I’m going to begin with the assumption that your hearts are in the right place. I know that many of my progressive friends would contest that assumption. But I know you. I was raised by you, taught to care about scripture in your churches and schools. You do care about the Bible. You have (as you might say) a “heart for God.”
So I continue to hold out hope that you’ll recognize how you sound to those who aren’t evangelicals. I promise I don’t want to sound patronizing by saying that I know what you mean more than you do. But I’m not sure you realize that your moral (and often, political) tone comes off as censorious and unsympathetic to people who are suffering, people who are currently living in fear of what might become of them in this brave new world we all inhabit. I know not all of you, but certainly enough of you that it feels to almost everybody else like all of you.
Muslims, for instance, often think that you hate them. They hear you and your support of policies that target them as threats to a comfortable middle class Christian existence. They feel like they only have value in your eyes as potential candidates for conversion. But here’s the thing I think you might not get: Why would they ever convert to your understanding of God when they’re happy with the one they have — one that, in many cases, asks for more commitment from them than yours does from you — and when they’re convinced that you think of them somehow as inferior beings, duped by a terrorist god?
Now, I suspect that sounds shocking to you, since you’re convinced in your heart that you love them as Christ loves you. But ask yourself this: How would Christ treat them? What kind of politics would Jesus support when it comes to sharing the same planet with them? Would you extend them the same benefit of the doubt you grant yourself, that their disagreement with your theology is an expression of their love for you?
“I’m not sure you realize that your moral (and often, political) tone comes off as censorious and unsympathetic to people who are suffering.”
Because here’s the thing: No matter what you feel about Muslims in the interior of your heart, your actions and your political support communicate something entirely different. They can’t see your heart through the veil of condescension and hostility that seems to be floating in the atmosphere; all they can see is how you live, the Islamophobic things you post on Facebook, the laws you lobby for. Why would they ever think anything other than that you hate and fear them?
And what about undocumented immigrants? They hear you talk about family values, then see you support a politics that tears children from the arms of their parents. They hear you talk about loving the Bible, but find it inexplicable when they see you ignore the raft of Biblical passages that enjoin God’s people to welcome the foreigner. They hear you talk about how in Christ the walls separating us are all torn down, that there there is no longer male nor female, slave nor free, barbarian nor Scythian, but then they see you defending a man whose crowning political aspiration is building a wall that will keep them away from you — that will make it clear to everyone that you believe there really is an “us” and a “them.”
Or what about my LGBTQ friends and family? They hear you talk about love and grace — except when it comes to them. All they see is you keeping open the option to treat them — as a supposedly orthodox expression of your faith—like malformed deviants. They hear you talk about turning the other cheek, but then they see you arguing against legislation that would keep children safe from bullying in the name of religious freedom. They hear you complain in high dudgeon about the invasion of privacy of underage girls when transgender people want to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, but then they see the white folks among you vote overwhelmingly for a man who is on record multiple times bragging about his ability to invade the privacy of underage girls.
How about African Americans? They continue to bear the burden of a country founded on racism and slavery every time they see a police car in the rear view mirror, or interview for a job, or endure the indignities of a justice system designed it seems to impact them disproportionately, but then they hear white evangelicals talking about how we live in a society that is somehow post-racial. They hear you sing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world,” but when one of their children dies violently or at the hands of police, they see you immediately jump to blame their children for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or for looking like menacing thugs, or for somehow inviting the violence. They hear you talk about how you’re not racist, but then they see you fall in behind a president who surrounds himself with “alt-right” (which is a way of saying, “white supremacist,” which is a way of saying, “nazi”) activists.
Look, you may have a really good way of explaining all this. I’m willing to allow for the fact that you may be totally misunderstood. But the thing is, if this isn’t who you are in your heart, you’re going to have to be the ones to show the rest of us who you really are. Just saying, “I’m not an Islamophobic, Xenophobic, Homo/transphobic, racist” isn’t convincing to anyone but those who already agree with you — no matter how sincerely you believe it to be true. Your actions are the best argument for who you really are, what you really believe. But right now, all protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, there are a bunch of folks in the world who think you and the God you claim to serve hate them.
And I can’t imagine any version of Jesus who is cool with that.
Your pal, Derek