Joel Wentz

contending for thoughtful Christianity

Filtering by Tag: love trumps hate

The Election of Trump: We need to talk about race.

In the truest sense of the word, the election of Donald Trump has been a 'revelation.' And it's important to understand what I mean when I use that term.

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A 'revelation' does not change what exists. Far from it. Rather, a revelation simply reveals what has been true the entire time.* Because of this revelation, we now have a clearer sense of how a significant part of the American population feels about the direction in which our country has been headed for the past 8 years (in case it's not clear, they feel bad about it). Wrapped up in all of this are the important questions of our era: How is globalization affecting our society? What is the role of America on the 'world stage?' Are we using our resources effectively? What does it look like to provide meaningful work for our entire population? Can our political system regain the trust of the common, everyday person?

The thing is, from my standpoint, we are pretty comfortable having respectful conversations about many of those topics. Some of them we aren't.

And we need to talk about race.

The Infection We All Want to Ignore

First of all, and I need to say this upfront, I resolutely refuse to believe that most of the people who voted for Trump are bigoted, prejudiced, or explicitly racist.** As I wrote in a post last week, I know the people in my home of Franklin County, Pennsylvania. They do not want to see racial prejudice flourish in our society any more than the most progressive Millenials I work with on college campuses here in Portland.

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Yes, bigoted individuals exist everywhere, but we need to stand firm against the overly-simplistic lie that says the swath of America that voted Republican on November 8th did so because they were explicitly biased against people of color.

And still, we really need to talk about race. Let me explain.

At the risk of being gross, this election cycle felt like a poultice that was applied directly to some of the deepest and most painful wounds in our society. It may have seemed like those wounds had healed over. There was even some scabbing and scar tissue, and it felt like we were starting to move forward, maybe at a limp. But what many of us did not realize is that festering, infected flesh lurked directly underneath the shallow facade of healing, and Trump effectively ripped those scabs off, pointing and screaming at the infected, oozing wounds, "See! We never dealt with this!"

Disgusting, right?

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Well, I believe race relations, notably between black and white, are the source of one of those infections. And with the reported rise of racially-based incidents immediately in the wake of the election, it's pretty hard to argue against that perspective.

And just like an actual infected wound on your body, which you need to both acknowledge and identify in order to properly apply healing work, we need to have some honest conversations.

First, we all need to better differentiate between "fault/blame" and "responsibility." If someone I love gets mortally wounded in a car accident, I can at the same time bear absolutely no blame for causing it, and also bear significant responsibility for tending to his/her recovery. In fact, wouldn't you say that it would be downright unloving for me, in this situation, to throw up my hands, cry "Not my fault!" and continue my life as normal?

Fellow White folk, the legacy of chattel slavery, upon which the foundations of our economy are deeply rooted, still casts a long and dark shadow over our society today. This shadow continues to cause suffering in the lives of real people of color, our fellow citizens, our neighbors. And hear me say this, "That is not our fault!" I press this point because so-called "White Guilt" is a real issue. An honest look at the evils of race relations in America is overwhelming and paralyzing, and we want to ignore it, if only to feel better in the moment. I get it. I've been there.

But also hear me say this, "We can cast off the paralyzing guilt and shame and carry the serious responsibility we already bear in the struggle to fix it, to make it right." Think of America like a big, messy, crazy, extended family, and some of our family members are hurting. So I implore you not to throw up your hands and walk away from them.

Particularly if you voted for Trump, I want believe that you were casting your vote for issues like: securing a more conservative Supreme Court, less aggressive foreign policy, and "draining the swamp" of corrupted establishment politics. I truly understand those motivations. But even so, now that Trump has been elected, there is an undeniable opportunity for racially-based, "White Nationalistic" rhetoric to have inordinate influence in our governance for the next four years. And I invite you to join me in explicitly and unequivocally condemning it.

I'll be the first to admit that the road towards true racial conciliation involves more than blogs and social media posts. It has to involve real work, real humility, and real people.

But I also know that if we can't talk about it, we won't get anywhere.

 

*Incidentally, I wish more Christians read the biblical letter entitled "Revelation" through this lens.

**By this, I mean "individually racist." I'm well aware that the term is increasingly used to talk about systemic and institutional racial biases, in which all of us are complicit.

The Election of Trump: Some words for those who are grieving

To put it bluntly, we all learned something about America last week. We now know that, given the choice of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump to lead the Executive Branch of our government, Americans choose Trump. This revelation has shocked many people (including myself, and even some Trump supporters I have spoken to), and responses are varying widely. Some are protesting, some are trying to just move forward, some are incredulous, and many have called for deeper empathy and unity.

