As I have stepped into my role as pastor at St. Thomas Covenant Church over the past year, I have been burdened by so many of the terrible events that have come through the news cycle. I have struggled with how to respond to my black brothers and sisters as they watch loved ones gunned down in the streets. I have struggled to respond as my sisters in Christ are insulted, degraded, or objectified by presidential candidates. I have struggled to respond when an entire religion has been told it is evil and unwelcome in our country. And I have struggled to respond to the continued fracturing of Jesus’ Church over theological and political controversies small and large. In this midst of my “struggles” in knowing how to respond I recognize that I’m a straight, white, upper-middle class, educated man. Who needs to hear from another one of us!? That said, the way of Jesus is to stand up for and alongside all those who are hurting, who are scared, and who are oppressed. So, while this post has been a long time coming, I feel compelled to speak tonight.
With the election of Donald Trump, I have witnessed a visceral fear sweep over many individuals in my Church, while others who feel their voice has finally been heard rejoice. I have watched on Facebook and television as men and women who I love and respect have said absolutely terrible things to each other because of the candidate they voted for. At the same time, I have had many conversations with friends, family, and congregants who have shared just how scared they are for the future of this country; whether or not they will be allowed to remain in it; and what quality of life will be available to them.
However, I do not think it is fair or right to demonize those who did vote for President Elect Trump. He was able to harness a pain, fear, and anger that many of us were unaware existed. Those afraid, hurting, and angry people are our fellow citizens. Their voices matter. I have already seen them being written off as a “protest vote,” but I believe it is more than that. Millions of Americans have been crying out for someone to be their champion and acknowledge their anger; and Donald Trump did just that.
BUT, he did that by saying truly terrible, horrifying, and hurtful things. As I heard someone wisely say today, “Donald Trump did not attack what his opponents believed, but rather who they are.” There are so many people who have been hurt by things Donald Trump has said over the past 18 months. With his election, those words suddenly feel as if they were not only okay, but actually upheld by the American populous. By electing him, it seems we have chosen to affirm his hate rather than condemn it.
I believe, in their anger, Trump voters were looking for someone to blame and went along with his hateful rhetoric, not because they are inherently hateful people, but because that rhetoric gave them a scapegoat for their pain. They are in pain because this country has changed, but not for the reasons Trump asserts. It is not because America has become more diverse that Trump voters feel pain, it is because our industries have changed. Jobs that once supported upwardly mobile families no longer exist and have been replaced with work that does not pay the bills. The belief that we are safe from our enemies has been shattered by extremists an ocean away that don’t play by the same rules we once operated under. And in the midst of these difficult and terrifying realities we have blamed our diversity for hampering our greatness.
The result of this misappropriated pain and the rhetoric used to harness it is that many of our brothers and sisters, African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Women of all races, those with mental and physical handicaps, and LGBTQ individuals, feel that they are no longer welcomed, or even safe in this country. The fact that they feel this way in a country that identifies as predominately Christian is simply not okay.
The times America has been at its worst have been when we have fought against our diversity. In those times we committed genocide against our indigenous brothers and sisters; we interned Japanese Americans; we lynched black men and women, we viewed slaves as 3/5ths of a person; we restricted women from voting and tried to keep them out of the work force; we segregated our nation; and we have categorized all Muslims of the world as terrorists. These events are the ugliest and most horrific parts of our nation’s past. And frankly I will not stand by as we move towards another instance of attempting to assert white supremacy. We are at our best when we highlight our diversity, not when we fight it. Without diversity we would not have the inspiring stories of Navaho Code talkers sending messages in World War II. Without diversity we would not have German scientists creating weapons the ended wars and rockets that sent us to the moon. Without diversity we would not have African Americans forever changing American music and art with Slave Spirituals, soul music, R&B, hip-hop, the Harlem Renaissance and so much more. (***Quick disclaimer on this one. We are a better nation because of the African American perspective. However, I recognize that much of what I am pointing to in this post is in regards to their fight for equality. It's a fight they should not still be fighting, and should never be fighting alone. I do, however, think we must acknowledge black culture's immeasurable contributions to this country.) We are a great nation because we look different, think different, have different skills, perspectives, hopes, and desires. We are at our best when the most unique voices are welcomed at the table. We ought to celebrate this diversity; we ought to protect this diversity; and we ought to seek out this diversity. When embraced, this diversity makes us more whole. If there is one consistent theme in the Hebrew scriptures it is that when we care for the poor, the afflicted, and the “other” we become more complete versions of ourselves. When we love radically we benefit even more than those who we are loving.
And so my word to us all today is this: fight lies with truth, fight fear with hope, and fight hate with love. And remember the brilliant words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, but we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”