To be perfectly candid with you, I didn’t want to write this post.
But I kinda’ backed myself into a corner five years ago, and I knew that if I was going to have any sense of integrity I’d have to (at least) sit down and do a bit of honest reckoning.
See, five years ago I wrote this thing called “Why I Love Barack Obama“.
At that time and in the world I inhabited, a blog post like that was Very Edgy Content. I was just a year or two out of Christian college and embedded deep in the backwards heart of the Bible Belt.
At my school, pretty much everyone was a Republican (except for one or two profs in the Art Department, who were subversive enough to have actual Obama posters in their offices. I was horrified).
In our circles, we liked Michelle Bachman and we liked Sarah Palin and and we liked Sean Hannity and we voted for John McCain even though he was boring. We really, really didn’t like Barack Obama. (Reasons included: he might be a low-key Muslim trying to secretly hand over our country to the terrorists, he might be a low-key socialist trying to ruin our God-given capitalism, he might be a low-key dictator trying to secretly become permanent emperor of America).
When I graduated from college and moved to Arkansas, the disdain for Obama took on a much less civilized tone. Ours was a town known mostly for its Klan presence, although most of its residents insisted that it wasn’t really a racist town — “how could we be racist when there are no black people here to be racist against?” (They seemed to conveniently forget that the reason there are no black people in that town is because they violently ran them all out a hundred years ago.) In our charming little rural town, the pretense of loyalty to conservative principles was abandoned for unabashed hatred of Obama.
It was here, surrounded by baptist churches and confederate flags, that I became a liberal.
In the Christian college bubble, disliking Obama seemed like common sense. Maybe even the Right Thing to Do.
But when I saw the unvarnished racist hate of my Arkansas neighbors, I knew that I didn’t want any part of that. Around this time I was also introduced to the work of the prophet Jon Stewart, who charmed his way past my defenses and exposed the absurd hypocrisy of my right-wing views. Gradually, my suspicion of Obama turned to begrudging acknowledgement of his likability, which has since evolved into deep admiration and respect now mixed with a solid dose of wistful affection.
When I wrote that thing five years ago about loving Barak Obama, I was right in the middle of all that stuff. Most of the people who read this blog were from conservative religious backgrounds; by writing “I Love Barack Obama” I was trying to mix things up a bit, start a bit of trouble (shocking, I know.)
I was also working through what it meant to take seriously Jesus’ command to love our enemies.
At the time, we thought that our enemies were the gays and the Muslims and the liberals and especially Obama, and I was beginning to suspect that I wasn’t allowed to hate those people and still call myself a Jesus person.
So anyhow, when y’all dumbasses went and elected Donald Trump, I tried to forget that I had written that post about Barack Obama.
I knew somewhere deep in the recesses of my now-liberal heart that if I’d made the argument that we had to love Barack Obama even when we thought he was our enemy, I had to apply the same logic to Donald Trump — who I firmly believe to be the enemy of common decency, the enemy of the way of Jesus, the enemy of the people I care most about.
Here’s the rub: I actually like Barack Obama.
I don’t like Donald Trump.
I fuckin’ hate him.
How am I supposed to love somebody who I actually hate?
Back when I was a conservative and we thought that gays and immigrants and liberals were our enemies, Jesus’ suggestion that we love our enemies wasn’t that bad. The reason for this is obvious: gays and immigrants and liberals weren’t actually our enemies. Our persecution complex was something that religious and political leaders sold to us in order to acquire power and maintain obedience, and it was all a big obscene bamboozle.
But now I have be become a liberal — and I have no qualms about embracing that label, because it simply means that my politics prioritize justice for the marginalized and oppressed instead of the preservation of an unjust status quo. And now, the people that feel like my enemies are the people that I used to be one of, the people who claim to be doing the work of God while they do violence to the children of God. People who use the words of Jesus to justify a religion that is the exact opposite of everything Jesus stood for.
