Reader e-mail: Parents and Politics

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Before I get to the e-mail, I wanted to let you know that next week I’ll be making a big announcement about my book on the blog, so be sure to stop by. Also, I’ll be reviewing Jim Belcher’s book, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional, which has gotten a lot of buzz and which I think will be of interest to a lot of you.

Oh, and for all the college football fans out there – ROLL TIDE! Let the season begin!

Okay, now to the e-mail.

I recently received this message from Josh from Chicago, and it sounded really familiar. Often I hear from folks who are struggling to engage in political debates with their friends and parents in a respectful, loving manner. 

Writes Josh:

Over the past decade, my parents have remained strongly conservative, both in terms of their politics and their religion. They would be rightly called part of the ‘evangelical right wing’; they believe abortion is the great evil of our generation, that the US is a Christian nation, and that ‘no one who is a Christian can vote for this (policy/party/person).’ Democrats are generally considered people who support the evil of abortion, while Republicans uphold the Christian understanding of the country’s founding fathers. And while they acknowledge the pluralism of our society, they believe that allowing it to persist will lead to relativism, a watering down of truth, and a degeneration of the moral structure of the country, all of which will lead to the downfall of the US and the abandonment of God.
In contrast, I have become more moderate in my political and religious views over that time period. I still believe that abortion is the killing of a human life, that homosexuality is a sin, and that there is an inherent moral hazard associated with welfare. But I also believe that social justice is important given the systemic disadvantages in our country; heterosexual divorce is probably more detrimental than gay marriage; caring for the poor goes a long way toward reducing the ‘felt need’ for abortion; and that setting Biblical morality up as civil law is probably not the way to go in a pluralistic society…
These changes in my own view have come, in part, from my experiences in an urban setting, where I am daily faced with the consequences of public policy at all levels. My parents, on the other hand, live in a suburbia that keeps exposure to poor, disadvantaged, and disenfranchised people at a comfortable distance. 
When I talk about politics with my parents, which is on a fairly frequent basis, we end up in a similar situation. They recite the talking points of their preferred party; I try to get to the underlying issues so that a discussion can be had regarding the merits of the various proposals. It usually ends up with them saying that Republican policies are the most ‘Christian’, and Democratic policies are evil. Bush’s deficit spending was a necessary thing to accomplish something great; Obama’s is sending our country to ruin. The war in Iraq is justified although it has killed thousands; health care reform is a socialist ploy despite the fact that it might save thousands. 
I often struggle with these conversations and how to approach them. I feel like if I play “devil’s advocate” and promote the opposing view, they will simply shout their talking points louder. If I agree with them in general without getting specific, it allows them to remain comfortable in their views. If I agree in principle, but disagree with a specific position as put forth by the Republicans, they go back to the ‘I don’t see how any Christian can support ____.’ 
So, I have two questions for you and your esteemed readers:

1) How can I disagree with my parents, while encouraging them to get all the facts about a topic from sources other than Rush Limbaugh? Remember, I want to be respectful and loving in the process—these are my parents, and while I respect their wisdom, I want to respect their wisdom rather than a talking head’s blathering points. I don’t want to have to teach them both sides of the debate every time we talk about any political issue.
2) How can I encourage my parents to separate their religion from their politics? It seems they have the two conflated, and that makes it hard to discuss a policy based on its merits.

Have at it, folks!

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