Why I’ve Lost Respect For My Republican Friends

I’ve spent much of my life pastoring in predominately white churches in the South.  Before that, I was raised in a family with many Conservatives. I’ve always been surrounded by Republican voters, and until very recently I could respect their positions, even when I disagreed with them. Despite our differences, I still saw them as inherently well-intentioned people.

That is becoming nearly impossible, because I now realize something about them that grieves me.

I used to think this was all about education. I’ve spent the last few years trying to make them aware of the ugliness they are tethered to, the criminality of the politicians they support, the irreparable damage they are doing to our nation’s sacred systems. I operated under the false assumption that if I could only make them aware of the malevolence of their party, that their better angels would certainly move them to fully reject it.

It’s only very recently that I realized that they already are aware:

They know their party tried to violently overthrow the Government and overturn an election, and is still actively perpetuating the big lie.

They know they are willfully prolonging the pandemic by shunning safeguards and opposing vaccines and peddling disinformation.

They know they’re gerrymandering and suppressing votes and installing corrupt electors because they can’t win elections any other way.

They know their party is fully infected with Proud Boy, KKK white supremacist domestic terrorism.

They know it is filled with unqualified, unstable sociopaths like Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Madison Cawthorn, and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

They know Donald Trump is a lying, vile, incompetent, traitorous monster who hasn’t had a noble instinct in his lifetime.

They know that their party is on balance, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT, anti-Semitic, and anti-women.

They know all these things.

They just don’t care.

Worse than that, they’re happy about it.

They are “winning,” in whatever way they define that, and so the intoxicating ends justifies the sickening, violent, shameful means. They no longer have a need to weigh the morality of the people they are in bed with, no longer worry about abiding the teachings of Jesus, no longer have to do the uncomfortable work of examining their own hearts.

The victory trumps decency.

Over the past five years, they have seen the absolutely unfathomable criminality of Donald Trump and the Republicans—and despite knowing the depths of their misdeeds and the human collateral damage and the economic toll and the national disfigurement—they will vote Republican again without a moment’s deliberation. I can’t get over that.

I try to imagine how I’d have responded if the roles were reversed, I wonder if I too might be able to set aside my convictions if offered such a political bounty—but I know the answer.

I’d never have voted for a traitorous ignoramus like Donald Trump had he been the Democratic nominee.

If my party was populated by such open hostility to Science and diversity and equity, I’d have left it long ago.

If a Democratic president had dehumanized them the way Trump has dehumanized so many, I’d have defended them.

If Joe Biden and the Democrats tried to engineer a violent coup, I’d never consent to it and I damn sure wouldn’t defend it afterward.

And that’s the simple difference: I would not be capable of embracing the horrible things they have been able to, and that is now a barrier to us that may be insurmountable.

Most of our once passionate exchanges and spirited debates have been replaced by cold, surface conversations or uneasy silence.

I no longer have the desire to give them more information or help them understand the urgency of these days or wake them from some slumber so that they comprehend the inhumanity of their public servants—because I know that won’t make a difference.

Worst of all, I no longer see them as people I can truly respect, because that is saved for those who can admit their mistakes given evidence of them, people who can be swayed by facts and data, people who are willing to change in order to do what is right, even if it means them losing something.

This isn’t about comparing differing political ideologies or debating the merits of particular legislation, and it isn’t about theological dissonance or arguing over what benefits the common good. All those things I am able and willing to participate in.

This is simply a matter of them seeing the way to accrue power, becoming hopelessly addicted to it, and being fully resistant to relinquish it.

I still interact with many of these people on social media, I run into them at the grocery store, I see them at family reunions. Yet, I’ve lost the energy to argue with them and so I simply share space with them, doing my best to be decent and to have our time together be as short as possible.

I still love these people, I still affirm their humanity, I still fight for their civil and human rights—I just no longer respect them in the way I once did.

A Funeral for the Living

Today is a day of mourning for millions of Americans.

You can see the bereaved everywhere you look.

They may not be dressed in black or sitting in a church pew or tearfully standing graveside or in the back of slow-moving cars with headlights flashing—but they are deeply grieving nonetheless.

They are people who have lost someone they dearly love, though not to death but to something else, something much less expected, something much more unnatural. They have lost them to the knowledge of how unlike they now are; to a moral disconnect that has rendered their relationship mortally wounded.

It is death by irreconcilable differences.

