29 Sep Love That Endures In The Trump Era

I don’t know a single person who isn’t exhausted by our political crisis at the moment. Everyone I know (conservative, progressive, and moderate) hopes we live for a time when we won’t feel the threat of nuclear war or racially-motivated violence every day. We are grasping for strategies to preserve our mental health without disengaging from critical conversations that have enormous consequences in our communities. We are sad and tired, and we know our grief doesn’t compare with the pain of those more vulnerable than ourselves, so we feel guilty about our exhaustion.

I’m embarrassed and ashamed of this, but in the midst of my anger and anxiety, I’ve heard myself admit to trusted friends that I don’t know how to live in a close relationship with people who voted differently than me. In my defense, I caught up with my old therapist last time I was in Dallas, and she said she had an enormous spike in new clients after the election because people from all over the political spectrum needed to process trauma and fractured relationships. She’s been a therapist through four elections and said she’s never seen anything like it.

Almost an entire year later, I’m ready to move beyond my resentment. I had some friends over recently, and as we chatted, it occurred to me that every single one of us had family members who voted for Trump. Then I thought about some of my best friends from other cities, and each of them has family members (many that I ADORE) who voted for Trump. These are people who have sent me handwritten cards with confetti and chocolate when I’ve gone through tough times. They’re the kind of people who, if I were to show up on their doorstep in tears at 3 AM on a Tuesday morning, would throw their arms around me and put fresh sheets on a bed for me.

I do not want to live in a world without these people.

So I spend a lot of time thinking about how we’re to go on living with people who see the world from a vastly different perspective. We don’t have minor differences: we disagree about policies that affect whether families are torn apart, vulnerable humans have access to healthcare, and our tax dollars are used to fund things we morally oppose. In my own life, the disagreements are about whether people I love think I am worthy of receiving communion at church or protection from discrimination as I go about my ordinary life. Figuring out how we’re to love and honor one another is not an easy task.

What I keep coming back to is this: these people are every bit as compassionate and sincere as I am. We believe very different things, but it’s wrong of me to assume ignorance or ill intent when their situation in life has given them reasons for believing what they do in good faith. To be clear, there are some people (Bannonites and white supremacists, among others) who unapologetically push an evil agenda. I am not talking about those people. I’m thinking of the kindhearted ones who reluctantly voted for Trump because, for reasons I don’t fully understand, they felt like they had no other option.

I’ve tried to reflect on times when I’ve delighted in these people the most, and those have been moments we shared together in the flesh. I adore them when we eat green beans and mashed potatoes around the table. As we look through scrapbooks crafted by the creative ones, I see their eye for beauty and their tenderhearted longing to capture cherished memories. Those times when we witness one another, in all our humanity, I remember their political or theological views do not contain the complicated whole of who they are.

Over the next year, and hopefully my entire life, I’m committing to nurture these strained relationships. I’m not going to minimize our differences or avoid tense conversations; I’m choosing to remember they are as complex and well-intentioned as I am. I’m going to order food for them (because I can’t cook) and laugh together over the latest viral videos because they are not the sum of their political and theological views. I’m going to hold their new babies and go to their kids’ sports games. I’m going to team up with them when we share a concern, like helping people in poverty, because they care about the poor even if we disagree about policies that address economic inequality. This year, I’m going to try to listen without interrupting and take their concerns as seriously as I want them to take mine.

It’s easy to understand our particular sympathies and motivations (which we can extend to our tribes); it’s harder to remember other people also arrived at their beliefs by way of deliberation and goodwill. So I’m not going to take a vacation from distressing relationships because I don’t want to live in a world without these earnest people who disagree with me. I hope that, together, we will stumble our way toward a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

  • JJ
    Posted at 17:27h, 29 September Reply

    “I’m thinking of the kindhearted ones who reluctantly voted for Trump because, for reasons I don’t fully understand, they felt like they had no other option”

    At the very least, I’d argue that these “kindhearted ones” think that throwing people like me (gay, woman, POC, child of immigrants) under the bus is acceptable collateral damage even if they don’t harbor any active animosity. And frankly, I don’t want to love people who think I’m acceptable collateral damage. My brother (who didn’t vote for Trump, thank goodness) tried to defend a friend of his to me, saying that his friend had only voted for Trump due to economic reasons but that he (the friend) wasn’t racist or homophobic. Well, good to know that black/gay/muslim/etc. people mean less to this friend than getting that tax break!

