The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
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 has articulated not only my thoughts, but also my 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 had 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 I am viewed with hostility by Trump voters. 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. Everything you taught me to value as a red-cradle Republican Christian child – caring for God's Creation, respecting civility, speaking and acting with honesty and integrity, practicing hospitality, following Jesus – I feel you have turned around and attacked 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 that ground literally has been destroyed and poisoned? 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. 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 the harsh reality that my 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, enslaved, cast away, or even dead.
Please understand, Trump-voting Christians, that I do hear you when you say do not consider yourself a racist, and that you resent being lumped in with white supremacists when all you really wanted was, say, small government, well-paying jobs, and protection from terrorism. I regret that those needs and values have been fused with the Trump agenda, much of which I hope and pray you do not agree with (such as grabbing women’s genitalia and having big government control their bodies, lying and bearing false witness, worshiping false gods of money and power, and various other commandment-violations).
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 your values got hijacked by extremists. 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 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).