Some of my best friends are white evangelicals who voted for Trump.
As you might imagine that has created a fissure Grand Canyon-wide between us and threatens to destroy the very relationships that have weathered storms for 30 years or more. I am saddened by this. I hope they are saddened by it, too, although to date only one has expressed such a sorrow.
The God who brought us together is not the God who is dividing us. God isn’t dividing us at all. It’s our vision for the world that is dividing us.
Although we were taught by the same Sunday School teachers, nurtured by the same preachers, read the same bible and memorized John 3:16 and I John 1:9 together, we have very different ideas about how the application of those Scriptures ought to look in our lives.
For the most part, I think my white evangelical friends (and some family members) mark up my different worldview to having moved off up North. In what I am sure is a grace on their behalf, my loved ones assign my different worldview to the influence of being around a bunch of Pinko Commie pot-smoking Oregonians.
And by the same token, I often assign their worldview as being so entrenched in racism that they wouldn’t recognize a racist remark if it walked up and introduced itself to them. They never use the N-word in front of me and my hope is that they never use the N-word at all. But they do say things like, “Well, you can’t understand because you have never had to work with them.”
Them or those kind is the code-words for replacing the N-word. A word I heard all the time growing up. And I do mean all the time. The projects across the tracks from where we lived in that trailer house was called Niggertown. When the schools were federally mandated to integrate during my sophomore year of high school, every parent in that trailer park was up in arms about their kids having to go to school with a “bunch of nigger kids.” Those who could afford it yanked their white kids out of public school and put them in private Christian schools because nothing, apparently, defines Christianity better than whiteness.
Even now, as some of my loved ones read this, they will have a dialogue going on in their heads about how I don’t understand what it is like to live with those kinds and they will dismiss my remarks as just being uninformed, in the very same way I dismiss the remarks of those who rattle on about the need to build a wall to keep immigrants out.
I live in a city that is 50 percent Hispanic. I have taught the children who were brought to the US as babies or toddlers, some of whom have had parents deported, some of whom have been left to sleep on couch after couch in home after home because their parents were deported, but the only country they have ever known is this one – the US – where they grew up thinking themselves US citizens even if they didn’t have the paperwork.
And yet, I live in a county that primarily voted for Trump. Yes, even here in Oregon we have white evangelicals who would jump through a fire hoop if Franklin Graham or James Dobson or Jerry Falwell ordered them to, the way they ordered congregations across this nation to vote for Trump.
I haven’t been back to church since Trump got elected. It’s complicated and I’m not saying I’m right here, I’m just saying this is how it is now. Even as a child, I knew it was wrong when I heard my kinfolks refer to blacks as niggers. I didn’t need anyone to tell me it was wrong. I just knew it in my heart. And nobody, mind you, was telling me it was wrong. We didn’t get punished at school, at church or at home for using that awful term. Most the adults in my life were using it.
When I was a child and people spoke or said ugly things, I would often get up and leave the room. It became a coping mechanism, I am sure. Even to this day, if somebody is yelling at me, or speaking ugly to me, I will walk out of the room. I do not stay and yell back. My girls insist that I am like Vivi in the YaYa Sisters, always hanging up the phone whenever something upsets me too much. They might be right about that. I have hung up on them far more than they’ve hung up on me.
And it’s not only that I haven’t been back to church, I have purposely avoided or had friends avoid me as a result of this election. It’s like our 30 years of friendships have been reduced to ashes. We can’t find anything to talk about now that we’ve declared our different worldviews. I suppose we always had those different worldviews, it’s just that in the past we didn’t either know it, or care about it. And now we do.
When I think about it, which I do all the time lately, I think of it most often as being similar to the Civil War. I wonder how it was that people who came down on separate sides of the slavery issue managed to go to church with each other, if they did at all. How could they live in the same house with one another? How could they maintain their friendships, or did they, if they came down on separate sides of the issue of slavery? Or Civil Rights? Or the Right for Women to vote?
All my life, I’ve been able to maintain friendships with people who voted differently than me.
Until this year.
This year is different.
This vote is a defining vote.
This vote has separated us.
Forced us to admit to one another that we don’t see the world the same, and that we don’t share as much as we pretended to share, and it is challenging us to find our way back out through that hurt to each other.