Because our politics and our religion have become such a fierce battleground between us and those we love, we are now a nation of people attending perpetual funerals for the living. We continually grieve the partisan talking points and the wild conspiracy theories and the toxic theology and the unbridled hated and all they have destroyed. Every day is a memorial to what has died before its time.

The present here isn’t a violent civil war as is often alleged, it is a somber wake where we see laid out in front of us, those we have lost. They are there in old photos, in dormant text message threads, in long-abandoned social media posts: daily reminders of once-fully living relationships that are over now. And these funerals for the living are devastating because they never end, because we never saw them coming, and because grieving isn’t supposed to work like this.

It makes sense to lament the people we’ve lost who were taken from us; those who left this world and moved from here to hereafter. It is a natural and quite beautiful thing to mourn people’s absence after they are relegated to photographs and memories by sickness or accident or old age. Though this is painful and debilitating in its own way, it is understandable. We all know that is the natural pattern of this life.

It’s something different altogether, to sit vigil for human beings who are still here but practically speaking gone: our estranged family members and former best friends, our neighbors and co-workers, whose absences have not been caused by a physical separation but an emotional one. They are people we have learned such grievous things about that we can simply no longer stay tethered to them.

It is such a terrible thing to attend a funeral for the living; to realize we are so fundamentally morally misaligned that the same proximity is no longer possible, that the old relationship cannot be resurrected, that we cannot rewind and recapture what is now permanently in the past.

This isn’t to say that it should be any different, that the relationships we have are too sacred to be sacrificed on the altar of our deepest convictions. This may in fact be the necessary cost of living as our most authentic selves. These disconnections of family and friends might prove to be the collateral damage of explicitly speaking the words and of expressing the truth that we might have once concealed for the sake of decorum or in the name of keeping the peace.

Maybe time and effort will be able to create something new, but what has been cannot be again. We’ve simply seen and learned too much, and going back isn’t possible or healthy. In this way, perhaps these relational deaths are as necessary and redemptive as the physical losses we experience, but it doesn’t make them any easier to bear right now. We will feel and grieve them again today in the calls that won’t come, in the chairs that stay empty, in the protracted silences that once were filled with beautiful sounds.

The only comfort we can take, is in knowing how many similarly walking wounded there are around us, how massive the funeral procession is right now, and how much company we have in this great sadness.

May you have peace as you grieve.

Americans Who Love Guns More Than People


Photo Credit: @RepThomasMassie Twitter page

Kentucky Republican Representative Thomas Massie tweeted out this photo of his family all holding weapons and wearing beaming smiles, with the caption:

Merry Christmas!
ps. Santa, please bring ammo

Let’s put aside what the Conservative reaction would be to any Democrat lawmaker’s Christmas tweet that mentioned Santa and not Jesus. (The pearl-clutching “War On Christmas” cries would still be echoing through the canyons of GOP social media and partisan television.)
Let’s also table imagining the Republican Christian response, if a Muslim family shared a photo of themselves wielding an arsenal on one of their high holy days. (The allegations of terrorist indoctrination of children would be fierce and unrelenting.)
And let’s not try to figure out how to connect the dots between people who incessantly remind you that they are “pro-life”—and joyfully waving a massive cache of high-powered weapons designed only for tearing through the flesh of the living.

Those are matters for another day.

Instead, I want to ask how any supposedly Christian family becomes so morally inverted, that they imagine a good idea to celebrate the birth of a Prince of Peace Jesus, is to pose with instruments of rapid carnage. Further, I’d like to ask how any adult with any self-awareness or working empathy, would share a photo like this on social media just days after a mass shooting at a high school that killed four people? Inside what kind of head is this a decent thing to do?

Honestly, I think there’s only one answer to these questions:

Millions of Americans now love guns more than people.

This happens when a political party has become so beholden to the NRA and to those who profit off the sale of weapons, its leaders use religious holidays to give them a bizarre social media shout-out.
It happens when a toxic religion of fear has been so ingrained in the minds of the faithful, they can no longer recognize the disconnect between middle finger-flying, gun-wielding bravado—and the compassionate healer Christ they claim to be devoted to.
It happens when human beings become so desensitized to mass murders in schools, shopping malls, and churches, that they can no longer find the capacity or reason to grieve them, especially when that grief is adversarial to their politics.

Most of all, this unfathimable disconnect between Christians and violence, occurs when Americans begin to treasure guns more than those murdered with them.

Honestly, I am so sick of being surrounded by these people. I don’t think I’m alone.