Now I have to learn to love my enemies all over again, and I don’t like it one bit.
People like to say that you can change a fundamentalist’s politics but that doesn’t change his heart, and I don’t like that saying one bit.
Because it’s true.
I have renounced the entire system of “us vs. them” religion that said we were good (Baptists and Republicans and straight people, mostly) and everyone who believed differently than us was bad. I feel more enlightened now.
I still find myself believing that me and my fellow liberals are good, and that everyone who believes differently is bad.
Damn this fundamentalism that is woven into the fabric of my heart.
This is where I am today:
I confess the hypocrisy and immaturity of my own “us vs them” mindset.
I confess the fundamentalism inherent in a “we’re right, they’re wrong” approach to the world.
But also, some things are wrong.
The way the church* has treated people of color is wrong.
The way the church* has treated women is wrong.
The way the church* has treated gay and trans and bi and queer people is wrong.
The way the church* has treated immigrants is wrong.
The way the church* has bastardized itself in pursuit of political power is wrong.
(* by this I mean the white American evangelical church. Condensed here for rhetorical clarity.)
I was talking to Seth about this a week or two ago — politics, division, my own internal tendency toward fundamentalism, all of it.
Seth says that there’s value in dialogue with people who hold opposing views to us, even views that we might find reprehensible.
He says that perhaps we should try to see them as more than just their wrong politics.
He wants to humanize them.
That made me very angry.
I don’t want to humanize you motherfuckers who voted for Donald Trump.
I don’t want to empathize with conservatives.
I don’t want to dialogue.
I want to change your minds.
I want to change your beliefs.
I want to make you into liberals, like me.
(Damn my fundamentalism.)
I read in the news every day the about evil, heartbreaking shit that’s happening in our country.
Dads are being torn away from their kids and deported to countries they’ve never called home, for no reason but to satisfy the whims of right-wing xenophobes.
Mothers of black children live in fear that their sons will be killed by police during routine traffic stops, for no reason but because we refuse to see people of color as people.
Kids in our churches are killing themselves over the belief that God hates them, for no reason but because they love somebody of the wrong gender.
Families running from unimaginable violence beg for asylum in our country (the so-called land of the free and all that shit) and we turn them away at our borders, for no reason but because they call God by another name.
Every single day I watch my people — straight, white, religious Americans — do unbearably evil things in the name of my God and I feel helpless with despair and sadness. This despair and sadness turns into rage in my stomach, and I want to scream at all you Trump-loving motherfuckers to make it stop.
When it comes down to it, I guess I believe that if I could change your minds, I could change the world.
If I could make everyone become liberals, you would stop deporting dads and killing black people and driving gay kids to suicide and turning away immigrants at our borders.
So I tell Seth that I don’t want to humanize people who, by their complicity in systems of violence, are killing other people.
I tell him it makes me angry.
They don’t deserve to be humanized. If I humanize them, they’ll think it’s ok to just keep doing what they’re doing.
And it’s what they’re doing is not ok.
But as I say these words out loud, I hear the hypocrisy and evil in my own heart.
I often argue against the conservative theology of my upbringing, saying that in Jesus we see a God who would rather die for his enemies than defeat them. In Jesus we see a God who would rather heal sinners than destroy them.
I don’t want to love my enemies.
I want to defeat them.
I don’t want to humanize those Trump-loving motherfuckers.
I want to destroy them.
But there’s something Jesus understood about loving your enemies:
If I had to guess, I’d say that Jesus did a better job than I do at remembering the humanity of the people in front of him. He seemed to have a way of seeing the Divine in each person he encountered.
Even his enemies.
Theologically, I’m adamant about the idea that even the worst person in the world still bears a flicker of goodness within.
I believe that God sees sin as a wound to be healed, not as a crime to be punished.
And I’m hopeful that God is infinitely more patient than most Christian theology would allow God to be, reaching beyond the grave to bring home every soul created in God’s image.
