White Christian Trump Voters, I was one of you – a Red-Cradle Christian. But the results of the Christian and Republican values you invested in me have yielded a bitter return in your eyes. How can we listen to each other? How can we talk together?
Susan M. Shaw, Professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University, has written an excellent article entitled “Dear White, Christian Trump Supporters: We Need to Talk,” which eerily parallels both my thoughts and experiences. Like Shaw, I was born in an area characterized as blue-collar and conservative (central Pennsylvania). I grew up a church-going Republican in an upwardly mobile white working-class family.
I am what you might call a “red-cradle Christian.” While my family attended a Lutheran church, I was also immersed in conservative Christianity through extended family. I spent the first half of my life in the hunting camps and at the picnic tables of red-state culture.
In other words, White Christian Trump Voters, I was one of you.
I learned from you to cherish the forests and streams and rivers; to place the highest value on clean air and land; to see all people and all creatures as part of God’s family.
And following your encouragement to pursue education, work hard, and achieve the American Dream, I was the first in my family to go to college. I worked my butt off through all levels of education to the PhD level (with tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt to vouch for my not being a silver-spooned trust-fund-elitist).
Along the way, the Christian values you instilled in me led me to discern a call to ministry. As an ordained pastor I have striven to faithfully serve congregations with people of many different races, different political affiliations, and varying degrees of economic privilege. And it was the Christian values you taught me in Sunday School and youth group that helped me to first recognize and then work to confront my racism, as well as to learn from those who have experienced true oppression.
But for some reason, the results of the Christian and Republican values you invested in me have yielded a bitter return in your eyes. I have emerged with progressive Christian convictions which, ironically, are a direct result of the red-cradle values I was taught. And now Trump voters view me with hostility. I sense that I am considered a traitor. To make matters worse, I’m accused of not “listening” to you.
Friends, I have listened to you all my life and ministered to you as your pastor. I agree with Shaw – we do need to talk, but I don’t know how to talk with you anymore. As a red-cradle Republican Christian child here’s what you taught me to value:
- Caring for God’s Creation
- Respecting civility
- Speak and act with honesty and integrity
- Practicing hospitality
- Follow the teachings of Jesus
Over the last two decades, and especially since Trump’s candidacy and election, I feel you have turned around and attacked these values through your rhetoric, your votes, and your hostile ideologically-driven actions.
What am I to make of this?
I am so frustrated, confused and confounded. What common ground can we find for dialogue when you’re okay with the actual ground being poisoned and decimated? How can I trust you when you are okay with voting for people who are hell-bent on destroying everything and everyone you taught me to value, right down to the forests and streams and air itself?
I am really struggling with this because I believe in the power of dialogue. I have built my life, my ministry, and now my work as a seminary professor (who happens to be writing a book on how to preach across the red/blue divide) on the firm conviction that by inviting all voices to the table to listen and learn, we can reach understanding and move forward for the good of all.
A table of equals?
But I am reminded by my black friends, my gay friends, my Muslim friends, my Jewish friends, my Latina/o friends, my friends with disabilities, my environmentalist friends, my “foreign” friends, and my other-than-human friends within Creation that not everyone comes to the table as equals. And my high hopes for civil discourse are bumping up against a harsh reality. Encouraging people to engage in dialogue would force my other-than-White-straight-male-Christian friends to a table where Trump supporters want them either silent, invisible, absent, subservient, stripped of their rights, enslaved, cast away, or even dead.
Maybe now you understand how Muslims feel
Perhaps it feels to you the way many Muslims feel when they are accused of having the same horrific convictions as fundamentalist terrorists. You’re right, it’s not fair that extremists hijacked your values. But in the same way you expect Muslims to disavow those who do violence in their religion’s name, shouldn’t you also abide by the same expectations? Isn’t there a point where you should speak out? Haven’t we reached the place where you recognize that you must put aside your devotion to ideology and turn back to the Christian values you taught me?
Even when it comes to sharing the same pew and the same communion table with you, I am in deep moral and existential distress. Because, dear Christian Trump-supporting friends, when the terms for talking together and worshiping together and sharing fellowship together mean negating everything you taught me to believe in, I am at a loss. I feel like a hypocrite, that I’m selling-out, and that I am betraying the very God whom you taught me to honor and obey.
So, yes, I have been listening.
I have been doing what you told me to do. I continue to listen. And that listening has opened my eyes, broken my heart, and driven me to my knees in prayer.
So it is my fervent hope that in my continued work on fostering dialogue, you will also listen with the same willingness to have your eyes opened, your heart broken, and your knees bent to look in the eyes of all those whom Jesus loves – especially the least of these within the human and other-than-human family.
I’m reaching out to you from the same red-cradle we shared, and hoping you’ll look beyond to see an entire landscape of rainbow cradles that contain lives that are just as valuable to God as yours.
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary (KY) and an ordained Lutheran minister (ELCA), though the views expressed in this post are her own and do not necessarily reflect the institutions she serves. She is the author of the book Creation Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015).