I think millions of people of faith, morality, and conscience, simply cannot comprehend how the cause of guns became to so many of our families, friends, and neighbors—the solitary hill they will gladly die on.
We cannot fathom how this became their greatest passion: not the poor or the hungry, not inequity or injustice, not pollution or climate change, not education or healthcare or anything remotely redemptive.
We don’t know why they feel compelled to plaster guns on their bumpers and their chests and profiles, in “Come and Take them” taunts and threats that project some antagonistic bullying provocation that looks nothing like Jesus.

Yet, the saddest part, is that these people wouldn’t be able to answer at this point, anyway. Once you’re trapped inside an addiction you aren’t able to see it clearly—and Conservative Americans are in the throes of a dependency on guns that has fully addled them. Until they can be shaken out of the intoxicating high they get when they brandish military-grade weaponry, we’re going to see more and more of this sickening, infuriating gun advocacy and less and less concern for lives taken with guns.

Until these people are able to actually dig deep enough to ask why they care so much about having their arms around a barrel and fingers on a trigger, they’re going to be ignoring mass shootings and defending vigilantes and opposing gun control legislation and posturing for unconscionable holiday photos.

And the rest of us who love people more than guns, are going to have to endure living alongside them—and to keep fighting for all our lives.

 

 

Yes World, It’s That Bad Here in America—and Worse

A reader from Australia texted me last night. He’d been watching the news and said he wanted to check on me.

We’re heartbroken to hear what’s going on there. he wrote. Is it really as bad as it looks?

Another sweet friend from England messaged me this morning, with similar concern for me and for our nation based on what she’s been reading and seeing in the media.

Over the past few months I’ve had many kind-hearted people from all over the world make similar inquiries about America, asking if it is as dire and alarming up close as it appears from a distance.

Yes, it is.

In fact, it’s far worse here on the ground, because all the ugliness you can see from thousands of miles away (outside of a few politician’s faces) is probably still rather abstract—a largely undefinable, faceless wave of malice and bigotry, something to be analyzed and studied later.

But here on the ground this malignant sickness has a face, one that is far too familiar:

It’s the face of family members whose newly revealed racism is regularly leveling us around the dinner table.
It’s the face of former church friends, who have completely abandoned the Jesus they claim faith in and chosen the vilest of idols.
It’s the face of once pleasant neighbors who casually regurgitate extremist propaganda in sidewalk conversations.
It’s the face of childhood friends spewing anti-immigrant filth on their social media profiles.
It’s the face of storeowners and hair stylists and restaurant workers, the interactions with whom, have become walks through minefields.

So yes, it’s the staggering cruelty of those holding the power here—but just as much it’s the people we know and live alongside who are so gladly empowering them.

Yes, it’s the complete bastardization of the rule of law and the systems of protections our forebears put in place to avoid putting our nation in such peril—but it’s our coworkers and uncles and classmates who don’t seem to give a damn about that.

Yes, it’s one political party’s sociopathic lack of empathy and their unrepentant viciousness—but it’s the people we’ve shared Thanksgiving dinner with and served on mission trips alongside, who share their venom and boost their signal.

Yes, it’s Republican politicians’ incessant attacks on LGBTQ people and immigrants and Muslims and the sick and the vulnerable—but it’s the once kind-hearted people we love, who have been so poisoned by partisan talking points and perverted Christian theology that they celebrate all of it.

That’s why this is all so bad.

We’re certainly losing the big things here: the integrity of our elections, the stability of our Republic, the faith in our systems, the illusion that our Republican leaders will put anything over power and party.

But we’re losing much more than that.
We’re losing the soft places we called home: our families and our churches and our circle of friends.
We are swiftly and almost hourly seeing the relational fractures that may have always been there beneath the surface, but are now visible and cavernous.
We’re trying to decide whether to fight for relationships we’ve spent our lives nurturing, or whether we need to severe those connections in the name of self-preservation.
These things will never make the news or make a global impact—but they are rocking our personal worlds to the bedrock.

So we’re marching and protesting and working and resisting in the face of this monumental and historically malevolent national political cancer—and while we’re doing that, we’re also trying to preserve our families and our friendships and our workplaces, which are also hanging by a thread.

This is a Constitutional crisis and it’s a family emergency.

We’re wondering what happened to our nation—and to people we once loved and respected; to our parents, grandparents, siblings, neighbors, and best friends.

Yes, our Democracy is in peril, but our most treasured relationships with people are in tatters too.

We are trying to salvage both and it’s exhausting.

So yes, friends around the world, thank you for caring about us in America.

It is as bad as it looks from where you’re standing.

But it’s far worse, too.