I Know You to Be Kind: Responding to those who chose differently

In the days since the election, I’ve seen people grapple with how to respond to their friends who voted for Trump. I offered platitudes about staying engaged and trying to see things from others’ views. I hadn’t really had to personally to do this however because, until yesterday, I didn’t know of any friends who made that decision.

I will be the first to admit that I struggle to love people as I should so I reached out to a group of my closest friends scattered around the world for prayer. This was my request:

Dear friends,
You are my inner circle. You are people I trust with some of the most intimate details of my life. You have walked with me through seasons of incredible pain and hardship, we have laughed together, cried together, prayed together, and more. I hope you trust me as well and know that my words come from a place that desires to love and not accuse.
Right now I am hurting and unsure of who to trust.
In the blog post I wrote reflecting on the past year before my birthday I said:

Trying times and tough relationships can either bring out the best or the worst of you. This was a year filled with hard people to love. Four things highlight this well: my job, what I believed to be an irreparably damaged friendship, a strong dislike of a person, and an estranged friend from six years ago.

You can add a fifth thing to the list: Donald Trump’s presidency. Or, more accurately that he was elected overwhelming by white Christians.
For those of you in the US, I don’t know how you voted and it doesn’t matter. What I’m saying is that now I have another MASSIVE love challenge and three days in I don’t know if I’m up for it. Do I hate Trump supporters and all white Christians? Absolutely not. But I now find myself feeling the temptation to judge them, to distrust them, to harbor resentment against the whole group, to, as I put in the last of my blog series on race, dismiss, devalue, demonize, and lampoon them. This is not love. To put up distance between myself and a member of another group because the actions of some have caused me to be suspicious of them all is no better than the behavior of the segment of the Trump voting block that may actually be racist.
It has been a hard year at times to love my white Christian friends. When they remain silent when I think they should speak, when they fail to extend words of comfort and encouragement after traumatic events shake the black community, when they hold positions I believe to my core endanger or further disadvantage people of color I am hurt. I feel at times like I end up with an excess of Christian friends I hold on to for the sake of the gospel and nothing else. People I feel threatened by, people I don’t know if I can trust. It’s good for the gospel but also at times lonely.
I’ve thought a lot in recent months about Judas and how Jesus kept him around even knowing he would sell him out in a heartbeat for his own financial interests and he did. Jesus washed his feet. Jesus didn’t distance himself from the guy he KNEW was untrustworthy, yet I find myself tempted to distance myself from people who may or may not ever do me any harm.
I need grace.
I wrote in my journal on the morning of November 9: “LORD, if I ever needed your help loving people it is now more than ever. Please give me grace to not grow hard against white republican Christians.”
The election didn’t feel like a loss, it felt like betrayal.
Friends, I hope you know that my heart is to be loving at all times and under all circumstances. That a spontaneous autopsy of my heart would reveal care, compassion, and humility toward others. Now I want to withhold care from, struggle to desire to connect with and share the burdens of, and am consumed with my own interest in regards to my fellow American brothers and sisters in Christ.
Please pray that even now I will have strength to love. I know this will not be my strength but, hey, how great that even in what seems like my inability to love, God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness. I hope now, more than ever to understand how great is the love of God.
I close with this prayer from Paul. My hope is that the good to come from what now seems bleak may be that the below verses would be the mark of the Church in unifying and reconciling. I also hope that at the point where our division seems never larger that God’s love and grace would be seen as more potent than ever before.
Ephesians 3:14-21
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
One of my friends who received this email wrote me back and shared that she had voted for Trump. In the most gracious of words, she expressed, in addition to her care for me, that her feelings had been genuinely hurt by people now branding her a racist for her choice. My initial response was anger that she would respond to my email asking for prayer to tell me about her hurt feelings. For the sake of the relationship, I took some time to sit and think for a while. I had such anger in my heart at that moment toward Trump supporters in the abstract,  but here was a real person who I loved. I was headed to a friend’s for dinner and games and during the 20 minute wait for the bus and 40 minute bus ride I tried to understand her perspective, had an epiphany or two, and jotted down some notes in my phone to help me shape my response. I came home, thought about it a bit more and here’s what I came up with:
I love you and I’m glad you emailed. I have really enjoyed our friendship. I have loved catching up over meals around town and parties at your place are a blast!
Thank you for sharing with me how you are feeling post-election. You may be my only Trump-supporting friend,  so it is valuable to me to hear your perspective. I don’t think you’re evil and I know that you care about me. You have mentored underprivileged youth and volunteered with social justice ministries so I know you care about the poor and vulnerable. You have probably done more for them than I have. We’ve talked about scripture and worshipped together. I don’t doubt that you love Jesus and are dearly loved by him.
To borrow your own words: “Although we have very different views and outlooks on things, that does not affect how much I care for you. Sometimes I don’t know what to say because I am surprised at how you see people like me.”
