One of the things that disturbs me about this election season is that so much of the country seems tone deaf to the language Trump used about the more vulnerable members of our society. To those I know who experienced abuse in their families, Trump’s language was like fingernails on a chalkboard. Whether Trump meant what he said, his language and demeanor made them cringe. I had the same visceral emotional response. I have known many people like this who, intentionally or not, trampled over others. They lacked sensitivity to their effect on others (or, worse, did it on purpose). I have known wonderful people who nevertheless spoke about minorities in language that was painful to hear. One sweet, elderly woman years ago lamented her treatment at the hands of a Dutch community after she married a man of Dutch descent. And then, without so much as a breath, went on to say that she would never sell her house to “those Mexicans.” She was unable to hear herself, unable to hear that her language towards others was exactly what she had suffered so painfully herself. She was recovering in the hospital at the time, so I didn’t challenge what she said. But mostly I was still a rookie and so stunned I didn’t know how to respond.
People go to worship and Bible study week after week and are encountered by words that bespeak the love of God and the command to love one another. Yet some of these same people cheer Trump’s victory. They are either tone deaf to his racist and chauvinistic language or they don’t care. It makes me sad that the charitable interpretation is that they can’t hear. But the fact that they can’t hear means they wittingly or unwittingly trample over those who have experienced what it is to be vulnerable in our society.
Some of these voters fought in a great and devastating war against those who categorized others by ethnicity and walled them into ghettos. Hitler was elected because he would make Germany strong again. But his administration herded the mentally ill into a single hospital (in the name of better, centralized care) where, far from families, they were ultimately executed. This “make Germany strong again” administration consigned political opponents to concentration camps, and ultimately emptied the ghettos into death camps.
I am not comparing Trump with Hitler; I am suggesting we should know better. This is not about political correctness; this is about the most fundamental dimension of our humanity – our ability to show empathy, to be mindful of the experience and feelings of others.
Some years ago a young woman with a beautiful heart began to attend our worship. She was from the Middle East and I had the privilege of getting to know her. Suddenly one Sunday morning, in the middle of the Eucharistic prayer that recites the story of God’s wondrous deeds and leads to the consecration of the bread and wine – suddenly, as I offered that prayer, I became aware of what the phrase “Promised Land” must sound like to this wonderful woman. The abstract concept of a liberating God who rescues the poor and oppressed and gives them a land of their own that the phrase “and brought them to a good and promised land” suggested to me, I now heard in a new and troubling way. I heard it as she might, as a reference to the modern state of Israel and all the war and conflict of the Middle East. I don’t want that prayer to be entangled in modern politics; I want it to speak to all people of God’s gracious deliverance from every bondage.
When white folks say “All lives matter” to those who are crying out for society to recognize that Black lives matter, they sound like they are saying, “your desire for us to recognize the value of your life doesn’t matter.” Of course all lives matter, and we have a long ways to go to truly realize that truth, but such a response is tone deaf to the cry of those who have experienced the larger culture say – for a very long time – that their lives are less than. It hadn’t been that long since I had lived in inner city Detroit when JonBenet Ramsey disappeared. Of course the life of that little girl mattered, but none of the black children who disappeared in Detroit ever made national news. Their lives were not significant. They barely made the local news. It was as if only cute little white girls mattered.
And what little black girls experience, many women experience, and many Muslims experience, and many spouses and children in abusive homes experience, and many undocumented experience, and many ethnic communities experience, and many who are physically and developmentally challenged experience, and many sick and sorrowful experience when they are pushed to the margins and talked about in broad sweeping terms that fails to honor and appreciate their experience in the world – and their worth as members of a single human family.
So when Trump spoke during this election season and people cheered and marched out to support him, all I felt was a heaviness of heart that we have so far to go to understand, let alone keep, such a simple command as “love your neighbor as yourself.”
The revolution Jesus leads – this is the true revolution.