When I was pregnant with my son, I had no special cravings. I did, however, start crying a lot.
I cried when commercials showed baby animals separated from their moms and when restaurants got my order wrong. I cried when I worried about being a bad parent or what the doctor would see on the ultrasound.
And I cried when I debated politics with my husband, who typically sees current events quite differently than me. I once cried so hard while discussing a political issue on the way to the gym that my husband asked if we should go home.
Now, my son is nearly 18 months old and those hormone-fueled crying jags are a thing of the past. But from time to time, I find myself thinking about those tough conversations with my husband and wondering whether pregnancy was the real source of my tears.
If I’m being honest, I’ve never brought my best self to political discussions and the heightened tensions of the Trump era only made the issue worse. As the country mostly abandoned the concept of agreeing to disagree, I began letting what could have been thoughtful conversations with my husband take on a much more contentious tone.
In other words, my tears over our opposing political views were likely a symptom of something other than being pregnant. They probably came from seeing my husband, whom I love, as an enemy who had to be won over to my side — or crushed.
Although I don’t make a habit of forcing sources to address my own problems, I was recently on a phone call where I couldn’t resist. After asking Russell Moore about his recent split with the Southern Baptist Convention, I brought up his new podcast and questioned why he chose to include a segment called “Tell Me Where I’m Wrong.”
The segment features Moore calmly listening to someone tell him what’s wrong with his understanding of the topic of the day. Moore can ask clarifying questions, but he cannot argue with or otherwise directly challenge what his guest has to say.
“I am a sinner and I will sometimes slip into covertly debating when I’m supposed to be asking questions. I tell people to call me out on that,” said Moore, who directs the Public Theology Project at Christianity Today.
Moore told me his goal is to model how to have hard conversations without losing your cool. I praised the effort before admitting my own propensity to treat political conflict like a fight to the death.
Moore laughed and then kindly explained that my behavior is far from unique. In recent years, he said, it feels like every political discussion gets ratcheted “up to a level 10” almost as soon as it starts.
As a result, Moore, who is a faith leader in addition to being a podcast host and writer, regularly hears from people like me who want to learn (or re-learn) how to continue loving their loved ones in the midst of political debates.
“It seems like maybe once a day I hear from a younger Christian who has parents who are politically radicalized in some way or another and who want to get into a debate any time they’re together. The younger adults are saying, ‘I need a mom and dad. Not a political debating partner,’” Moore said.
He added, “I really don’t know anyone who doesn’t have someone that they love very much with whom they disagree on some major issue.”
Moore’s advice to me was the same advice he gives to others: You have to remember, and help your loved ones remember, that you won’t solve congressional gridlock or the COVID-19 pandemic or gun control on the way to the gym. If you act like you can, you very well might say something that you’ll deeply regret.
The way Moore sees it, the ability to disagree with someone without considering them to be your enemy is necessary not just for civil society to hold together, but for families to hold together. Part of loving someone means knowing when it’s time to deescalate a fight.
“You have to be able to say, ‘We’re entering the danger zone here,’” Moore said.
If you’re deeply committed to changing your loved one’s mind, that probably sounds like bad advice. It’s hard to back down from an argument, especially one in which the stakes are high.
But Moore believes that backing down doesn’t require accepting defeat. He cited the experiences of evangelists and missionaries to explain that patience often pays off.
“There are some people who the first time they encounter the gospel immediately come to faith. Most people, though, spend a good deal of time pondering and thinking through the claims of the gospel,” he said.
He added, “The truth of the matter is that almost no one is persuaded after a 20-minute battle. That’s just not how people’s minds change.”