The end of “friend”?

The morning after the 2016 election, I expressed shock and sorrow about the results of the voting on Facebook. I did not vote for Donald Trump. Someone I’d thought of as a friend for more than 15 years responded in anger by telling me, using these exact words, to “put on your big girl pants and get over it”. Like many of the people I’d called my friends from that period of my life, she saw Trump as a miracle, a modern-day Cyrus, God’s anointed man for this hour in our country’s history. After I challenged her ice-cold response to me, she promptly unfriended me.

I still feel sad about that. But not for the reasons you might think.

There were people who voted for Trump in 2016 because they hoped he’d be a disrupter who’d drain the swamp or make good economic deals, people who voted for Trump because they detested Hilary Clinton, and those who saw in Trump someone who would be used to lead this country into spiritual revival via conservative Supreme Court Justice picks and religious liberty legal protections. Certainly for many voters, the categories overlapped. But that third group, those who believe Trump to be their God-chosen defender and friend, have sequestered themselves in an iron bubble crafted from the threads of Fox News opinion, triumphalist pronouncements from their pastors and those claiming to be prophets, and a tsunami of angry memes and YouTube conspiracy theories, the latter of which have ramped up significantly in this era of COVID-19.

I’ve always viewed myself as a loyal friend. I’ve maintained relationships with people I’ve known since the age of 13. Through all our moves, jobs, and church affiliations, my life has been enriched by the mix of most of the people God has brought into my life. I’ve also managed to make a few enemies along the way, either because I’ve been put in the role of a whistle-blower or because my high-octane blend of extroversion and and strong opinions can be exhausting. (Heck, sometimes I exhaust myself.)

However, I used to think I knew precisely who my friends were. I noted in Becoming Sage,

We do not select our families, but those we call our friends reflects a powerful chosen love. Scripture highlights unforgettable friendships like that of Ruth and Naomi or David and Jonathan. We recognize great friendships in literary classics like that of Sam and Frodo in the Lord of the Rings series or Anne Shirley and Diana Barry in Anne of Green Gables.

Friends are people who cherish one another, sticking “closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). The best kind of friendships create safe zones that allow us to reveal the truth about ourselves (Prov. 27:5–6). Friends provide mutual support (Eccl. 4:9–10).

Scripture also reveals that one friend can betray another with the knowledge they’ve gained from relational closeness, as we see in the case of Judas’s stunning disloyalty to Jesus. And yet, as Judas was on his way to betray Jesus, Jesus spoke these words to His disciples: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:13–15).

This kind of friendship Jesus offers us is marked by perfect love expressed in sacrifice and intimacy. All of our other healthy friendships can reflect a measure of that love.

Can true friends disagree on politics? On faith?

Can true friends disagree…period? 

It seems that the kind of digital relationship I’ve had with a number of people from my past have as a litmus test unblinking adherence to their chosen political leader. Were they always like this? Was I? I try to remember what it was like to be among them, but at the time politics seemed to take a back seat to spiritual issues, save our shared concern about conservative social issues.  

Do friends humiliate others in order to force them to comply with their political views (“You should pray for the president like I do rather than criticize him”) or attempt to grind them into silence by accusing them of arrogance because they perceive the “offender” to be an intelligent person? 

I have examined myself repeatedly, asking God to reveal if any of their words may be true of me. I think they’d be surprised by how much I have prayed for the president and other leaders, but probably not from the same songbook from which these super-supporters are using. While pride can be a lure for an intelligent person, it is a trap for all of us no matter what our I.Q. might be. I confess my sinfulness regularly. I repent. I am grateful for my Father’s mercy. The level of vitriol I’m seeing from this crowd doesn’t have anything to do with loving correction in the context of true friendship. It is meant to shame and silence me. 

If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers. (Ps. 55:12-14)

I recently had an “ah ha” that might seem obvious to some of you reading these words: These people are not my friends. I’ve continued for too long to think of them as friends, and have tried to relate to them as such.

The sadness I now feel about this comes from recognizing that all these years, my motivation in doing so has been because I’ve been hoping to redeem something of value from a time in my life that was filled with so much hurt and sorrow. At least these people still like me, I’d think. At least they still want to maintain some sort of connection. “At least” is not a basis for a friendship, even one on Facebook.

I’ve come a long way from the worst of the codependent tendencies that formed me as a younger person, but my “ah ha” revealed to me that old ways of thinking and being die hard. It has been helpful to realize that a better category in which to keep these “friends” from the past is that of enemy. Jesus’ words about enemies do not allow me to attempt to cancel these people and pretend they don’t exist (though “unfriending” or blocking abusers on Facebook is common-sense), but in some ways ups my responsibility toward them to go the second mile both in prayer and in the way in which I may choose to engage them in the future. It doesn’t at all mean more engagement, but it means wise, clear-eyed engagement about the nature of the relationship. 

