“Mom, if you’re going to say things like that, you have to expect me to respond.”
My eldest, a recent college graduate in the process of applying for political science Ph.D. programs, was about to start a rant (a fairly frequent occurrence). It was late in the evening at my parents’ house and every seat in the family room was occupied. My entire extended family had not gathered as a whole since the election, so conversation naturally veered in that direction. Also, we are not what you’d call a quiet, unassuming bunch; we have some opinions.
That night, Daddy, a retired Southern Baptist minister, had been voicing his fears that the coming administration would set the nation back to the 1950s. He recalled ministering to parents whose teenaged daughters had sought out illegal abortions with tragic results. He spoke of oppression and injustice, of battles fought for the rights of others, and he told us of his interactions with Ku Klux Klan members.
“They’d march around under their sheets at night then be in church Sunday morning, singing in the choir and serving as deacons,” Daddy said. “They’d leave literature on our lawn all the time. I didn’t step off a curb in those days without knowing one of them could be waiting to run me over.”
What I said — the comment which brought my daughter’s ire — was that we needed somehow to bridge the divide in our nation. “Surely we can find some common ground with the people whose opinions differ from ours. That way we can build relationships which can lead to change.” Some in the room nodded their agreement. My firstborn was not one of them.
“Mom. I am not going to try to build a relationship with a misogynistic, xenophobic bigot. I’m just not.” She went on to articulate her well researched and fact-based opinion on issues surrounding the 2016 election. I disagreed with some of what she said, but I couldn’t fault her logic. She had done her homework and had fine-tuned her points.
“She’s right,” my dad added. “You cannot reason with a white supremacist. You cannot dialog with hate.” Back in the day, my father had tried and failed. He had learned that no matter how good your intentions, there are those with whom reconciliation is just about impossible.
Pause here for a second. You know how introverts are often assumed to be compliant and non-confrontational? Yeah, that’s a mistake. My youngest and most introverted child, an 18 year-old college freshman, is also my most strong willed child. So while she is the least talkative in our family, it’s not that she isn’t opinionated. It’s just that she thinks long and hard before speaking. Me, I figure things out by talking through them; she works this stuff out in her head. Anyway, it was at this point that she entered the conversation.
“Almost everyone I know at college voted differently than I did. Does that mean I can’t be friends with them? Does that mean I have to hate them?” An environmental sciences major, she has had conversations with people about policies that directly affect her future career prospects. “They may not care about the environment, but they care about me, so they listen.”
Around that time, my youngest niece, a senior in high school, said, “Wow! I have learned so much listening to this conversation!” Others agreed. And soon enough we moved on — to Christmas goodies, funny videos or card games.
No one got angry. No one left hurt. We discussed a controversial topic on which our opinions diverged, and left not one blood stain on the carpet.
Of course, we could do that in part because we love each other completely and without reserve. Which just makes me wonder, is love the answer after all? I know, I know. Some people will not accept it. But what about all of those who will? What if we tried getting to know some of those people? And what if we loved them as Christ loves us?
It won’t be easy. In fact, it may be close to impossible and we definitely won’t be welcomed into every heart and mind. There will certainly be those whose hate is too consuming to transcend. But even they were made in God’s image.
So as I enter 2017, I aim to make some new friends: people who are different from me; but who, like me, are created just a little less than divine.