Several weeks ago, I had the displeasure of being publicly screamed at by the crossing guard at my kids' school. She stopped traffic, came to my window, and informed me that she was going to take down my tag number and report me if I kept going when she told me not to. To this day, I maintain my innocence. I blame the woman in the neighborhood across from mine who drives an identical van. But even if she was right, the way she handled the situation was a disaster. I was in shock. I came home angry, and stayed angry. But thankfully the Lord worked on my heart to show me that I had no idea what was going on in this lady's life. I don't know why she yelled, but I'm sure that's an incredibly stressful job and she's doing the best she can to keep things moving along.
I had no intention of telling my children about the incident, but one day an opportunity arose in which I thought it might be helpful. I explained to my 9-year-old daughter that sometimes our handling of a situation is not that helpful, even if we're right. If the guard had simply explained the problem and asked me to do something different, I would have been happy to. Well, as it goes with kids, rather than understanding my point, my daughter immediately took up an offense against the crossing guard. For several days as we drove to school, she let me know just what she thought about this woman. I tried to explain that we don't know what's going on in other people's lives, that we have no clue what was happening in her life the day she yelled at me, or why she did it the way she did.
I was reminded of this incident a couple of days ago when I re-listened to David Bazan's "Big Trucks." The song is the story of a son who hates that his dad let someone treat him badly--he wants the dad to get revenge. The father tries to use an analogy to explain that most people are just doing the best they can, and we should show a little mercy.
But kids, and frequently adults, aren't known for empathy and understanding. Several months ago, we met my in-laws in Atlanta for a couple of nights. They took my kids down to breakfast at the hotel, and while sitting at the table watching the news, Donald Trump appeared on the TV. My 5-year-old son immediately, and quite loudly, proclaimed, "Ugh, Donald Trump is the WORST! He hates black people!"
Now, he has never heard his parents say anything that extreme. We talk about current events and the candidates and their positions on things. But what I said in nuanced moderation, he naturally took to the extreme. Kids don't do nuance. They make assumptions and run with them.
But I didn't realize how many assumptions I was making about people until recently. Through conversation with people in different communities, from different backgrounds, and from listening to things like this podcast (with my old friend and professor, John Stonestreet), I've been convicted about my own attitude toward those who might vote differently than I do. With the election just a week away, like many others, I'm concerned for the American church. How do we move past the results of this election, the rhetoric and arguments of the past year, and seek unity and peace together?
My own heart has changed as I've been able to understand some of the reasons why people are making these decisions. I don't know too many people who are avidly pro-Clinton or pro-Trump. I do think there are Christian leaders who have compromised on both sides, taking those who listen to them from a place of, "He or she is not a great person, but it's our best option," to "He or she really isn't that bad," to "This is the only choice true Christians should make." This is absurd, and demonstrates how readily we see what we want to see, which is a big part of the issue. I assumed that everyone was reading and hearing the same things I was. But in reality, there's a huge divide here. Clinton supporters are reading about how terrible Trump is, and Trump supporters are reading about how terrible Clinton is.
But where one person might say, "How can you vote for Clinton when she's corrupt and so adamantly pro-abortion?," someone might answer, "That's just the conservative media spinning it that way. And at least she cares about all of life. Conservatives only care about unborn babies." And where another person might ask, "How can you vote for Trump when he's so anti-women, immigrants, Latinos, and African Americans?," they might hear in response, "That's all spin from the left-wing, main stream media. Have you seen how many women, immigrants, Latinos, and African Americans support him?"
We're all in a vacuum. So we have to step out of it. I can't allow myself to assume that someone who votes for Clinton is doing so because she supports abortion. Neither can I allow myself to assume that a Trump voter is racist. By and large, I think we're each doing the best we can. We shouldn't make excuses for these candidates' wrongdoing, but we also can't accuse and blame one another for making a different choice. Again, I think there's a different category of accountability for those leaders who have explained away terrible behavior and have proclaimed their candidate of choice the only person for whom Christians should vote. But most people aren't in that boat. Fellow church members, family, friends--perhaps they're voting for Trump because they just really hate abortion and can't bring themselves to allow Clinton into office. Perhaps they work with immigrants and can't fathom voting for Trump, who has spewed hateful rhetoric about immigrants and other people groups. Or perhaps they can't bring themselves to vote for either one, and instead vote for a third party candidate like Evan McMullin. Yes, the election has brought out some of the problems with racism and hatred in our country. And yes, those must be dealt with. But things will only change when we start loving one another and stop talking past each other.
In Ephesians 4:1-7, Paul writes,
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.
This "bearing with one another" is not just tolerance. It says, "bearing with one another in love." Paul talks about "humility" and "gentleness" and "patience." He says we're to be "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." I'll admit this hasn't characterized my attitude during much of this election season. But I'm praying for the church, starting with my sinful, prideful heart, during the coming week. May we all seek to understand and extend grace, setting aside arguments and blame in order to seek the greater Kingdom.
What if instead of arguing, we spend the coming days praying for the candidates, for the church, and for our own hearts?
For more about showing grace during the election, see this short post from my dad, written for his church.
For more about choosing love over fear, see this post by my friend, Trillia Newbell.