For the Future of Our Nation, Have Coffee with Someone Who Causes You Outrage
Christians are not perfect. From Judas to pedophilic priests we continue to miss the mark. I grew up bouncing around various Evangelical communities, and attending a conservative Baptist high school, where I met some of the most remarkably compassionate and loving humans I have ever known. Many of my friends and peers from those communities voted for Trump and touted #HillaryForPrison stickers throughout the 2016 election season. I have thought long and hard of late about what the Word of God preaches and about how my peers voted. In the aftermath of the 2016 election, I continue to feel outrage.
As a first-year college student, I sat in the lounge of my dorm on election night. Some of my friends cried as the results came in. I opened up my computer and checked Facebook to see that my friends from a semester of high school I spent in Washington, D.C., where the average student falls in stark ideological contrast to my Baptist high school, were furious. From their colleges all over the nation, their posts were flying in: “F**k you if you voted for a third-party candidate,” or “Gary Johnson is an a**hole.” These were accompanied by mutters in the lounge from my peers of “F**k you if you didn’t vote.” It was interesting to me that no one had anything to say about the people who actually voted for Donald Trump.
I, like my peers, was furious, and over the last few weeks, I have found myself asking what I needed to do now. I attended a protest at Raleigh-Durham National Airport, and I wrote a letter to my senator. Meanwhile, many of my friends from that Baptist high school posted on Facebook in opposition to the #NotMyPresident movement and vocally affirmed Trump’s actions.
In retrospect, I watched these social media posts like a silent film, as images flying by me that I could only observe. Then, last week, as I absentmindedly scrolled through this dark silent film, one post caught my eye. One of my friends had shared a photo. This friend is remarkable. She spends every Saturday volunteering with kids, shines kindness on everyone she meets, and, if one were ever to run into her in a coffee shop, she would pull up a chair and ask with sincerity, “How is Jesus working in your life?”
The photo she shared featured a mass of people with the caption “Simple question: Would Islamic countries welcome millions of Christians?” My quiet outrage briefly turned to uncontrollable rage, and despite considering myself to be above Facebook arguments, I wrote out a response. I explained that all Islamic cultures are not the same, and that even if they were, the Christian obligation to help has nothing to do with whether or not Islamic nations would help us. I stared at my screen for a minute before deciding not to post my comment, deleting it because I did not write that post for a fair argument, or to change her mind. I wrote it to be right and to feel like I was right.
How, then, should we move forward? What can I do that is neither futile nor selfish? At the protest, I felt good, and chanting felt good. However, everyone there agreed with me. My friends from D.C. blame third-party voters because most of them do not even know any Trump supporters to blame.
There seem to be two Americas: the America of my friends from D.C. and that of my peers from the Baptist high school. I am in the unique position to have seen both sides and understand that neither is evil. My friends and mentors who support Trump believe their doing so is in line with God’s word, and that what they are doing is best for the world. Those who oppose Trump believe they are following a high moral calling and doing what is best for the world.
Therefore, allow me not to feel selfish outrage and hold hands, uniting in consensus and outrage for my own benefit. My newfound intention is to sit in coffee shops, classrooms, and church pews with people whose views make me want to shout, then curb my anger and talk to them. Let there be communication between us, not as emissaries of opposing factions, but as reasoning beings with innate desire to do good.
As I wrote the lengthy response to my friend’s Facebook post, I grounded it on Matthew 5:39:
“If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
My comment encouraged her not to treat people based on how they treated her, but rather to treat people based on how they ought to be treated as humans. I deleted the comment because I realized that, as much as she, I needed to take those words to heart. Just as she had failed to turn the other cheek to refugees, I had failed to turn to other cheek to her. I began to rethink my own involvement during this administration. I will not stop going to protests, or writing letters to senators, but I will also turn the other cheek and engage with those who cause me outrage. The centerpiece of the average Trump supporter’s belief is an inability to empathize deeply with the plight of others. I will engage genuinely and openly with those who make my face flush — and that will be my resistance.
My approach might sound wrong to some. It might not prevent a wall from going up along the southern border or stop climate change. But I hope that by following the calling that is true and right for me I can have an impact in the long run, even beyond these next four years. Instead of posting that contrarian Facebook comment, I implore myself, for the future of our nation and for all people, to take a Trump supporter to coffee.
This essay originally appeared on Bridging Divides: Negotiation, Mediation, Systems Design & Dialogue at the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program at Harvard Law School. It is reprinted here with permission.