Recently, despite my efforts to steer it elsewhere, the conversation I was having with a friend turned to the Presidential candidates. Typically, I don’t enjoy political conversations for their general, divisive nature. I was mentioning how often I hear people in San Francisco say how arrogant, prejudice and racist Donald Trump is; that people here hate him. My friend told me that conservatives hate Hillary Clinton as much as liberals hate Donald Trump and that the Republican Party will come together to vote for anyone in order to beat Hillary Clinton. I thought, “Is that what this has come to: I’ll vote for anyone just to see to it that the other person doesn’t get elected?”
It goes without saying that the system in broken. But I will say it: the system is broken…and it’s broken because we are broken.
In 2008 I said, tongue-in-cheek, that I was glad John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate because it made things interesting —like suddenly I wasn’t watching reality anymore but some sort of drama. It shook things up. Then, and now more than ever, politics are appealing to the masses with more and more dramatic flair. People who are normally politically indifferent have no choice but to get sucked in and feel strongly about the polarizing nature of the situation. Is it a tactic to rouse us from our apathetic slumber? Or is it an act of desperation from a broken system?
Speaking of desperation, here in San Francisco, most people (including most Christians) thought that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was a joke at first. Now, they are scared he might have a legitimate shot. That fear is turning to increasing desperation. And in desperation people do crazy things.
Christians are are closing themselves off to hearing other people’s perspective. The sides are polarizing. People are giving up the commitment to hear the other person’s side of the story; they are giving up the opportunity to empathize.
I started sharing with people my thoughts on how politics are polarizing Christians and causing us to close ourselves off to each other —driving us to disunity and even, sometimes, hate. Many of the people I spoke with responded with great insight and, together, I think they strike a balance to strive for.
Friend One: As Christians, I think we need to call out Trump’s hatred and fear-mongering. It seems like we need to do some examining when someone is intentionally acting unloving and building a following by it. That is Bullying 101.
It’s not Donald Trump that bothers me. It’s that Donald Trump is popular. I would have never guessed that so many Americans, not to mention Christians, would get behind someone so brash and unkind. I hate the fact that his followers (even Christians) relish in that sort of meanness. Trump prides himself on being more shameless and inflammatory than any other candidate and it is his rudeness that people seem to like, since he “tells it like it is” and doesn’t “talk like a politician.” Many people are mad about the last eight years and Trump is exploiting their emotions. How can a demagogue like Trump build a platform on hate and fear (banning Muslims, making Mexico build a wall, misogyny, bullying, reintroducing torture, mass deportations, etc.) and attract followers of Jesus, the prince of peace?
My friend raises some excellent concerns and questions; namely, how can we, as Christians who follow the prince of peace support someone who bases most of his political values in fear and hate?
Friend two: In the American political economy if I think you are wrong it’s almost akin to thinking you shouldn’t exist. A lot of the negative talk is coming from Christians, and that’s depressing. I don’t want Trump to run for president. However, I don’t want to speak about him in a way that denies his humanity. I hope Donald Trump changes and grows as a person. I don’t want to see him stuck where he is. I don’t want to wish or hope bad things on him. However, it’s the reduction of any person to just their worst qualities, to subtracting their humanness, that is unChristian.
My second friend also reminds us of some excellent things; namely, that we should never define others by their worst qualities just as we would never want to be defined by our worst qualities. Did Jesus resign the woman caught in adultery to a life defined by her act? Does Jesus leave us abandoned to our sin? No, he reaches down to us at the foot of the cross, forgives us and frees us. He asks us to change and grow. He asks us to learn from our mistakes and help others overcome their mistakes and sins.
When we disagree with someone so strongly that we begin to think everyone would be better off if that person didn’t exist, we are refusing to see Christ in that person. We are giving ourselves to hate. Instead, we must intentionally seek out the voices of the people we disagree with. We must commit ourselves to open conversation. And we must leave hate behind.
Friend three: I need to understand how someone else thinks but I also want to hold onto the truth. I want to learn to love those I disagree with and still hold onto the truth as I see it. Can I still say with truth that Jesus came to save the world and with his death and resurrection set in motion the re-creation of the world? And can I call my Christian brothers and sisters to a new way of thinking? At what point do we sacrifice truth for unity? At what point do we sacrifice unity for truth? And how do I continue to stay humble, knowing I don’t have all the answers but still knowing I need to learn from my brothers and sisters.
As Christians, must try to see things from another’s point of view and try to love them regardless. We need to be having serious, civil and spirit-filled conversations, not defaming, mud slinging antagonisms like we see modeled by those who seek our approval for leadership.
But, take heart Christian, we must not give up. We have work to do. And it doesn’t necessarily mean going to the ballot. Our political culture is overwhelmingly pushing us to incredulity. But a choice is staring us in the face.
Instead of disbelieving that a Christian could actually stand behind Trump/Clinton and still consider himself/herself a Christian, we must wrestle. We must wrestle with our preconceptions and understandings. We must wrestle with each other. We must wrestle with our feelings of anger, confusion, and self-righteousness. To be a Christian is not usually an either/or paradigm but a constant wrestling to figure out how the many paradoxes of living in love can possibly coincide.
If we do not choose to believe- if we are given to incredulity- we fail to imagine what life is like for another person and, in our lack of social imagination (empathy), we take the humanness out of them; we fail to see Christ in them. Without seeing Christ in everyone we can easily slip from disbelief to distrust to hate.
Instead, in believing, we choose to openly and humbly listen to each other. We choose to lovingly (but firmly) call out and question things we think are wrong. We choose to offer the truth as we see it and call our brothers and sisters to that truth while still remembering we are broken. We acknowledge there will be very different interpretations of scriptural truth but, in committing ourselves to the faithful act of spirit-filled conversation and to the work of empathy and love, we choose to look for common ground. Fortunately for us all, each of us stands at the most common of all ground: the foot of the cross. There we will find unity.