Love in the Time of Trump

How love compelled me to listen across political lines
03/27/2017 08:15 pm ET Updated Mar 28, 2017
Jonathan Harford, https://flic.kr/p/36iL52, CC BY-NC 2.0

The only things we couldn’t talk about were gun control and property rights. We could talk about the absurdity of Donald Trump, even about abortion and why he went Right and why I went Left, even on capitalism we had some good engagement. When I fell for a Republican man, I learned more about conservatives than I had in all my years as a liberal inside the evangelical church – a Christian sub-group often conflated with conservatism.

We really made very little sense together, he and I. To this day, close friends still wonder how we found our way to each other. I am a liberal, Californian living in multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-class Los Angeles ― in a mostly Black neighborhood where salsa dancing has been one of my favorite activities. He is a tall white man, from Arizona, gun-owning and ex-military, and as interested in fighting ISIS as I am in protecting the civil rights of Muslim Americans. We were an unlikely couple.

We reflected a little known reality: that evangelical churches are not uniformly conservative (or liberal) – certainly not in Los Angeles, and often not elsewhere. And even if they do skew one way or another, people’s politics rarely come up—even though it seems that congregations are one of the few places left in our society where folks who are Left and Right might genuinely care for each other.

He and I found our way to each other through our common faith, and our common interest in dialogue and trying to live a life reflecting Jesus ― even as both of us confessed to not knowing exactly what that might look like. We were both taken by Jesus, by each other, and were willing to talk about risky political stuff because we were either too curious or perhaps too opinionated for our own good. We were the exception to the unspoken evangelical rules – we talked about politics and we were not of the same party.

Abortion was probably one of the more eye-opening topics of conversation—as we were after light, not heat. On my side (I’m the author, so I get to go first!), it is hard for me to even listen to those who protest but don’t sit and counsel those considering abortion (as many of my friends actually have); not to mention my concerns for young women who have been raped and are scared of the consequences they might face from less understanding friends or family. I can’t support the way anti-abortion protestors create a culture of hostility, fear, and violence. Banning abortion is too blunt, even as, just like he, I do believe that life starts on the early side of the spectrum.

He, on the other hand, went deep into the sanctity of life. To him, abortion is taking a life and there are no two ways around it. And any government funding headed towards abortion is state-funded murder (here I would typically add that that wouldn’t be the only state-funded murder—but that’s another article). He was serious about life and protecting the youngest of lives. And rightly pointed out that I rarely spoke to that part of my beliefs.

Congregations are ripe for these conversations, if we give ourselves permission to talk about politics (it’s happening anyway, right?), to disagree, and to stay in the process. Like my ex-boyfriend and I, we all are figuring out this Christian life, we have a depth of care for each, and the exhortation to be humble. My ex and I could actually talk about almost everything (except gun ownership and property rights – the topic of another blog) because of our common, ultimate trust in Jesus.

After #45 was elected, I saw friends starting conversation circles across party lines―to be honest, I think liberals were more interested in this discussion than conservatives. And I watched Van Jones do the same in his “Messy Truth” project ― which got me into the frame of mind to be able to even talk with conservatives again (and to do the hard work in myself of forgiving those who voted for Trump – also, another article).

I am not conservative, and I am not more conservative than before I fell for him. But I do think I’m a better person, a more open-minded person, a person who can dialogue instead of demonize. And I have known my ex to consistently be someone who listens, even when he doesn’t agree. This willingness opens space for the reasoning of others, it shows respect, and it might be one of the ways to start healing our divided nation.

The ability to dialogue instead of demonize could be a special gift that the church can give to our nation, right now. I know many congregations that are diverse across political lines. Many conservative Christians want to create a better immigration system, many liberal Christians understand that businesses have an important role to play. There’s a lot more to work with than the soundbites of social media and the labels of conservative and liberal.

My ex was a gift to me in a lot of ways, the least of which was this opportunity to talk across political lines. We need more people who are willing to take the risk to listen and really try to understand, rather than out shout one another with tired, political rhetoric.

May our love for each other under the love of Christ help the church to set the stage for new conversations in America. Amen.

CONVERSATIONS