I’d love your thoughts on this, especially if you’ve experienced fractured friendships as a result of political differences. Do you believe “enemy” is a helpful category to use when relating to these people? Is it too harsh? 

 

 

 

 

 

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8 thoughts on “The end of “friend”?”

  1. I have experienced this same thing so much in these last four years–the unfortunate confluence of the normalization of expressing opinions online to hear the echo of validation, with the rise of pseudo-religious political power. I have also lost many friendships I thought were solid, only because they had a lengthy history. I do believe “enemy” is too harsh, though. I don’t wish to further ensconce the tribalism of the day by declaring naysayers to be enemies. Instead, I quietly mourn this loss of friends as collateral damage of our political environment, relegating those formerly close to simply part of the masses of people in the world to whom I am not close. It stings, but but I can’t bear to villify them. I have to just let them go and watch them float away like a leaf on the surface of the stream, swept away by the underlying current.

  2. Good word. I think the “no longer connected” category fits many of those old relationships in my life. But there are a few loud voices who have been abusive and aggressive toward me (10 minutes – and I”m not kidding! – of voice texts in my DM box, telling me I am an evil fool, for example) that I permitted to speak in my life for far longer than I should have because I kept trying to tell myself we were friends.

    I like very much the image of letting them go and letting them drift away like a leaf on the current of a stream.

  3. You have touched me deeply, Michelle. I have lost friends over my stance on Trump and two of them hurt me badly, one a friend over 50 years albeit not living close to me for the past 30. I cannot call her an enemy but I’m fairly sure this rift will remain since we are both in our 70s and “set in our ways”. The other one called me out on Facebook and it was a shaming demeaning experience. I unfriended her immediately and can probably call her my new enemy. So……for me, it’s not necessarily what you say but how you say it to me. Now, if there had been an apology for her hurtful words, I could have seen her in a different light. We all make mistakes, especially when we’re angry. I don’t think I can take much more of this divisiveness encouraged and promoted by our president, especially during this deadly pandemic. Thank you for your encouragement and kindness!!!!

  4. Thank you for writing this. It speaks to exactly how I feel these past few days as I have spent a lot of time “unfriending “ on my social media accounts those who are more concerned for their personal rights over human life in this pandemic and those who have no concern for social justice with another killing of a young black man. I don’t see any trace in them of who I thought they were. Thank you for your insight.

  5. Kathy, I’m so sorry for those losses. The divisiveness is a heartbreak. Compromise doesn’t seem possible, but I hold out a small flame of hope for reconciliation at some point in the future. What that might look like is a bigger thing than my imagination can hold.

    Karla, I am grieving with you the callousness of some regarding another young, innocent black man being killed in cold blood.

  6. Thank you for these vulnerable and thoughtful reflections. It can be painful to define and enforce healthier boundaries in the realm of friendships. But it is important. Shame is a very good signal that we are not dealing with someone acting as a friend. Unrepentant shaming is enemy behavior.

    We can continue to be kind, open to, and considerate of people we don’t consider friends; you point out the biblical category of “enemy,” but there is also the category of “stranger” and “neighbor”–both of whom have various obligations but don’t fit into the “friend” or “brother” category.

  7. This speaks to me both an as elector for a third party candidate in 2016 ( both barrels anyone?) And… Oh, but does it speak to me today.

    Enemy? Maybe it is a harsh description. I believe most of these people do consider themselves my friends, even consider me a friend. I think the anger and fear they express has more to do with them – with the state of their faith and the object of their faith – than it does with me.

    However… The concept of enemy might very well be a helpful way to frame my interactions with them, to think of both the purpose and focus of our exchanges. I must show forth Christ in everything I say and do.

    Thank you!

  8. A couple of years ago I sat in a restaurant trying to explain to my “best” friend of 30+ years why I was not able out of good conscience to vote for Trump. It was like something out of the movie Frozen when Elsa starts throwing her icicles. She couldn’t believe I could be a Christian and “do” that. Since then, although still in contact somewhat, our friendship has not been the same. The person I used to call late at night when I really needed to talk to someone is not that person anymore.

    I still consider her a friend, but I’m cautious. i have a hope that when all the political storm of the current administration blows over (the worst that can happen is four more years-shudder) we will one day begin to talk about things with the lively banter we did before. But, I don’t know if that will be the case, and that leaves a hole in my heart.

    I think so many Christians have been blinded by the rhetoric of “Christian” America that they don’t see any of our weaknesses and frailties, that our hope is in Jesus not in political doctrines, and that as we takes sides with those inside and outside our camp, we do exactly what Satan want us to do-be so fractured, that no on can take us seriously. I weep for the church in America, and I pray for a day when we begin to understand that Jesus saves us, not politics.

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