[TRIGGER WARNING: I am addressing difficult things in this post that could potentially set off painful emotions or call up trauma for those who have suffered sexual violence. My intent is not shock value, but pressing people to empathize.]
You were raped.
You were forced by someone you trusted, someone who used violence to violate you. Brutal. Shattering. Your life has changed. You feel unsafe almost all the time. You look at every one and try to decide if they might hurt you. You didn’t think your rapist would, and you were wrong. Are you wrong now? Can you take that risk? How will you have an intimate relationship, ever again?
You wake up Wednesday morning after the election to the reality that the man elected President said, boasted, “I just grab them by the p***y.” The man who won the electoral college votes and will lead the U.S. for the next four years has claimed to be a sexual predator.
Was he lying? Boasting of something he didn’t actually do, ever? What does it say about a man that he would claim to commit sexual violence against women but in reality doesn’t?
Or did he do exactly what he said? Has he done that for years? Has he done that or worse throughout his life?
How do you feel now, after what you’ve suffered, to find that the President is also, by his own words, a violator? To learn that enough people in the United States decided that this was not a deal-breaker, in the Election of 2016, that either the other alternative was worse or that this was somehow acceptable in our leader or that his positions or his party affiliation or his promises mitigated this behavior, this character.
I’m asking you to empathize. To try to understand how someone would feel. To understand why someone would react strongly. What kind of terror would that trigger in you, had you suffered this way?
Is he a rapist? I don’t know. I know what he has said. I know what girls under 18 have said about his walking in on them when they were not dressed. I know that he has committed adultery against each of his three wives (his statement about “grabbing” was, of course, while he was married). I know what is public knowledge about him.
I have heard, over and over, that “people are upset that Trump said mean things.” No. People are upset, horrified, agonized, keening, that Donald Trump told us he committed sexual violence against women and we elected him President.
If you are still reading this, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that y ou are trying to listen, trying to understand. We are in a very bad situation. I’m not discussing whether he was a better choice than she was. The election is over. We are here now. I pleaded and prayed that the Republicans would pick a different candidate, any other candidate. I tried to make the case that Christians could not support him during the primaries, long before it was down to the two of them. I wish John Kasich were our President-elect, instead. He’s not.
I’m speaking to everyone who wants in any way to help our country move forward, to reconcile, to seek peace and pursue it. I’m specifically addressing Christians. Exit polls show that 81% of white evangelical Christians voted for the President-elect. I’m Irish-German. I’m talking to people like me. Again, I’m not debating who we should have voted for. That’s over. I’m addressing where we are now and where we will be tomorrow.
If you are a follower of Jesus, I believe these things are non-negotiables:
Your allegiance to Jesus is higher, always higher, than your allegiance to political party, leader, or anything else. Jesus says that. He says it about family. He says it about money. He says it about everything. Obedience and allegiance to Jesus who is God comes before everything else, literally, and anytime there is a conflict of allegiance, we may struggle with living our belief, but our belief is clear: God first.
We are to love God and our neighbor, which Jesus names as the most important commandment God gives–
36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
The commandment to love your neighbor is like the commandment to love God above all else. They are related. They are inextricable. Through loving God, we love people. Through loving people, we love God. Jesus actually said that caring for people in need–hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in prison, stranger (meaning immigrant, a foreigner to one’s country)–is caring for him (Matthew 25). He so utterly identifies with them that to love them in practical ways is to love him. When we talk about what it is to worship God, we must include this, because it’s arguably the most explicit thing Jesus said about how to love him.
Now I’m asking you, as a Christian: look around. Open your eyes. See what is happening. Please, please stop criticizing the people who are reacting strongly in fear and horror. If you are not, tell your friends who are to stop. I cannot see how attacking them is loving your neighbor.
Your sexually abused neighbor is terrified. I’m picking one issue to try to make this clear, but there are many others. I have been discipling and mentoring people for a long time, seeking to empower them to grow spiritually, in their capacity to love and be loved, to show grace and compassion. To be light in the world. I started trying in my early twenties. Now, in my late forties, I’ve gained a little wisdom and a lot of compassion, thank God. I’m much less judgmental than I used to be, praise God for his mercy. In these years, I have worked with and cared for many females and some males who have been sexually abused, raped or molested. Not a few. Many. I am not making up their response, I am seeing it first-hand.
Jesus also says love your enemies. This is hard. I’m lousy at it. But I’m clear that Jesus commands it and does not make it optional. Even if you believe that the President-elect’s opponent is “a witch from hell” (and I’ve heard this stated explicitly, and worse), even if you believe that her supporters are your mortal enemies who sought to destroy your country, you are called to love them. Telling them to shut up, quit whining, quit overreacting, “deal with it,” is not loving them. It is not showing compassion.
Loving them means trying to understand “Why?” That’s the path to empathy and compassion. Please don’t argue that the last two elections the other side may have said the same thing. So what? Seriously, I’m asking this with all sincerity: how does that in any way impact how you obey Jesus in this situation? “I told you so,” “In your face,” “You have no reason to complain,” and “You have no right to respond this way” are all responses that people make in political arguments, but your politics are not the most important thing in your interaction with those expressing their grief and horror. Your relationship with God is. Are you praying for the people grieving? Are you asking God to comfort them? Are you listening to them, really trying to hear, asking them why they are responding this way–not as rhetorical question or mockery, but with genuine desire to learn so you can better care for them?
Are sexual harassment and attacks increasing? Are people using the always-publicized candidacy and now the election as a basis, a warrant, to commit evil? Do you see that happening at all? I am seeing that. I am seeing reports of increased, active racism, of threats and intimidation and violence.
