I’ve spent a week now off Facebook. Most likely you didn’t notice and don’t care, but for someone who typically spends hours each day on Facebook sharing original content and attempting to engage in meaningful conversations—it was a bit “cold turkey.” For me, this is one of my primary means of engaging with the world around me, so bailing on it altogether wasn’t just hard, it was… weird.
Just before I left, I posted this to Facebook: “The hate, hypocrisy, and insults are eating too big a hole in my heart. Was trying to restore some honest discussion and sanity, but clearly this isn’t the place for it.”
I realize now, that last part about Facebook not being a place for honest discussion and sanity—that was a knee-jerk reaction. I do think the way Facebook is designed often makes it hard to have meaningful discussions; but it’s not impossible, so I’m not writing off the medium just yet. I’m planning to address the topic a bit more in a post I’m working on about the tools we use and how they shape our conversations.
However, the first part of that post was and still is true. When I questioned the proposed policies of our president-elect or called for people to empathize with those feeling singled-out after this divisive campaign season, I was met with a number of mean-spirited accusations and personal insults. I don’t support baby-killing and I’d like to think I’m not a precious snowflake or a cuck; but hey, we’re at war and whatever words gets the job done, right? This mentality—especially among Christian friends—just knocked the wind out of my sails. Then when people started defending Limbaugh’s statement, “We don’t need unity! We just beat their asses! Now is the time to blast them to smithereens!” — that was the moment I decided I needed to step away for a while.
At first, I told myself I was stepping away to get out of the insane asylum. I kept quoting to myself Psalms 37: “Fret not yourself because of evildoers… trust in the Lord, and do good.” I felt pity for people so desperate they put in leadership people who pit themselves against each other. The longer I thought about it, though, the more I realized that stepping away was helping me regain some focus and composure. I was trying to maintain civility and cohesion across two dozen different conversations—and failing miserably. This break allowed me to spend some time in long, cohesive, un-fragmented thought about the big issues facing our nation and our church. This was really valuable.
So I want to share some of those thoughts on the election and where we (or more specifically, I) go from here.
On Calling for Unity
In my week without Facebook, I’ve been listening to a lot of people, and the common theme seems to be unity. Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals alike, calling for unity. This has been expressed a number of different ways: stop pouting, what’s done is done, give him a chance, we need to come together now that the election is over, et al.
I believe firmly in unity. Having grown up in fundamentalist Christian churches, I’ve seen firsthand the harm that disunity can bring to a group of people. But I’m also reminded of the warning God gave to a wayward Israel in Amos: “How can two walk together unless they are agreed?” Agreement is the building block on which unity stands, and before we can find true unity, we must first find agreement on some important truths.
What are those truths?
Trump will be our next President. Whether you like him or not, he won the election fairly (even if you don’t like how our electoral system works) and will be taking the oath of office in January.
He will hold that office because we put him there. His job is to lead on our behalf, so he is there to represent the majority of Americans. If he doesn’t do that, we the people have the power to remove him from that office.
He publicly mocked or insulted women, minorities, the disabled, and many other good, undeserving people. He did this without apology, yet Christians came out in record numbers to support him (even in the primaries when there were other options).
Many of those whom our next President targeted feel frightened and marginalized in their own country. You might find it hard to empathize with these people if you weren’t the one being targeted or marginalized. You might find it even harder to empathize with these people if they lash out in violence. I’d appeal to the Golden Rule here, but even if you set aside the consideration of others for a moment, if this divisive behavior goes unchallenged and unchecked, especially in our highest elected office, the next victim could be you. And in that moment, who knows—you might feel it “your duty to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for your future security.”
In the face of these truths, it seems to me that the most loving thing for us to do is to pursue reconciliation with folks who feel targeted by the coming president (and indirectly by the church that supported him) instead of asking for everyone to suddenly be unified under someone who ran the most divisive campaign in American history.
I do care a whole lot about love and truth, but there was a lot of hurt dealt throughout the campaign and validated on election day, and I don’t think pretending it didn’t happen or pretending it doesn’t matter in the name of unity isn’t the way forward. Yes, let’s come together, let’s be unified, but let’s go out of our way to denounce the hurtful and disgusting comments from our president-elect, even if he won’t. And let’s especially make sure those hurtful comments don’t turn into hurtful policies.
On Celebrating Evil
See, ultimately, if you voted for Trump because he was the lesser of two evils, you shouldn’t be celebrating at all, because evil still came out on top.
We learned early on in life to be skeptical of those not like us, to cut in line, to take the biggest piece of pie, to attack or insult people we don’t like; so for many, Trump was simply appealing to “common sense” and articulating these base instincts that we all have. It felt like a breath of fresh air to have someone give us permission to indulge in those feelings… and then win! He appealed to our fears, our pride, our entitlement, our frustration, our desperation, our sense of distrust. Instead of showing us a path that would bring us closer together, he pitted Americans against each other, made us skeptical of “the other”, and leveraged our base instinct to shun those not like us—and it won him an election.
You may be feeling like I just mischaracterized you, like none of those base instincts describe you. They may not (and if you’re reading this article probably don’t), but they do describe many who voted for Trump. I personally know Trump supporters who told me there isn’t a single thing he could have done to lose their vote. I personally know a Trump supporter who said they support him because he hates black people. I personally know people who have been the target of some vile racist hatred, bolstered by Trump’s win. I listened live to Rush Limbaugh tell his millions of listeners, “We don’t need unity! We just beat their asses!” So while you may have voted for him simply because you couldn’t bear the thought of Crooked Hillary in office, just remember that there are others out there—like the racist Trump supporter I know or the divisive radio host—who are expressing some pretty wretched ideas and feel comfortable with your guy. (If you voted for him, you helped get him into office, and he’s your guy.)
This isn’t to say that you think those things or even support those positions, but it’s important to keep this in mind when you’ve got people feeling targeted. Maybe it will help those fears make a little bit more sense and help give you a greater sense of empathy toward others. But it’s even more important going forward because what we allow over time, we normalize, and this kind of fear, distrust, and corruption cannot be allowed to be considered normal.
And that danger of normalization is precisely why I came back to Facebook.
On Being a Light
I had two conversations last week that made me rethink my Facebook sabbatical.
The first conversation was with my friend Mark, who likened meaningful conversation on Facebook to a kind of mission field. It isn’t easy. The fragmented and reactionary nature of the medium and the constant urge for one-upmanship make it difficult for meaningful conversation and truth-speaking to thrive, but then you’ll have moments when you share truth with someone and help them grow or you learn something that you never knew and you grow because of it. And it makes it all worthwhile. I hadn’t really thought about it like that, but it’s a fair comparison in a lot of ways.
The second conversation was with my friend Brian, who reminded me that when you speak truth, you’re often met with hate, but that doesn’t diminish the need for truth. In fact, it’s precisely in those moments when the need for truth is greatest. He also showed me by example ways that we can lovingly and honestly seek unity while at the same time proclaiming truth and defending the defenseless.
So, I decided to come back, with the following resolutions:
- To pursue peace without sacrificing truth;
- To listen before labeling, with the intent to understand and empathize;
- To speak out for those who have no voice and promote empathy;
- To find ways to act (not just speak) on behalf of others not like me;
- To seek to encourage these in other people as well.
Despite recent evidence to the contrary, our words do matter. I urge you to join me in making those words count.