I met Hillary Clinton when I was 14 years old.
Back in middle school, I was as excited about Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign as I imagine some were about John F. Kennedy's 1960 campaign. My middle school had "presidential debates" where students would debate on behalf of then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton and President George H. W. Bush. You may or may not be surprised, but I was the lead debater for the Democrat students. But that wasn't enough--I wanted to do more to make a difference.
I started volunteering at the Clinton/Gore campaign headquarters in Columbia, MO. Instead of walking home after school, I walked straight to the headquarters and logged in 2 hours of campaign calls. On the weekends, I literally spent hours going door-to-door trying to convince people to vote for Clinton/Gore. I also spent a day with Missouri State Representative Chris Kelly, briefly met future Vice-President Al Gore, hung out with future Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan (RIP), and even had lunch with Henry Winkler--aka, the Fonz.
Then on Tuesday, October 13, 1992, Hillary Clinton spoke for a Clinton/Gore campaign rally at Stephens College . I was able to sit on the front row of the rally because my dad was a professor at Stephens College. Afterward, I was part of Secretary Clinton's greeting line because of my work at the headquarters.
Shortly after she was done with her speech, the Secret Service guided her to the front row where she shook hand after hand (back when we did stuff like shake hands). When she got to me she stopped and talked for a minute. I'm still not sure why. It could be that she was blown away by how much I looked like Bart Simpson (I had spikey blonde hair and glasses). Perhaps she was surprised that a 14-year old boy would skip school to hear her speech. Whatever her reason, she spent more time talking to me than anyone else in the greeting line.
I was so excited to tell my friends. Even my friends who weren't going to vote for Bill Clinton were still shocked that I met Hillary Clinton. One of my teachers even said, "Caleb, you may have very well met the future First Lady of the United States."
Since the 1992 election, things have… changed. Some of my political views have shifted significantly, President Clinton’s tenure was anything but drama-free, I became a Christian, Al Gore never became president, Hillary Clinton’s political career has been a rollercoaster, the 2020 election was a dumpster fire, etc. And something else has changed: how Americans relationally engage each other. And the political extremism of some has made it worse... is making it worse.
Back in 1992, it felt like we could have political opinions without dividing. It felt like we could engage in respectful dialogue without calling each other names. I'm sure it's just me, but that's how it felt back then. Maybe it's not just me... New York University professor Jonathan Haidt believes that American democracy might take a nose-dive within 30 years because of “social media, the eruption of common-enemy identity politics, and entrenched rival moralities of progressives and conservatives are provoking a reversion to tribalism" .
Sadly, this tribalism is already here. Regardless if they are Democrat, Independent, GOP, Libertarian, or Green Party, a growing number of Americans are afraid to share their political views . A July 2020 national survey by The Cato Institute found that 62% of Americans are afraid to share their personal political views (this is up from 58% in 2017) . According to the survey, 52% of centrist liberals, 64% of moderates, and 77% of conservatives hide or censor their political opinions . These individuals are willing to hide their political beliefs out of fear of what others will do or say to them.
Love > Politics
Unfortunately, American politics continue to be taken to the extreme in our current society. When politics is taken to unhealthy extremes, whether intentional or unintentional, we'll continue to shallowly boil people down to inaccurate labels, false definitions, and undeserved categories. We'll do what our sinful human nature does best: ignore the plight of others and ignore the equal intrinsic value that God has assigned to each person (because everyone is someone that God created and Jesus died for). This is why,
Political differences are never reasons to devalue another human being.
Political extremes show us that there are some toxic individuals that you should keep your distance from. My friend, Pastor Jason Caine of Bayside Church Blue Oaks, and I were discussing this fact last week. Allowing emotional and racial abuse from people isn't tolerance; it's enabling them to keep abusing. Sometimes, there are people who don't know they're engaging in such abuse. Hopefully, they would be open to a conversation. But if not (or if you're not in a place where you can have such a conversation), you should stand up for your God-given equal intrinsic value. I pray that you believe that you are worth standing up for! There are times when you stand up for YOU!
