February 13, 2024
How to Love Someone (When You Disagree with Their Politics)

In a world where political disagreements can lead to division and animosity, it is important to remember the power of love and kinship. The author reflects on their own close relationships with family members who hold different political views and emphasizes the need to prioritize love and compassion over political differences. Drawing inspiration from Jesus and his disciples, the author encourages readers to bridge gaps, dismantle walls of separation, and seek to create loving communities of kinship, even with those who may be considered political or theological foes.


Marlena Graves

I am very close with my sister, Michelle; brother Marco; sister- in- law Shelly; brother Kenny; sister- in- law Chelsea; and dad. I would live on the same plot of land—yea, even far removed from much of civilization—with them in a heartbeat if Shawn and I could find jobs as professors in their area. But alas, we cannot.

But it would be a mistake to assume that Shawn and I and my family members are so close because we are politically and denominationally homogeneous. We are not. We often disagree vehemently about politics. Even so, politics is not worth a familial divorce, though familial divorce and divorce among friends is widespread in our culture these days. We are becoming more and more separated from God and one another. Is that not also a form of hell? I do not know if these are the “last days,” but these words of Jesus often haunt me: “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other. . . . Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:10, 12, emphasis added).

Any one of my family members, whom I consider political “Samaritans” (and vice versa), would stop on the road to Jericho to attend to the wounds of their political and ideological foes should they come upon them. They would not cross to the other side pretending they didn’t see them or refuse to stop because the person was “an enemy.” They would give the person the shirt off their back and put them up in their own home or a hotel without asking for anything in return. No doubt they would follow up months or even years later to make sure the person was flourishing. I’m sure of this, even though my dad calls me weekly to jokingly harass me about every political upheaval and tell me that my position is untenable.

I have spoken and written repeatedly about how Jesus’ own disciples were probably political enemies with one another. Among his disciples were a radical Zealot who wanted to violently take down Rome, those originally in cahoots with Rome (like Matthew), monastic Essenes, rural Galileans considered backward troublemakers, former Pharisees, and so on. Yet they each had a place in the heart of Jesus and the hearts of one another. Even Judas did until he chose to leave his place of kinship and belovedness because Jesus was not riding the wave of his religio-socio-political popularity to deliver them from Roman occupation (at least not in the way that Judas thought he should). We see that Jesus made the reality of his political posture public when he answered Pilate’s interrogation with this statement: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). Jesus’ refusal to violently overthrow the government was the reason that the crowd asked Pilate to release Barabbas instead of him. After all, it was Barabbas, not Jesus, who had taken part in a political uprising against Rome (John 18:40). Barabbas could be counted on to do what it took, to die, for the good of his country. Jesus could not. He would not. At least not in the way the crowd imagined. So they sentenced him to death.

Maybe we can’t imagine ourselves sentencing our political foes to death. Oh, but we could. If—like Judas—we elevate politics over following Jesus, finding a sort of salvation in our allegiance to a particular political party, I am not so sure that we wouldn’t put people to death when passionately inflamed. Concerning such places where there is an “illusion of separateness,” Father Gregory Boyle writes in his book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, “It is in this place where we judge the other and feel the impossibility of anything getting bridged. The gulf too wide and the gap too distant, the walls grow higher, and we forget who we are meant to be to each other.”

Jesus transcends gaps. Narrows them. Knocks down walls of separation and reminds us of who we are meant to be to each other. He loved Judas. Broke bread with Judas. Confided in Judas. But in the garden of Gethsemane, it was Judas who broke confidence, who did not love Jesus (if love is understood to be seeking the good of another). It was Judas who widened the gap and erected a wall of separation between them. We may not like our political or even theological foes, but we do have to love them, which may require more of us than liking them would. That is the miracle of Christ’s life in us. When we live in such a way, “we have a chance, sometimes, to create a new jurisdiction, a place of astonishing mutuality, whenever we close both eyes of judgment and open the other eye to pay attention. Reminding each other how acceptable we are. . . . Suddenly, we find ourselves in the same room with each other and the walls are gone,” says Father Boyle (quoted from his book Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion).

So one thing we have to do in our local places and spheres of influence is love our religiopolitical enemies instead of demonize them. Dismantle walls of separation. “We seek to create loving communities of kinship precisely to counteract mounting lovelessness, racism, and cultural disparagement that keeps us apart,” notes Boyle. You and I are to “bring heaven to earth,” as my friend Carl says, as best as we can, wherever we find ourselves. After all, are we not bearing Jesus in us, the Jesus who loved Judas, the God who is even good to the wicked and ungrateful? If we do not come bearing Christ and his gifts to whomever we encounter because we have thrown Christ overboard in order to get what we want or what we think he wants, we are not following Jesus.