    I don’t mean that to be snarky, and I don’t begrudge you or anyone else who chooses to not completely cut off Trump-supporting friends and family. Maybe you (general you directed at everyone with Trump supporters in their lives) will be the ones to get them to finally change their minds and hearts. That’s what happened to Megan Phelps! I have nothing but admiration for the people who refused to quit engaging her. But not everyone has the energy to keep welcoming people in our lives who will smile at us in private but vote for public policy that kills us. I don’t expect/judge anyone for continuing to associate or care about people in their lives who voted for Trump. Human relationships are complicated, and so is love. I just ask that I not be shamed for not being in the same headspace. (Not that I think you’re trying to do that.)

    • Julie Rodgers
      Posted at 17:48h, 29 September Reply

      Thank you for voicing all this, JJ. People need to hear exactly what you’ve written. And I don’t think you (or anyone else) are obligated to pursue relationships with people that compromise your physical and emotional health. I was worried about posting this for that very reason: I don’t want anyone to feel like this is what they’re “supposed” to do (especially those who face more oppression and discrimination than I will ever know). I just know how I feel moved, and I hope my relationships with people who disagree with me will open their eyes to another perspective. Thanks again for this gracious and thoughtful response.

  • Laura Jean Truman
    Posted at 14:37h, 30 September Reply

    “In my own life, the disagreements are about whether people I love think I am worthy of receiving communion at church or protection from discrimination as I go about my ordinary life. Figuring out how we’re to love and honor one another is not an easy task.”

    Thank you for this piece. I have been struggling to hold rage/hope, justice/compassion all in the same hands this year and I have been airing on the side of complicity in injustice some days, and non-grace on other days. I don’t know how to love the world well, and how to believe that white supremacy and homophobia and patriarchy are at work in the hearts of good people that I love dearly – and inside my heart, too? – and to keep loving fiercely. It is *so* *hard* and I keep doing it wrong.

    Thanks for being a good journeying companion for this queer Christian trying to learn how to love well, and tend my anger without using it as a weapon.

    • Julie Rodgers
      Posted at 13:17h, 05 October Reply

      I’m right there with you when it comes to trying to figure out how to hold all these things together. I will say: I think our protests can come from a place of love and hope. If you love something, you critique it. Evangelicalism trained me to think obedience meant quietness and gentleness, but I think obedience often looks like urging our communities to become more equitable and just. Jesus certainly did this!

      I guess I’m trying to figure out how my anger can be transformed into love and hope as I work for change. Anyway, thank you for sharing. So glad people like you are on the path alongside me.

  • Nathanial Totten
    Posted at 14:57h, 30 September Reply

    I really love, cherish, and look up to you, Julie. Thank you for this. The anger is deep, and it feels overwhelming at times. But I was brought to tears last week by the passage where the dying Christ says earnestly “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. What an example. And I think that’s the posture I’m trying to assume – repentantly – even if it’s a seemingly impossible challenge. I’m a senior at Liberty University, and my willingness to publicly identify as a queer Christian in what can be an insipidly toxic context makes it hard to maintain the balance between anger and hope when every day seems filled with friction – both relational and institutional. In a way, you probably know how that feels.

    Thanks for what you’re doing, and for reminding me how to keep striving in a hope that is for “all things”.

    Peace and love.

    • Julie Rodgers
      Posted at 12:45h, 05 October Reply

      Wow, it’s so good to hear from you, Nathanial! Thanks for sharing a little of your story––humility and compassion pour through your words. I’m also so impressed that you’re out at Liberty! I imagine it hasn’t been without challenges, but I hope the sense of hope and solidarity you’ve been able to give others in the midst of their struggles has made it worth it. Thank you for this kind note and please let me know if there’s anything I can do to support you in your work. Your words here are such an encouragement.

  • GWT
    Posted at 00:35h, 05 October Reply

    Maybe accepting the rusults of a validated election and trying to support our President, whatever his flaws iinstead of thinking about how you will get along and continue to be friends with the millions of us who elected him would go a long way toward reliving your stress. After all there is only aboit three more years and we will get yet another chance at voting someone new into pffice.

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