Also, there are individuals in your life who may hold beliefs so contrary to yours that it's harmful. When a belief dismisses the pain and suffering you've gone through or acts as if the cause of your pain isn't real, then perhaps you should consider walking away from the relationship. If there are those around you who continually gaslight you, falsely accuse you, misrepresent you because of their assumptions, enable your hardships, and so on, then yeah--perhaps it's time to walk away. God commands us to forgive, but He never commands us to completely trust a toxic person again or entrust ourselves to them. To a degree, some of this is subjective. I guess it depends on aspects of your friendship with that person. I appreciate what my friend Henry Wasonga Abuto once said, “You don’t have to go back and forth with people who are inherently committed to misunderstanding you.”
Even though you and I are broken sinners, no one should cause us to doubt or devalue the fact that we're still made in God's image. I wanted to describe some of these toxic individuals because some of what I'm about to suggest doesn't apply to dangerous relationships. Yes, we should always love people. This is why sometimes, keeping distance between you and an offender is how you can love them best. Such distance could be permanent or seasonal (depending on your relationship with them, how they hurt you, what they did to harm others you care about, what's at stake, who's at stake, etc.). In some cases, distance prevents them from harming you and causing others pain. Distance might also stop you from "going after them" in a way that doesn't honor Jesus. If political differences are never reasons to devalue others, then you don't want to reach the point where you devalue your offenders by harming them. Who knows? Maybe you have a miraculous ability to trust yourself to always make Christ-centered decisions when your emotions are amped up and you're extremely angry, scared, or sad. Me? Not so much.
The bottom line is that love is greater than politics. Period. Loving each other and working through differences can accomplish more than any congressional bill or elected official. Following Jesus comes with a commitment to love people. All people. It's basically what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:43-44).
Later in His ministry when asked what the two most important commandments were, Jesus answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
In Romans 13:8-10, Paul writes: “Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.
A couple of thousand years later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. astutely summarized the words of Jesus and Paul:
He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love… the degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies... We must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy but to win his friendship and understanding. At times we are able to humiliate our worst enemy. Inevitably, his weak moments come and we are able to thrust in his side the spear of defeat. But this we must not do. Every word and deed must contribute to an understanding with the enemy and release those vast reservoirs of goodwill that have been blocked by impenetrable walls of hate... We love our enemies by realizing that they are not totally bad and that they are not beyond the reach of God’s redemptive love .
A lack of logic or compassion on their part should not produce a bullying attitude on our part. Yes, there are toxic people lurking around us. Again, depending on the individual, circumstances, and what God compels us to do, loving people may include placing distance between us and the toxic individuals. There will always be people who hold contrary beliefs on topics that we consider to be of supreme importance. But never let another person's words, actions, or attitude make you doubt that you're someone God created and Jesus died for.
Stop Assuming the Worst... Get to Know People
Toxic partisanship isn't only creating silos in our society, it's dividing friendships. A September 2020 Pew Research poll revealed that only 40% of voters have a close friend who supports the opposing candidate . We fear having close friends who believe differently because if a disagreement breaks out then we might lose them as a friend. No one likes pain and we want to avoid it--even if it means having fewer friends. l automatically and unintentionally label others based on their politics and assume the worst about them. No wonder we fear sharing our political thoughts and/or getting to know new people.
In his book, Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Galdwell writes: “To assume the best about another is the trait that has created modern society. Those occasions when our trusting nature gets violated are tragic. But the alternative - to abandon trust as a defense against predation and deception - is worse" .
We must love those we have differences with and enter into relationships with them. The truth of the matter is that we will disagree with people politically. No matter who the person is, do enough digging and there will be disagreements. However, love should extend beyond our disagreements.
If God calls us to love our enemies then we can tolerate political opposites.
If you can’t, then consider this—you’re part of the problem. I really don’t intend to be rude, but I want to state this as strongly as I can. I’m sure you don’t like the “Us v Them” mentality, so we need to do something. What’s another step? Become friends or maintain a friendship with someone who supports “the other candidate.” Believe it or not, it’s really possible.
