his beloved children whom he loves just as much as he loves you. Try to listen and understand. Modern neurological research indicates that empathetic listening actually improves brain function. Clearly, we need each other, and we need to listen to one another.
Celebrate common ground.
As Paul admonishes us in Romans 14, “Let us not pass judgment on one another any longer … let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding.” Recognizing the points on which we agree goes a long way toward soothing differences. As a practical technique, use the phrase “What I hear you saying is…” and then repeat back the best parts of their argument.
Allow some running room.
My husband and I let each other speak our minds at times. We make an honest effort to understand before being understood. Likewise, give your conversation partner room to run. If someone gets frustrated, it’s okay to leave the room (or social media spaces) and take a break.
Forgive as you are forgiven by God.
At the moment, there’s too much venom spewing in the public media. If someone questions your Christianity or calls you a moron, misogynist, or racist because you voted for Trump, or conversely, if someone questions your Christianity or calls you a socialist, crook, or elitist because you voted for Hillary, instead of lashing back, look at it as an opportunity to exercise forgiveness. Yes, it hurts. But as Christians, there's no doubt about the unconditional love to which Jesus calls us. "Anyone who claims to be in the light and hates his brother or sister is still in the darkness" (1 John 2:9). We tend to think this admonition doesn't apply when it comes to politics, but in fact it does.
God is a great, big God. His love, joy, mercy, creativity, and mystery are beyond our comprehension. He is bigger than this tiny slice of history and bigger than our partisan differences. His love can bring peace between nations and reconciliation and redemption to the deepest wounds. We have an opportunity in our relationships with one another to model the unity that only his love can bring. For years, my husband and I have delighted to pray for, love, and worship with others who every week are actively working at political cross-purposes. Why? Because we share a higher goal. Christ offers that kind of unity.
The sins and pains of our world are real. They deserve political engagement. But if we neglect love and humility as we engage, we are trading the kingdom of heaven for the fool’s gold of partisan politics.
Micah Leydorf is a former congressional staffer and the author of Wingspan. She is currently working on her next book about Christian faith in Middle America. Connect with her on Twitter @MicahLeydorf.