But I am not God.
I forget that people who cause pain to others are usually trying to exorcise their own painful demons.
I forget that true justice is about redemption, not punishment.
I forget to look for the Divine in my enemies.
Here’s a paradox about changing minds:
The harder you try to change a wrong person’s wrong beliefs, the more adamantly the wrong person will cling to those beliefs. When people feel threatened, we become more close-minded. Evolution is rarely possible without empathy.
My angry words probably do little good.
If I want to see unjust systems changed, my role in that will not be by bludenonging conservatives with progressive screeds.
It begins with empathy.
It begins with my willingness to humanize them.
Which I really don’t want to do.
There’s a reason we do all manner of shenanigans to squirm away from Jesus’ teachings about loving our enemies.
Because it sucks.
And it’s not easy. Or fun.
But maybe, in the end, it’s the only thing that carries any hope for change.
The cure for the sins of inequality and injustice is not political conversion, but the recovery of our humanity.
Yours. Mine. Maybe even his.
Some folks love to put the burden of empathy on those who suffer the most from the sins of inequality.
Some folks use the teachings of Jesus about enemy-love as a weapon to silence those who seek to disrupt the unjust status quo.
This is not about that.
See, there’s privilege that I carry with me when I talk about the sins of my people — sexism, racism, homophobia, religious abuse.
When I get angry at the bullshit of Trump supporters, I’m not afraid for my own well-being.
So my response will be different than the response of someone in the path of that particular evil.
This is about my clumsy attempts to be a faithful follower of Jesus. Your journey may be different.
So now I suppose we need to get to part about Donald Trump.
Whom I hate.
But I’m supposed to love. Because Jesus.
How am I supposed to love somebody who is a despicable liar, an incorrigible hypocrite, an embarrassment to our country?
How am I supposed to love somebody who crassly violates every sense of kindness, propriety, and integrity?
How am I supposed to love somebody who stokes the flames of anger and hatred against the most vulnerable in our society?
How am I supposed to love somebody who represents all the worst parts of religion, of society, of humanity?
I can’t love that horrid face, that smug dishonesty, that brazen narcissism.
But, somewhere within Donald Trump there still flickers a spark of the divine.
If my theology is worth anything, I have to believe that there was once goodness in him, and that there is still hope for him to yet find his way back to the God whose image he bears (if not in this lifetime, then perhaps in the next).
I love Donald Trump.
I try to say the words, and gag on them.
It feels wrong, to say “i love” about a person who is causing so much pain in the world.
If I say “i love”, am betraying those whose lives are threatened daily by Donald Trump and all he represents?
It feels that way. And yet,
If my theology is worth anything, I have to believe that love is the only thing that could possibly change a man like that.
When I was younger, Christians use to love praying for the President.
At the time, it fit neatly into our nationalistic religious construct. The President was One of Us and we were proud to have him on our team.
When Obama was elected, everything changed. The “Pray for Our President!” folks suddenly became quiet, except for a few sarcastic jokes about praying that his days would be few.
I don’t believe I have ever prayed for Donald Trump.
If I did, I’d probably start by praying that God would shut his mouth and kick his ass out of the White House.
I might pray that his attempts to demonize and scapegoat non-white people would be to no avail.
I might pray that the walls he builds would inherit the structural integrity of Jericho and quickly fall.
I might pray that he suddenly lose the ability to talk, so that the stream of hurtful and cruel words that issue from him would dry the fuck up.
And these would be good prayers.
But if I am willing to follow Jesus’ instruction to love my enemies, I might also pray that Donald Trump would rediscover his own humanity.
I might pray that whatever unseen pain and fear is fueling the anger and hate we see from him every day would be healed.
I might pray that he would rediscover the spark of the Divine within himself, and even feel the warmth of God’s love on his horrid face.
published May 1, 2018
subscribe to updates:
(it's pretty much the only way to stay in touch with me these days)