“What about them? What about the rioters, what about the protesters who are committing violence?” My belief is that we should never protest violently. Protest is one of the crucial elements of democracy–I live in a country that represses protests–and I am a Jesus-follower who also agrees with Churchill’s view,
“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”― Winston S. Churchill
So of course I repudiate responding with violence, because I do not believe in the myth of redemptive violence, that acting violently against others will somehow bring God’s redemption. That’s my understanding of Jesus’ teaching.* I’m not defending or excusing those acts.
But “What about them?” and “Yeah, well they’re worse” are not justifications for the Jesus follower. They aren’t a free pass from loving neighbors, from loving those who are suffering, or from loving your enemy. Take your pick. Which applies to your situation? Which category fits? Who is Jesus calling you to love today?
If Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love our enemies, that means there is no in-between whom we get to disdain and revile. When I have tried to call people on not loving their enemies, I’ve been told, repeatedly, “They’re not my enemies. I don’t have any enemies. I just disagree with them politically.” I cannot, for the life of me, understand how this makes belittling and name-calling acceptable for the disciple of Jesus.
But I’m asking–pleading–for more than simply kinder discourse. I want you to step out of your world and step into that of your opponent, the other side, the people who are behaving now in ways that make no sense to you. That’s how we love our enemies or our political opponents. Jesus always sides with the oppressed. He does. Why are many ethnic minorities in the US terrified right now? What are people saying to them? If you disbelieve every report, every ugly incident, then I’m going to challenge you that you are in denial. Has it gotten worse, or were these things already happening and now they are being reported? Are grade school children who are legal US citizens being called racial slurs by their classmates and told to “go back home,” “we’re building a wall to keep you out,” “go back to Africa?”
If that’s happening–and my teacher friends tell me it is–then what is our response as Christians?
A Nicaraguan student in our school, a senior who may quite literally be a genius and who has been planning to apply to MIT, said to one of our teachers, “They’re not going to want me there now.”
How has having foreign students, “strangers,” impacted the U.S. throughout our history? I would say they have contributed significantly to the greatness we claim for our country. Historically and currently, I think this is inarguable.
Many of those who voted for the President-elect are not racists. But he had many vocal supporters who proudly and unmistakably are racist, members of racist organizations, and leaders of racist organizations. I’m asking a serious question here: what do we do with the fact that 81% of white evangelicals voted for a candidate who was enthusiastically endorsed by the KKK? I understand that Christians had different reasons than KKK members to vote for him. But to the world outside the Christian church, what does that say? No, that’s not their problem, that’s ours. We are trying to be grace and love to the world in the name of Jesus. Jesus told us to be salt and light for them.
Again, I understand this is an uncomfortable question and it’s much easier and more appealing to point fingers at the rioters destroying property and committing violence. But that, though horrible, is not sabotaging the witness of Jesus followers to the people who don’t know God’s love and forgiveness. And again, I’m not arguing who you or I should have voted for; we voted, the results came in, we’re here. But we’re here getting news reports that the President-elect has named Steve Bannon as his chief strategist. How would you expect Latinos or blacks or Jewish people to respond to this news? David Duke proclaimed it an “excellent choice.” How do Christians respond?
This is where we are: the fact that such an overwhelming majority of white evangelicals voted for Donald J. Trump communicates that they support his actions, values and leadership. He is, overwhelmingly, their choice for President of the United States. The divide in the US is deepening every day. People who oppose Trump because they feel threatened for their race or gender or religion or orientation are angry, hurt, and fearful for their future, and the future of the United States.
I know this: the racists who voted for Donald Trump are not going to seek empathy, compassion and reconciliation unless God does a miraculous work of transformation in their hearts. But God has already done a miraculous work of transformation in our hearts. We are the sinners saved by grace. We are the people who believe in repentance and forgiveness. We are the people instructed to become all things to all people in order to help as many as possible to know God’s love and forgiveness. We are the followers of a poor Jewish rabbi who, as a child, became an immigrant refugee fleeing the murderous violence of his occupied country’s oppressive leader; we are disciples of the incarnate Son of God who broke down the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and gentiles, between racially hostile enemies, and made the two one.
“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”
Racial reconciliation isn’t an agenda of political correctness, it is the work of Jesus and all who follow him. Defending victims of sexual violence and seeking their healing by standing up to their attackers, that is the call of peacemakers…as in,
“Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”
That is what we are. That is how we must act now. Peacemakers. Reconcilers. People of compassion. Jesus had compassion for the suffering, the oppressed, the outcasts, the lost. I’m not talking about pity, I’m talking about compassion.
Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.
We must follow Jesus there. Because perhaps you weren’t raped, but your daughter or sister or mother was–if we see other people the way Jesus taught us to. That’s how God understands our relationship to one another. That’s who we are in Christ. And I tell you God grieves for their pain right now. Weep with those who weep.
I have spent the past weeks, since the election, praying over my response. I was asked directly by friends how I think we are to respond now. I hope and pray this will help some people. I am going to write a separate post to those who are reeling,who opposed Trump’s candidacy. Preview: it will also say “love our enemies.”
*I know not everyone believes this about Christianity. I know the Old Testament has examples of God commanding his people to go to war. I said “Jesus’ teaching” specifically. The discussion of violence versus peacemaking as a follower of Jesus requires a much more in-depth discussion than what space allows here.
2 thoughts on “What Do We Do Now, Part 1”
Thanks Mike for so articulately calling us back to the Gospel in the face of such difficult times.