Politics & Policy

For Those ‘Difficult’ Thanksgiving Conversations, Why Not Try Grace and Reconciliation?

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1914)

I’m not sure when Thanksgiving got politicized, but it seems that it is. Left-wing websites routinely publish guides to confronting a “crazy uncle,” and even the White House is providing talking points, urging supporters to talk about the president’s latest gun-control proposals at the dinner table. But for Thanksgiving politics, nobody beats Vox. This year the publication rolled out a multi-page spread of pieces, all beginning with the charming phraseHow to argue with your family about . . . ” What follows is a guide to fighting about everything from Benghazi to vaccines.

Feeding this beast only contributes to one of the worst ideas that has captured the American mind — that politics makes the man. We feel compelled to correct perceived error – even at a once-a-year family gathering — because we are nothing more than the sum total of our opinions.

Actions? What are those? Sure, my cranky uncle has worked two jobs to put his kids through college, but he’s a vocal Donald Trump supporter and has to be punished. So what if my prickly aunt is handling chronic and painful illness with dignity and courage — she thinks global warming isn’t real, and in the three hours we have together, I’m going to introduce her to this little thing called “science.”

I’ve got a better idea. In response to those difficult conversations, try a bit of grace. Strive for reconciliation. Understand that people are more than politics.

Grace is a challenging thing indeed. It demands far more from us than mercy.

Grace is a challenging thing indeed. It demands far more from us than mercy. A merciful person helps a brother or sister in need or refuses to impose punishment when punishment is warranted. Grace is something else. Grace demands that, in imitation of our Savior, we go beyond mercy and affirmatively bless a person above and beyond anything his or her behavior deserves.

Mercy at the Thanksgiving table means not dropping the hammer on a condescending Millennial niece. Grace means striving to find a way to help make her Thanksgiving more meaningful and enjoyable — by treating her with kindness and taking a genuine interest in her life, especially her life outside her talking points.

#share#I’m not naïve enough to believe that grace always leads to reconciliation or joyful family holidays. After all, if the world rejected — and even executed — the perfect expression of grace, how can we expect our own acts of grace to be well-received? But if we’re reaching the point where we’re urging people to use family gatherings as political platforms, we’ve lost our way.

For tens of millions of American families, Thanksgiving is one of the few opportunities to truly build something. Around that meal, we should strive to reconnect. The family is the basic building block of our culture not because its members all agree on politics and can caucus together on a cold November night, but because it’s how we exist, how we endure, and how we prosper. Liberal nieces can lovingly babysit infant cousins, and conservative uncles help clean out gutters, teach sons and daughter to balance checkbooks, and hold their parents as they slowly slip away.

#related#Yes, it all sounds a like a Hallmark card, and it’s a bit rich coming from a person who makes a living writing about the most contentious of cultural issues. And — don’t worry — you’re not surrendering or even giving one inch in the vital political struggles of our time by responding to a torrent of talking points with a question about a baby’s sleep schedule. If someone’s coming loaded for bear to talk politics, are they really going to be persuaded to change course after a 40-minute shout-fest?

The third chapter of Ecclesiastes is among my favorite scriptures in the Bible. It speaks to the complexity of life and the need for wisdom to discern the times. “There is a time for everything,” it says, “and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Among them, a “time to tear and a time to mend.” We’ve torn enough. This Thanksgiving, let’s try mending.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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