A couple of days after the most disappointing election I have ever experienced, I woke up with these startling words on my mind: God loves Donald Trump. God not only loves Donald Trump, he loves all those who, unlike me, woke up after election day happy and excited about the new America they saw on the horizon.
I realize how suspect it is to believe what I am saying, and perhaps how politically incorrect it is to say it in these polarized times. I am a black man born in America, of immigrant parents, and I believe in religious tolerance and gender and LGBTQ equality. I know that Donald Trump and many who voted for him are not among those who are most likely to suffer because of the recent election. And I was not worried about who loves Donald Trump. My concern was and continues to be figuring out how the disappointment of the recent election might motivate us to form stronger alliances among African Americans, Latinos, and women, and creating a uniting vision that counteracts the divisive messages of the recent campaigns. I was wondering if it was possible for me to understand the frustration of working class whites and others who seem relatively fortunate, and to find a common ground that addresses all of our needs. I was discouraged that yesterday’s dreams of new progress on the horizon are now replaced by my own nightmare of what our president has promised to do. Although his words are chosen, I hear him promising that young girls’ hopes will be crushed, that people will be punished for their beliefs, that families will be torn apart, that the oceans will rise, that more black men will be murdered, and that more Americans of all races will die of preventable diseases. And that may not be the worst that could happen. Although I believe God loves us all, I cannot accept that God’s love for Donald Trump is the same as an endorsement of what Donald Trump has done or what he plans to do.
I have to conclude that while God loves the president, God wants him to repent from the errors of his ways and become transformed into the most compassionate and empathetic human being he can be. That may sound naïve or condescending, but I believe that it is true. But this was not the real revelation I experienced. The revelation I experienced with those words reverberating in my head was that God also wants repentance from me. Yes, me. Not because I am against Donald Trump, but because the worst aspects of his character exist to some degree in me—and perhaps in all of us.
We may be drenched in a worldwide “swamp” (to appropriate a metaphor from the president), but it is not a swamp of Washington politicians. It is a much larger swamp of racism, misogyny, and bigotry rooted in the pernicious greed that has, at least subconsciously, affected all of us. I must confess my own hypocrisy in speaking about others in ways that do not acknowledge that we have all failed at loving our neighbor and that we have all fallen short of what we want others to be. Maybe that is why our strategies and tactics that use guilt and condemnation to make social change are unconvincing. “Holier than thou” approaches may suppress the conversation and obscure the symptoms of a social disease, but they also compel us to hide our worst tendencies from pollsters, comrades, and the opposition, while we harbor and act on them nevertheless. Our truer selves are revealed in the voting booth, the board room, in the church, around the dinner table, or in the corner bar. When demonization becomes the strategy of choice for the left and the right, our public discourse is drained of integrity.
Maybe trying to get the wood out of our own eye before we can help others see is missing the point. It may be closer to the meaning of that metaphor to recognize that the vision of each of us is fundamentally distorted and that only honest sharing will help us to see the whole picture. Being the change we want to see in the world may not be a matter of achieving the moral perfection of personally being free from racism or other forms of oppression, so much as being open and responsive to the divinity in others. I need to listen, not only to those who disagree with me and to those who confirm my beliefs, but also to the doubts and fears that literally lie inside of me.
I must confess that this will be a difficult task for me to do, but I know that I (and we) can do better. The polarization of the recent election tells me that we must. I am still confident that the Spirit, in this most mysterious of ways, is still leading us toward the beloved community we spiritually desire. We need a framework that will not only “heighten the contradictions” of our current socio-economic situation but one which will also bring us together. The question is not so much “Who is racist?” as it is “Who will help dismantle a racist system?” Instead of focusing on judging each other and sorting out the good people from the bad, as our anti-racist perspectives sometimes seems to do, we need to create structures and institutions that will protect all of us from ourselves, from our own worst tendencies. We need systems that promote fairness without deprivation; that create healthy balances of power; and that provide for those who suffer the most, the minimum of what we would hope and expect for ourselves.
Even as the world trembles before the human waves of mass displacement and we watch dumbfounded as new armies of isolation and insecurity assemble, the Quaker message remains essentially unchanged. We have a message for the rich and the poor, the black and the white, and the healthy and those who are more in need of our love. We refuse to choose between the good guys and the bad, between black lives and white jobs, between religious freedom and national security, between the rights of women and the welfare of our children. We want radical equality. We want it all.
But we must to be willing to take risks. We need to take a fresh look at our testimonies and update them to address and organize around the issues of our times. We must have the courage and willingness to not just protest and complain but also organize and sacrifice if we are to correct the failing systems that deprive us all of the beloved community we experience and seek.
What the world needs as much as ever is to hear that still, small voice: a voice that asks us not to fear the fearful; that reminds us that the rain falls on the just and the unjust; and that directs our moral obligation away from ourselves and toward the stranger, the poor, the incarcerated prisoner, and the victims of violence and oppression. It is a voice that tells us that any work or sacrifice without love is a waste of time, and that so long as God dwells within each of us, each of us is capable of being transformed. We can hear that voice, and we can respond to the Spirit in others, if we are obedient to the experience of Friends through the ages and to what our testimonies continue to reveal. Our witness will not fail if we do not fail our witness.