Politics, Family and Thanksgiving Dinner

I have six siblings and we all espouse a different set of politics.  Some of us are Democrats, some Republicans; some more conservative and some more progressive.  Some of us openly talk about politics, and some of us avoid it altogether.  But, regardless of who in my family espouses what politics, I love them all just the same.  Politics seems to be the last thing that affects my relationship with any of them.  If there is tension between my siblings and I, it most certainly was created by something other than politics – which, I believe, is as it should be.

Many of my friends have openly shared about their fear of celebrating Thanksgiving with some of their family members because they are on opposite sides of the political divide.  While I can certainly understand their fear – especially in these particularly divisive times – I’m also a little stunned by it.  I often find myself asking, “Why are you letting politics ruin your Thanksgiving dinner?”  The reply is almost always, “Well, when my brother/sister starts to bring up politics, I can’t just sit there and let them say whatever they want.”  The justice person in me “gets” that.  On the other hand, I typically find myself saying, “What makes you think your siblings are going to listen to a thing you have to say anyway?  My siblings will never convert me to their way of thinking, any more than I will convert them to mine.  Don’t ruin Thanksgiving dinner.  It’s someone else’s job to politically convert your family members.”

While this may seem like I’m suggesting we dodge our responsibility to stand up for what is right (or what we think is right), I don’t believe it is.  It’s one thing to say something when another person – family or otherwise – makes a racist, sexist or dehumanizing remark about another person or group of people.  It’s never okay for Uncle Charlie to say something blatantly racist or vile that goes unchecked.  However, simply being on different sides of a political issue or platform does not feel worthy enough to sever relationships over the mashed potatoes and gravy.  When your brother makes that smart-aleck remark about your politics, can you simply say (like you would any other time), “Shut up and eat your turkey!?”  When your sister tries to woo you into a debate about her favorite politician can you simply say (like you would any other time), “You’re not the boss of me or my politics!?”

I don’t mean to minimize the pain we feel around our political divisiveness today.  At the same time, if we can’t even come together with our own family members and enjoy Thanksgiving dinner – in spite of political differences – how do we ever expect our legislators to do the same?  How will there ever be any hope of bridge-building in the future, if we haven’t modeled for our children loving others in spite of our differences?

I don’t know about you but I’m politically exhausted.  Let’s begin the journey back across the great political chasm we have in the U.S., and possibly in our own families, by offering a prayer of gratitude for those who challenge us to think in new ways.  I promise, if we can say a genuine prayer of gratitude this Thanksgiving for someone who thinks differently than us, it will be as satisfying as the turkey and pumpkin pie.

May you and your families, my family, and all those who challenge me politically, have a very blessed Thanksgiving.


The “Building Bridges, Building Hope” blog is written by Susie Tierney, Executive Director, of the Center for Social Ministry.  Susie hopes the blog will encourage others to be “bridge-builders” in this politically divisive time, and will promote dialogue and common ground-thinking.  To sign up to receive our “Building Bridges, Building Hope” blog click here.