At first, I thought I was going to be in trouble.
I had no idea how wrong that initial idea would turn out to be.
I got into a van of a friendly family who were part of my work team last week at Samaritan’s Purse. They were going to take me to a work site in hurricane-devastated Mexico Beach. I had hardly gotten my seat belt buckled when I saw, pasted across the steering wheel, a Trump/Pence campaign sticker.
I wondered how much glorification of Trump that I would have to hear, and how much, in the interest of not starting a holy war, I would have to hold my tongue.
The trip to our work site took about 30 minutes. As is true with any new group meeting for the first time, we stumbled into conversation, not sure what to say. But that quickly changed, and within a few miles, we were laughing, joking, and sharing cat and other photos from our phones.
Politics did not get mentioned. We liked each other, and we needed no agreement on how we voted for that to be necessary.
In fact, by the time we got out of the van, we were friends. And the fact that the bumper sticker was prominently displayed meant not one thing.
Still, I worried.
We all got busy working, and left the site much cleaner than we had found it. I noted that the daughter of the family with whom I rode, had a wonderful gift of encouragement and used it to soothe the elderly couple who we had served.
On the way back for a communal meal at the church hosting us, we discovered that we loved Jeff Foxworthy, and shared some of our favorite comedy sketches. More laughter ensued.
They found out that I was a social worker, and that did not lower their opinion of me, especially when I said that I believed in clients owning responsibility for their lives. I realized, a bit guiltily, that prior to meeting this family, that I had automatically expected rejection from those who considered themselves Conservatives.
But to my happy surprise, rejection wasn’t happening, nor would it.
I quickly realized that I had a whole list of what I ‘thought’ Conservatives would be ‘like.’ As we rode back to our hosting church, one by one, those assumptions were put to death by this warm, loving family.
Still, I feared that the truth would eventually come out.
I fully expected, that as we got increasingly comfortable with one another, that I would give myself away. How, I just do not like Donald Trump. Never have. How, I didn’t vote for Andy Barr. How honestly, I was raised to be a conservative Republican, but had left the fold long ago, and am known by friends and co-workers in Lexington for being something of a bleeding heart liberal.
I dreaded the moment when I made some random comment and would see my new friends head for the hills.
You see, it had happened before.
Decades before, when I was a delegate at a annual convention of my Episcopal diocese, factions were fighting it out about human sexuality. I was shocked by the nastiness inflicted on each side by the other. I finally got sick of the unloving behavior.
I stood up, and addressed both sides sternly, reminding them that our jobs as Christians was first to love each other, even when we disagree. I told both sides that they should be ashamed of their unkind comments to each other.
None of those in the committee room hearing my rebuke spoke to me for the rest of the convention.
So, years later, I expected, once I started earnestly talking about some of my views, to see this new family head for the hills as well.
A great thing happened, however. They didn’t run off. And what I learned changed me profoundly.
It wasn’t just this family. The group assembled daily lived the value that Christians can completely disagree about who they vote for, what they believe, or what they think about current ‘hot topics’, and still can LOVE each other. They can agree to disagree, and remain friends.
They can CHOOSE to walk in love no matter what the topic in disagreement is and treat one another with respect.
As our time together drew to a close, instead of some conservative/liberal rupture happening, a strange thing happened. We found that we had much MORE in common than we did not. Starting with a great love of our Lord and Savior. I mostly bonded with the woman of the family who was my age, the mother of the great teenager who had made me laugh and blessed me with her loving way towards hurricane victims.
One night, long after we were both exhausted, we sat up and talked about subjects that you would not think a ‘liberal’ or a ‘conservative’ could discuss without coming to blows. I told her that I just didn’t like Trump. She said that she supported another candidate who was defeated by Trump. She just firmly didn’t support Hillary Clinton. So, for her, she didn’t have a choice.
This astounded me, not because I did vote for Clinton, but because I felt the exact same way. I would have voted for another candidate as well, but he was defeated. And I couldn’t stand the idea of Trump being president.
I was not a Hillary fan. However, I talked myself into voting for her because I didn’t think I had a better option. We had different ideas about who would have been the better president, but we had gotten to polling booths just as disheartened. And both cast our votes with an eye to improving (or saving) a country we both loved.
I realized that among some of my more liberal friends, admitting that I didn’t feel comfortable about Hillary might have led to my expulsion from their friends list. How, when conservatives in the past reacted in a nasty way about my views, I had deleted them.
