In the age of Trump, hometowns, Sunday dinners and even holiday celebrations are no longer safe spaces for families with opposing views. These familiar places become hostile zones of contrary views, charged with emotional fervor.
But they don’t have to be. A glimmer of hope has appeared, calling us to come together and repair what has ripped us apart, because the tears can be mended.
I know this is true, because we used to be a close-knit community. Our small conservative town, in the northwest corner of Washington, was a great place to grow up. The mountains and the sea were our playgrounds. The church was our home.
As pastor’s kids, we spent countless hours in our father’s very large evangelical church. Going to worship each week was a lively and joy-filled family tradition. Each Christmas Eve, my parents and we five kids would dress up and take a family photo in front of the large, beautifully decorated tree. It was just the seven of us. We didn’t have an extended family to celebrate with, so the church became our aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins, and loved us as if we were their own.
The first cracks in these relationships appeared once Trump was nominated for the Republican ticket in 2015. His candidacy bent, and eventually broke, many church relationships. While most of our congregation became die-hard supporters, our family and many friends couldn’t reconcile his views, or his cruel mocking behavior, with the God of grace and love we found in the Bible. We were confused and hurt by those around us who didn’t see the inconsistencies between Trump’s actions and our biblical faith.
Even with this loss of precious relationships, in hindsight I realize I was one of the lucky ones. My relationship with my parents grew throughout the election season, as we bonded in the isolation of our faith and political views. What if we hadn’t had each other? The pain we felt from the loss of our church family was all the more acute for my friends who felt this rip through their own homes.
I recently asked my housemate about her experience with all of this and if she had told her parents she no longer attends church as a result. It was a funny thing, two 30-year-olds discussing parental approval as if we’d just started dating someone new. But it was a solid question. Her father was an influential pastor and a vocal Trump supporter; she was not.
“Since Trump became president, the thin thread of relatable dinner-table topics had stretched down to a hair.”
Since Trump became president, the thin thread of relatable dinner-table topics had stretched down to a hair. She still went over to her parents’ every Sunday for family dinner, but the connection was strained and shallow.
She is not alone. You are not alone.
I’ve encountered countless others whose background is similar to ours. The same sentiments continue to surface. They feel like they no longer have a relationship with their parents; they feel ostracized from their church and their faith; they cannot understand how the people they love, and who claim to love Jesus, can support a man so bent on division. Trump took their parents, their families, and now we all grieve the loss of our mentors, friends and role models.
But we cannot turn our backs; we cannot walk away. Although it might be tempting to do so, these relationships are worth the effort, even if they are not yet safe spaces. We must take the necessary risks. We are the only ones who can.
“Although it might be tempting to do so, these relationships are worth the effort, even if they are not yet safe spaces.”
It is my hope that the voice and conversations I share, along with those of others who feel it is safe to return to their old church communities, can help pave the way for those still unable to find welcome. Thankfully, as the gospel teaches us, redemption is always possible, and so we have reason to hope and to try.
This is why we started Operation Family Meeting and partnered with the New Moral Majority: to help people have productive conversations aimed, first and foremost, at repairing relationships, and then toward engaging in more difficult conversations about faith and politics.
I have been pleasantly surprised, even shocked, by the range of responses I’ve received as I did this difficult work myself. From people who shared my feelings, to those who understood my concerns and promised to think them over, to my Auntie who will vote for Trump, but appreciated my heart to engage in conversation with her — it’s all been better and easier than I’d feared.
Humans are wonderful, surprising creatures, and we long for connection. While I wish that no evangelical would vote for Trump in this 2020 election, I value the relationships I have with those who will. I value them over any partisan divide that might come between us, and I want to better understand their faith and how it informs their politics.
So, I’m inviting those of you from my Christian past to talk about Trump, faith and the messiness of politics with me. It will be tough, and we may not agree, but I love you. I long to have Sunday dinner and to commune with you. There are countless others who love their parents and the faith communities they were raised in, too. It is time for us to lean into hope and come back together.
Sarah Rye Ryan is a writer, public speaker and consultant. Her work focuses on giving a voice to a lost generation of grown-up church kids. Rye and her sister Liza launched Operation Family Meeting to help those struggling with their loved ones about their support of Donald Trump. Rye holds a master’s degree in Christian theology from Regent College.