I'm personally compelled by that last one. Empathy seems important right now. 

Now, I'm intensely aware that empathy does not come easily in the aftermath of this toxic season, but the degree to which it is difficult may also indicate how important it is. Frankly, if we can't cultivate some intentional understanding of each other, I'll be more worried about future elections than I even am about Trump's upcoming term in office.

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Before I offer some thoughts, though, my background has lent me some ability to see both sides of this situation. The county in Pennsylvania in which I grew up voted by a near 3:1 margin for Trump. It is also an overwhelmingly "churched" area of the state (there are over 450 church congregations serving a population of about 150,000), and is over 95% white. The house I lived in sat squarely between 3 dairy farms, and schools closed on the first day of hunting season (which, incidentally, was awesome for me - I sat at home and played video games while my buddies all froze in tree stands). I graduated from high school there, my father was a pastor there, and many of my family members and life-long friends still live there.

At the same time, I now live in a liberal city in New England which has already seen multiple Trump protests and "Love Trumps Hate" rallies. I am a registered Democrat, spend most of my time on college campuses ministering to Millenials, and am employed by an organization that is actively involved in social justice and racial reconciliation work

These mixed experiences have made me deeply concerned with helping us all to truly see each other. In general, I try to live by what Tim Keller calls "Murray's Rule," that we should be excruciatingly careful not to misrepresent the perspectives of those we disagree with. This all being said, I hope to speak to everyone in this post, whether you are deeply grieved or relieved by what happened last week.

Words For Those Who Are Grieving

First, your grief is legitimate. I know people who are immigrants, or who have undocumented family members, who are now frightened about what could happen to them under a Trump presidency. Those feelings are valid, and I won't try to explain them away. I also know people of color who feel like their country does not want them here, and LGBT people who once again feel pushed to the margins. Once again, those are valid feelings that I don't want to distance myself from. In fact, I want you to help me see through the privilege I could exercise by insulating myself going forward. Help me to instead share your burden.

Second, and I know this is hard to understand, but please read this in the spirit of empathy that I'm trying to cultivate: I truly believe that many (if not most) of the people who voted for Trump last week did not vote against you. The people in my rural hometown, whom I know and love, voted against a left-leaning system that has repeatedly told them they aren't valuable in our society. They also voted for a conservative Supreme Court that they are hoping will keep Abortion legislation in check. You may not agree with those priorities, but those priorities were important enough to them to overlook Trump's glaring flaws.

Think about that for a moment. These priorities must be a big deal for good and sincere people to overlook the painfully-obvious character issues that Trump brought to the table. It would be worth it to ask them, "Why exactly are these things important to you?" And to hear them out.

So, in addition to feeling your own very-legitimate grief and fear, I encourage you to grieve the reality of a system that placed a clearly-misogynistic, sexually licentious, greedy and narcissistic man as the only voice that would seemingly lend an ear to deeply-felt concerns of these folks.* Any way you cut it, this is a snapshot of a democratic system that has catastrophically failed its own people.

Finally, and this is increasingly important to me, grieve the reality that we live in such a distinctly segregated society, which has allowed spaces for kind and decent people to live lives that are completely detached from your real fears and experiences. I truly believe that the people of Franklin County would be heartbroken to know that their votes made you feel scared and unwelcome in your own country. In fact, maybe I'm being naive, but I would be willing to bet that if they knew what their voting patterns would communicate to you, they may have changed their minds. The kind of people I grew up with want the same things you do: a fair and just governance, in which all people feel safe.**

But alas, we don't live in a meaningfully-integrated country. We live in a compartmentalized, cloistered setting in which people can make assumptions about "others" and never have those assumptions challenged by real individuals. And isn't that precisely the root of the problem?

 

*I am well-aware that Trump was most likely not actually lending this ear, but instead using their concerns as a political maneuver for his own ends, but isn't that possibility just as sad?

**This point (and all the others before it) are not to diminish the very real forces of racism and xenophobia that lurk under the surface (or, in some cases, quite explicitly over-the-surface) of this election and Trump's campaign. I recognize that some Trump supporters would define "feeling safe" as only living around people that look like them. For the sake of this short piece, I am extending the benefit of the doubt: that the people I know would be willing to be stretched to understand the experiences of others if they lived in proximity to them, and that even the ones who have internalized racial prejudice could be changed through meaningful exposure to others.