However, as I shared my concerns about issues such as abortion and other issues that make people go after each other, this new friend didn’t want to lay hands on me. She didn’t start praying out loud for my soul.
She even accepted my friendship request on Facebook.
I felt more accepted by her than I have felt by folks, liberal and conservative, who I have known for much longer. She didn’t judge me, even when we disagreed. When I brought up the way that I thought that abortion could be done away with (See my blog “How the church can end abortion.” April 2011) she agreed with me. We are both big Keith Green fans (imagine that?) and agreed that the church could do so much more by living its faith than through politics.
After that long talk, I took a deep sigh of relief. Because right or left, liberal or conservative, I knew one thing. I loved this woman as a sister in Christ, and I was not about to let her go over something as foolish as politics.
Driving back to Lexington, our conversations replayed in my head. One thing stood out. We acted in great love with one another. It didn’t occur to either of us to act another way.
Prior to meeting and spending time with my new friend, I knew that there were things that she said or believed politically that might have, at one point, led me to be unkind. Roll my eyes or groan. Make a sarcastic comment or joke.
But now, I knew something I hadn’t considered before. How would acting in such a way be helpful? Useful? How could it do anything to build up the body of Christ? How could indulging myself in a mean-spirited way at the expense of a fellow sister in Christ do anything but bring us both down?
Following our time together, I knew that behaving that way towards anyone I differed with was out.
It was out in the name of Jesus.
Which means, from now on, with God’s help, no matter how I disagree, name-calling, childish chanting, questioning someone’s level of maturity, intelligence, or wisdom is not an option for me.
Had I walked in their shoes? No. Had I lived their lives? No, again. Did I have the mind of God to be able to judge the rightness or wrongness of their views? Absolutely not.
So, we might disagree, but I would not add to the problem by being unkind.
This wonderful, gentle, funny woman taught me that there was a better way, simply by the way she treated me.
Today, driving back from guardianship court, I was listening to a radio station that had a call in show about topics that often divide people. I listened, and heard a sad thing happening.
The person whose views actually mirrored mine acted disgracefully.
He over talked the female caller, raised his voice, tried to shame the woman calling (who was respectful to him throughout) and basically tried to silence her until she, predictably, hung up on him.
What was gained? Not a thing.
We as a nation and as a body of believers can do better. We have to.
I will never support the immature yelling and name-calling of Chris Plante, Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage. Occasionally, I have agreed with some of what they say. Might have done some investigating and vetting to see if their views had merit. However, what pushed me back towards the left every time is HOW they said it. The lack of love in their comments. The complete lack of grace.
I also question those of the left who will psycho-analyze (without qualifications to do so) someone’s mental health or confidence in their man or womanhood. Or, worse, will look for every error a political opponent makes, refusing to see any possible good. But in saying that, I must embrace my own sin–I have been the person making such judgments without being willing to give the benefit of the doubt.
When the two dissident sides get really going, it is as if they are two siblings fighting in the back seat during a trip that has gone on far too long for the parents driving the car.
How do we learn to love more like Jesus with those whom we disagree?
It will mean looking at those who support a candidate we can’t stand, and saying, “This is my brother/sister in Christ. They deserve my respect even if I don’t agree. They deserve to be heard, even if what I hear is not what I believe. They deserve my love, because we serve the same risen Savior and will be sharing eternity together. They deserve to be treated like adults, because, hopefully, we have both learned that this is what we are, and should act that way regardless of our views.”
During my mission trip, I could have opened my mouth and caused a lot of damage. So could have others. We didn’t do that, thanks be to God. We were there, united to reach out with the love of Christ to offer help, hope, love and knowledge of salvation to the victims of a horrific, destructive storm.
Samaritan’s Purse accomplished that last week in Wewahitchka, Florida with the help of the Holy Spirit, who set the agenda.
We chose love, and by choosing that, it changed me.
I hope those reading this blog understand the opportunity given here. We may never like the same political candidate, we may never agree on the same issues. But we can listen, be adults, and be willing at the end of the day to take our views and the views of others to the cross and ask God to sort it out, and teach us (both) what is truth and what is not.
We can end this horrible division in this country by loving more and hating less. By not being so convinced that we are right that our consciences are blinded to what might be true.
We can learn to walk the path of love and work together for the kingdom of God. Or, if you are not Christian and don’t want to be, you can walk the path of love because it is the best option out there. We have to learn to disagree in love, work together in love, live in love for anything to be better.
It truly is, in my opinion, this country’s only hope.