Ask them questions about their views.
Ask if they’ve ever shifted their views and why.
Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen.
Discover what shaped their views.
Take them to lunch and coffee.
Find out what you have in common with them.
Look for the good in them and hang onto that good!
If you’re able to do this, you just might turn out like Patrick Underwood and Frank Scozzafva.
They live in the same Georgia town and have known each other for years. Though Patrick is voting for Biden and Frank is voting for Trump, they remain good friends.
Patrick says, “I tell people just because we have a difference of opinion doesn’t mean we can’t stay friends. Frank has been my friend since 1990” .
Agreeing, Frank said, “Whoever wins, wins, and then we move on. We’re gonna be friends no matter who wins” .
Marne Litton and Tasha Reese Hancock of Texas agree. Each supports a different presidential candidate and yet remain close friends. They say, “I do not understand how one person cannot respect another person and their point of view even if we don’t agree... Cheers to loving my neighbor even though we don’t see eye to eye on everything” .
Apart from toxic, emotionally abusive, and racially abusive people,
Allowing political differences to end friendships is cruel and arrogant. Keeping friendships despite political differences models love and humility.
Much to the chagrin of some, former First Lady Michelle Obama and former President George W. Bush are close friends. Mrs. Obama described her friendship with President George W. Bush: "Our values are the same… We disagree on policy but we don’t disagree on humanity. We don’t disagree about love and compassion. I think that’s true for all of us" .
In another article, Mrs. Obama went on to say, “I personally, and I think so many of us, miss a time where people who have different opinions get along... I want my kids to realize that we live in a world when people think tons of different things and we treat everybody with respect and kindness” .
I believe Mrs. Obama is correct. And by the way, Mrs. Obama and I wouldn't agree on everything. President Bush and I wouldn't agree on everything. But I respect and pray for them both.
My hope is that in 2021 we'll do better at loving others despite disagreements. We have to do better.
 For those who might be suspicious of the existence of this rally or the precise date, see it referenced in these two articles: Martha Sherrill, “The Rising Lawyer’s Detour to Arkansas,” The Washington Post (January 12, 1993) and Jo Mannies, “'Women Will Give Democrats an Edge,' Hillary Clinton Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (October 14, 1992).
 Paul Kelly, “’Very Good Chance’ Democracy is Doomed in America Says Haidt,” The Weekend Australian (July 20, 2019).
 See Yaffa Fredrick, “Welcome to the Fractured States of America,” CNN (November 2019); Michael Slepian, “Trump Backers Who Were Afraid to Tell Their Loved Ones,” CNN (May 23, 2019); and see Emily Ekins, “Poll: 71% of Americans Say Political Correctness Has Silenced Discussions Society Needs to Have, 58% Have Political Views They’re Afraid to Share,” The Cato Institute (October 31, 2017). After the 2016 election, 61% of Clinton voters said it was difficult to maintain friendships with Trump voters, while 34% of Trump voters reported the same about Clinton voters.
 Emily Ekins, “Poll: 62% of Americans Say They Have Political Views They’re Afraid to Share,” The Cato Institute (July 22, 2020).
 Along party lines, the July 2020 Cato survey reported 52% of Democrats, 59% of Independents, and 77% of Republicans hide or censor their personal political views.
 -Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 44-46.
 Amina Dunn, “Few Trump or Biden Supporters Have Close Friends Who Back the Opposing Candidate,” Pew Research Center (September 18, 2020).
 Malcolm Gladwell, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2019), 145.
 Brianna Chambers, “Differing Political Opinions ‘Doesn’t Mean We Can’t Stay Friends,’ Biden, Trump Supporters Say,” CBS 47 Fox 30 Action News Jax (October 12, 2020).
 Cydney Henderson, “Michelle Obama Defends Friendship with George W. Bush: 'Our Values Are the Same,’” USA Today (December 11, 2019).
 Adam Carlson, “Michelle Obama Talks Bond with George W. Bush After Controversy Over Him Sitting with Ellen: 'Our Values Are the Same,’” People Magazine (December 10, 2019).