Skip to main content

Got a Friend Obsessed with Politics? 7 Ways You Can Help

Got a Friend Obsessed with Politics? 7 Ways You Can Help
Posted by Patrick Miller

Do you know how to spell happy hour? How about taco Tuesday with half-priced margaritas? A small group of my friends were enjoying a fun night out, talking about Netflix shows, sports, kids, and, after a few margs, politics.

Personally, I can only talk about sports and weather for so long before I get bored, so this was a welcome turn of events. The problem was that one of my friends is supremely confident and tragically misinformed. He gets most of his news from websites that no one has heard of and that scream “Russian trolls” to the average person. But that doesn’t stop him from sharing crackpot conspiracy theories about things like tunnels running under Central Park where a cadre of elite Hollywood pedophiles traffic children.

Once he gets going, it’s hard to stop him. And once he has a margarita—well, let’s just say he said a few things that quieted the tables around us. I wanted to challenge him but knew he’d only get louder. So instead, I started scanning the room for open seats, hoping I could find a spot for a rational conversation.

As a cherry on top, he spent the rest of the week sending us all articles to prove his point. By the end of it all, I started wondering if our friendship was really worth all of the crazy.

Can We Demilitarize the Hangout?

 Chances are you’ve experienced something similar: a friendship growing tense because of political allegiances. Like all people, you have political beliefs and find yourself siding with this side or that. Yet, you know that some things matter a lot more than politics.

The Hebrew sages got it right: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). Friendships are best when they are, well, friendly. Unity is a gift, and disunity pulls people apart.

Which begs the question: Is there a way to navigate friends who are obsessed with politics?

While there is no silver bullet, there are a few ways that you can address political friendship drama both in the heat of the moment and after the dust settles.

7 Ways to Help Your Politics-Obsessed Friend

  1. Watch out for anger. Brain scientists who study anger have shown that when we get angry, our brain suppresses its higher reasoning functions. Put simply, the angrier we get, the more stupid we get.

    Of course, you don’t need a brain scan to discover this: “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (Proverbs 14:29). If you find yourself getting angry, it’s probably time to shut up. If someone else is getting angry, don’t escalate. Instead, suggest that everyone take a breather and revisit the topic later.
  2. Ask a 1 to 10 question. Sometimes your friend genuinely wants to have a dialogue about an important issue. Other times, he just wants a soapbox. To figure out which, ask him, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how certain are you that ____ is true?” If he answered between 8–10, then you can be certain he only wants a soapbox. Patiently endure and move on.

    If he answered between 1–7, he might actually want a conversation. Don’t shy away from an interesting discussion! To move things forward, you can ask, “What would it take to change your mind on this topic?” If his answer isn’t insanely unreasonable, you could love him by seeking out the mind-changing information.
  3. View it as a learning experience. Our certainty should only be proportionate to our knowledge. Unfortunately, much of our political knowledge comes from clickbaity headlines and news organizations that make money by making people angry.

    For that reason alone, you should doubt how well informed you personally are about any topic. Ask your friend questions that allows him to express his opinions. Even if you disagree, hold your tongue. You might learn something valuable about the topic, or about why someone holds a particular perspective.
  1. Interrogate any doubt. Of course, it’s equally true that your friend is probably speaking with more certainty than their knowledge justifies. If that’s the case, try asking, “What doubts or questions do you have about your perspective on this issue?” This will allow them space for a more thoughtful conversation, where you both can share questions and seek answers constructively.

  2. Emphasize shared identities. Unfortunately, politics has become a team sport. Even more unfortunately, there are only two teams, and they are rivals. So, what’s at stake during a political argument? My team winning.

    In the ancient world, ethnic strife worked the same way, so when it threatened to tear apart the early church, the apostle Paul tried to remind people that they were actually on the same team: “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:11). Remind your friend, of what you share (employment, sports, faith, experiences, whatever!) and suggest that that’s more important than politics.
  1. Leave the taqueria or whatever room in which the argument is taking place. I know it can be awkward, but you can politely excuse yourself to the bathroom, think of a new topic, then bring it up when you sit back down.

  2. Confront with humility. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). When someone gets heated, give them a gentle answer: “I care about important issues, just like you do. It’s easy for me to get carried away, and I’m sure you’ve seen it. But don’t you think these fights are doing more harm than good? What if we stopped talking about these topics or revisited them when we’re both a bit more levelheaded?” You might be surprised how a humble, non-judgmental confrontation disarms a friend.

It's true: partisan tribalism can drive a wedge between you and your friends. Thankfully, Jesus provided us with an example for rejecting tribalism and choosing unity.

Want something tangible to share with your friend too? How about our podcast? Our first episode examines tribalism from a beginner’s perspective and might be a great place for them to start their journey to de-tribalize.


Posted by Patrick Miller

Patrick Miller (MDiv, Covenant Theological Seminary) is a pastor at The Crossing. He offers cultural commentary and interviews with leading Christian thinkers on the podcast Truth Over Tribe, and is the coauthor of the forthcoming book Truth Over Tribe: Pledging Allegiance to the Lamb, Not the Donkey or the Elephant. He is married to Emily and they have two kids.

Are You Living in a Political Bubble? (Hint: You probably are.)