I need to ask your advice in a matter that has been bothering me. It seems like all of the sudden I have people reacting to the fact that I voted for Obama, both family and friends. One in particular said some pretty disturbing things, and I can just feel the hatred. I am shocked that these people have so much hatred for someone who has done nothing to deserve it. I am at a loss as to what to even say to them without getting mad.
Have you been experiencing any of this from anyone? Do you just ignore it, or respond in some other way. I’ve attempted to respond to folks sending me harsh emails about President Elect Obama by saying that I voted for him,was proud to do so, and would appreciate their not sending these types of email to me. I would have thought that the people sending me the email would have respected my personal decision, but apparently not. One person who is a fellow member of our church completely went off on me. Another told me I was voting for a terrorist. A third has completely cut off all communication to me, good or bad. It feels like my family, both personal and church family, have completely gone off the deep end and are filled with the same kind of hate as some sort of skinhead person, someone that I would normally be afraid of.
Are you experiencing any of this and do you have any advice for how to make sense of it all?
Certainly I have been surprised by the level of vitriol expressed by some regarding Obama, and I know that there are some in our congregation who interpret everything I say politically through that lens. The level of hatred is troubling to me, especially given the fact that some of the most hateful see themselves as “good Christians,” in spite of the fact that their level of hatred and their willingness to believe mistruths undermines their claim to faith.
As I have wrestled with this I have come to see that fear is the root of this hatred. There is much to be afraid of for many of these folks, for the world is changing — up is down, inside and outside are being reversed, and the assumptions we have had about our country and our world are being tested. Some have been far too willing to listen to anger spewed forth without the willingness to check the truthfulness of the claims, and I regularly challenge persons to back up their assertions with facts and footnotes (something they generally are unwilling to do). However, when one is filled with fear (a tactic used far too often by both the religious AND political right) it becomes difficult to move from the emotional toward the rational. Thus, those of us who attempt to move from the rhetoric toward fact and reality often find ourselves beating our heads against the wall.
Racism, sexism, and pretty much all of the “ism’s” in the world are driven, I believe, by fear. We are afraid for our well being. We are afraid that someone will come along and take our jobs. We are afraid that the “truths” that we have been raised on are in fact not true. That fear leads to some pretty extreme beliefs, from both those on the right and the left. Conspiracy theories arise from these fears, and skilled power brokers manipulate these fears to achieve their ends.
Part of how I respond to this is to recognize the fear and brokenness that permeates all of us. Certainly there have been moments when my fears of the Bush administration have led me to the brink of irrationality. Yet, as Paul reminds us, perfect love casts out fear, and so that is why I have been so adamant about stressing the call to love during this election season. The fact is, whether you like Obama, McCain, Palin, or Bush, we are called to love them, to pray for them, and to seek after God’s will for them. To do otherwise is to ignore the clear teachings of Jesus and believe that we know better than God himself about how to live our lives.
As you know, I pray each week with a group of pastors from the community, the majority of whom are conservative. I took heart this past week when one expressed his feelings: “I mourn for the unborn…” (abortion is a central issue for this pastor) “but I celebrate the meaning of this election for so many people who have been pressed down for so long.” We then entered into a time of prayer in which we all prayed with great earnestness for our future president, our current president, and the hearts of those who did not triumph in this election, trusting that God has the potential to bring about great good.
All of this is to say that I think the best response for people of faith in the face of such hatred is to continue to turn the conversation toward the spiritual rather than the rational. When folks attempt to express worry and hatred, we have a responsibility as Christian brothers and sisters to ask them how they are praying for our leaders. Likewise, we need to be praying for Bush and Cheney, even when they make us want to scream, for it is in prayer that we first move beyond our fears into the love of God. If fellow Christians are unwilling to engage in prayer for our leaders, engaging instead in screaming and fearmongering then I think we may have a responsibility to question the basis for their proclaimed faith in Christ, for they obviously have not been willing to listen to the teachings of Christ. However, even when we rebuke or admonish, it is always with humility, tenderness, and love.
Paul told us that we are known by our fruits. Maybe we need to remind one another of that fact.