Having tough conversations with loved ones about race, religion, homophobia & politics
“Love can build a bridge. Between your heart and mine. Don't you think it's time?” These lyrics are from a beautiful love song written and sung by Naomi Judd, who along with her daughter Wynonna won a Grammy for it in 1991.
In the real world, building that bridge of love to friends and family can be challenging, and truthfully, sometimes impossible. This moment in history is marked with political and religious tension so great that it’s ripping friends and families apart, creating chasms of discourse and straining relationships oftentimes beyond the point of no return.
However, people hunger for familial love and affirmation, especially those who have been rejected because of their sexual or gender authenticity, their political views or religious beliefs. Because of this desire to build a bridge of communication and healing, questions about how to have tough conversations with loved ones is one of our most requested topics.
In all honesty, it feels hypocritical for me to be the one writing this, as I feel ill-equipped on this subject. It isn’t because I haven’t experienced it -- I have. My separation from family and friends began when I became unchurched. Some of those rifts are irreparable, as I continue to move farther away from familial beliefs and political views that no longer align with my spiritual truth.
No doubt, I could have handled some situations differently, but we do the best we can with what we have at the time we are faced with a moral, ethical or spiritual dilemma. The outcome would be the same -- I will forever be seen in the eyes of some of my family and friends as the person who betrayed our lineage. One with allegiance to Christian evangelical beliefs and politics that was foundational to our identity.
Before 2015, our family had a respectful and loving relationship with bridges that gapped the troubled waters around religion and politics. What I really mean by that is I thought we had a respectful and loving relationship. It turns out that the respectful and loving part was contingent upon my silence or dismissal of their biases and prejudices with “that’s just the way my family is,” leaving no room for challenge or debate on other perspectives.
But everything changed in 2015 when a narcissistic tyrant rose to political power and became a savior for generations of white Americans who now felt validated to flaunt their racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia. To blame Trump for the current state of this country is misguided and misinformed -- the phobias and biases were always there -- Trump just gave them a platform.
And with that platform, many families like mine found themselves standing face-to-face with the reality that silence for the sake of connection was too great a cost. That meant all the work I had done to repair the damage from religious trauma and to be awakened to the social injustices in the world would crumble around me.
The risk of losing my integrity, beliefs and yes, even my soul, was just too much. So, I spoke up and created boundaries, I blocked “friends” on social media and finally took a stand for me -- the me that is accountable to the greater good of the whole and the work I’m called to do.
Some of my loved ones will never understand, and admittedly I haven’t circled back to explain what must have been seen as an abrupt detachment from their lives. I’m sure from where they stand, I and I alone, am to blame for the destruction of the bridge to them. That is of course, their perspective. Mine bears the memories of a lifetime of silence out of obligation. The rise of Trump and the unleashing of vitriolic memes that revealed so much bigotry planted the landmines.
So yes, I may have blown up that bridge, but the explosives were always there. I was just too tired to navigate my way around them anymore.
I’ve begun the slow return to connecting with those I love -- because even with this divide -- I still love them. They are my history, and much of who I am is because of their presence and influence in my life. I’m proud of my tenacity and stubbornness. I see those characteristics strongly in my family, as well as my drive to understand something by examining it on all sides until I can’t be swayed by a different perspective. The person I am is because of the people they are. Where did the road diverge for me? I don’t know, but I owe them a debt of gratitude for giving me their love and support throughout the years.
Family won’t look the same as before, and that’s okay. And for you -- you too will determine what family looks like. If it means losing a piece of yourself for “normal” to return, you must consider at what cost.
If normal demands your silence, then Beloved, what is the cost of your silence? You’re risking your integrity, values, beliefs, and your soul. Consider the answer to this question as you begin to rebuild those bridges.
You can download Having Tough Conversations PDF to help you as you have tough conversations with your loved ones.