I have been so discombobulated by all of this that I finally picked up the phone the other day and called a man I respect deeply for his godliness. He’s not a pastor. He’s a quiet man, never boastful, never pretentious, always kind. He has a quick wit and keen insights to people. He lives in the South, in Appalachia, which means he is surrounded by people who voted for Trump.
“How do you do it?” I implored. “How do you manage to get by with people who supported this man?”
Trump offends everything I have staked my life on. Everything about him and his values, or lack thereof, stand in direct opposition to the values I live by. There is nothing I find redemptive about this man. Not one thing. The only other man I felt this strongly about murdered a 3-year old. Trump has damaged the psyche of our nation for his own selfish ambitions. He is reprehensible to me in every way.
This fella I called, he understands that. He gets it. He is a kinfolk who shares my disdain for any man who would trash a Gold Star family the way Trump did.
This kinman lives smack-dab in the middle of Trump territory but he did not vote for Trump, although, I didn’t know that when I made the call. I called him because I know him to be a God-fearing man who lives out his Christianity independently of how others think he ought to live it out. In other words, he ain’t about to vote for anybody just because Franklin Graham says he should.
Despite being surrounded on all sides by the most outspoken of Trump supporters, he has not stopped going to church; he has not stopped speaking to people who are ardent Trump supporters. He, in fact, has made it a point to insert himself into conversations about Trump.
“When they start talking about Trump, I just start talking about Jesus,” he said. “They can’t keep speaking evil once I bring up Jesus.” He chuckled at his own wisdom.
“What do they do when you do that?” I asked.
“Usually they walk away,” he said. “Sometimes, even when they aren’t talking directly to me, but I hear them talking about Trump, I purposely go over to them and begin talking about Jesus.”
I laughed because I know this man and I could see how he would do that, mosey over and in a very unassuming way, but with authority, insert Jesus into a conversation.
“Sometimes, tho,” he added, “I just tell them awwright, that’s enough.”
In the car the other day, I asked Tim what we used to talk about before Trump came along. Tim and I have always used our car trips to talk about matters of depth, usually some matter of theology, or history, or politics, always, always about the world and evaluating whether we are living out our faith in meaningful ways. Our friendship has always revolved around having a similar worldview, even when we are clearly polar opposites in personality the things we value have always aligned.
Tim laughed but there was a pain behind it.
We both recognize that our world has shifted off its axis. We don’t quite know how to prepare for the shitstorm ahead. And we are both finding it difficult to maintain relationships with people who want to ship immigrants off to Mexico, turn away Syrian refugees, bilk the poor to enrich the already rich, destroy the environment in pursuit of unfettered greed, and who continually deny any factual evidence because it allows their hatred of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to continue unabated and unchallenged.
Or at least that’s how we see it.
Our loved ones, the ones who voted for Trump, they see it differently. They see Roe v. Wade overturned. Aborted babies being the height of a person’s evil-doings. Even though they love me and know about my abortion and know that had I not had that abortion, there would be no marriage between Tim and I, no children, no grandchildren, they still consider what I did the worst evil to ever be committed, an evil so wrong that no wrong Trump does or has ever done is even comparable to the evil I did when at age 17 I aborted my first child.
In their minds, I am more evil than Trump.
They might not ever admit that to me, or even to themselves, but that’s the uncomfortable truth I’m faced with everyday now.
The majority of Evangelicals whites who voted for Trump did so because of Roe V. Wade. Trump knew this, of course, that’s why he continually reminded them that whoever won the election would pick the Supreme Court Justices.
I sometimes wonder if white Evangelicals had their way what would the world really look like?
A world with no gays and certainly no gay marriage. A world where all the Mexicans lives in Mexico, all the Syrians in Syria, all the Native Americans on reservations, all the whites on the right side of town and all the blacks over there. A world without disagreement, where everybody gets along, which of course would require a world with no variety of thought or lifestyle. A world where everyone loved the same God the Creator in all the same ways.
White evangelicals are always bemoaning this world, declaring it ungodly and so full of evil doers. They often blame gays and gay marriage as the reason God has turned his back on America. Or they blame 17-year old girls like the one I was once, girls having abortions as the reason why God has turned his back on America. They never ever blame adulterers like Donald Trump or Newt Gingrich for God turning his back on America. They never blame white heterosexual men at all, come to think of it.
In their worldview, God has abandoned this country.
The thing is, I have never felt abandoned by God.
Not the way I feel abandoned by my white evangelical loved ones.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Where’s Your Jesus Now? How fear erodes our faith. (Zondervan).