I do not, for one second, think that you would be maliciously unkind to someone because of their race, or sexual orientation, or religion. I know you to be kind.
I do not, for one second, think that you would attack someone on the street or yell racial slurs at others. You have way too much class for that.
I do not, for one second, think that you hope the marginalized and disenfranchised fail. You are not the kind to wish ill for others.
I do not, for one second, think that you would watch someone suffer and, though having the ability to help, withhold it. You are too compassionate for that.
So I am bewildered that you, and millions of other Christians, would make a decision at cross-purposes with all the goodness I believe is inside you and at the expense of people that I know you care personally about. It’s hard for me to understand.
Electing a president has not only policy ramifications but cultural ramifications as well. The choice of a leader this year had the potential to either encourage and validate or suppress and reject a growing white nationalist and racist contingent of Trump supporters who, unlike you, are malicious, would attack others, and hope to keep others down so they can stay on top.
Your choice—whether you made it with this in mind or not—endangers people’s lives and threatens their freedoms. The collective choice of kind, Jesus-following people like you empowered others in the open expression of their hate.
I’m not sure what comes to mind when you think of the word racist, maybe people who openly hate and discriminate against people from other races? Maybe you imagine the KKK? I don’t know what you associate with the term; frankly, it is thrown around far too casually these days. Liberals are especially fond of flinging it at anyone they want to silence. I would not use that term about you.
You have a right to vote as you feel led for Trump but I do think that, by your vote, you enabled the worst of your party and gave them a pass.
I thought long and hard after getting your email tonight about how you must be feeling at what seems like are inaccurate accusations being hurled at white Christians. I have been frustrated in the past when people understood my vote for someone pro-choice to mean that I did not care about the unborn and that their blood was partially on my hands. I thought to myself that just because I prioritized other issues over that one doesn’t mean I don’t care about that as well. But to those who hold strong convictions about that, I am guilty by inaction or condoning something they consider evil. I now understand their position because I have a hard time not considering anyone—other than the desperately poor—who chose Trump an accessory to hate and discrimination.
That you could relegate the safety of your fellow citizens of color to a fourth or fifth place consideration while remainaining unaffected by the violent hate that will come their way is disappointing. And for as many of the ways that you are wonderful, I cannot help but see this as a flaw.
Trump breathed new life into racial hatred and fanned the hopes of many that whites and Christians could retain their power and privilege at the top. This isn’t all Trump supporters but I believe it is many. I’m sure you’ve seen the quote that when you are used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.
I would be lying if I didn’t say I’m disappointed to hear that you decided to vote this way, but even so, I still care about you as my sister and friend. It stings because I know you know me and others and would have thought that protecting us might have come higher up on your list of priorities when making a decision that will have such a huge impact. I will be the first to admit though that that is a selfish desire. Electing Trump has shamed us on the international stage, which is uncomfortable to my American pride, but we can bounce back.  But, it has tarnished the witness of the church to tolerate, even if not participating in, behaviors grossly out of line with Christian values. (Hillary, I understand, is no saint either).
We are all allowed our list and make the choices we feel most comfortable with. My choice deprioritized people as well. I will not, however, walk back that I feel betrayed and appalled by the 3 out of 4 Christians who helped put Trump in the White House. I am sorry your feelings are hurt, but if all that is hurt are your feelings you’re making off pretty well compared with those whose lives are potentially about to be upended and who now live in fear for their safety.
Look forward to catching up more soon!
My response was not perfect, as I am sure there are parts that people will pick apart and take issue with. I am, as always, open to correction. But for those wondering how to respond to friend’s and family who disappointed you in voting for Trump, here’s my very imperfect stab at it.
This isn’t a one-size-fits-all response. This is in response to someone I know and love and have tremendous respect for but maybe it can be a starting point for others in how to reach out.
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One thought on “I Know You to Be Kind: Responding to those who chose differently

  1. CAROLINE says:

    I think this response is childish and immature. Some people see the bigger picture and is why we chose Trump over Hilary. Hillary is just another pawn and puppet for those who have massive power in government and over our nation … Being that we had two choices in this election …. Yes I know we could have chose “3rd party for our concience” … But in swing states where it makes a difference , I needed to choose for our future. All of this fear has led so many Trump supporters into being beaten and fearing for our safety as well. I can’t support puppets like Hillary who are in the pockets of huge donating companies that control our food air and water. Sorry. I am not a racist, I am not white , I don’t support oppression, I am not a mysogenist and I am not a sheeple that blindly follows what is being spewed all over the media as well. Yiu response to your friend was lame and downright not loving. You have tried to cast shame on her. It’s sad. She has every right to feel
    Hurt. Your hurt doesn’t supersede her pain.

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