If you are a Trump supporter expecting a link to share in vindication, I’ve got nothing for you.
If you are like me — so irritated with the direction of our country that you spend most nights retweeting Rachel Maddow — you’ve come to the right place. That said, the road I’m about to take you down is one you’ll want boots for. You’ll probably feel defensive. You may even hit me in the comment section with reasons why some people are worth hating. I’m going to ask you to suspend your judgment until we are through, and if you still want to @ me by the end, please just spare my spouse and children.
The main point I’ve felt convicted of, is that you can hate an ideology but still extend mercy to an individual. As Christians, we’re called to this very thing. We should call out darkness and dispel injustice, but can’t we do that without letting hate pervade our hearts and thoughts?
When Trump was first elected, I took a deep breath and prayed for him. To be truthful, I didn’t mean it. I didn’t know how to pray for light and mercy toward someone who mocked the disabled, disparaged women, and was clearly trying to dehumanize people of color. I didn’t know how to pray for him because I didn’t want God to hear me. Then Charlottesville happened and my President said there were, “very fine people on both sides,” and I googled condos in Canada. I stopped praying for him. I stopped even going through the motions, and I was honest with God and myself that this was all just a bridge too far.
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I still don’t know how to pray for him and mean it. I don’t know how to love a person who propels an ideology I perceive to be the enemy. I know deep down in my soul that if Paul could pray for Nero, who was literally slaughtering Christians, I can pray for Trump. I just haven’t figured out how yet.
And so, what I am praying is that I can give him to God, and not let the toxic energy I spend on politics right now disconnect me from the love and peace I can feel in Christ. I don’t want to see people post pro Trump quotes and question how they even ended up on my friends’ list. Human beings are always more than the decisions they make, and we are all at different stages of a very complex journey. Jesus washed the feet of Judas, even after he had begun betraying Him. Christ takes grace seriously.
Here is the thing, nurture isn’t everything but it also isn’t nothing. If I was born in Syria, I’d probably be a Muslim. If I was born in India I’d probably be a Hindu. And apparently, if I was born in a Midwestern White evangelical Christian home, I may be a Trump supporter. I understand logically that so much of who we are and what we believe is based on the system and culture that helped shape us. I don’t think anyone is a blank slate, and I hate judging people for that reason. I’ve studied human behavior for over 13 years, and it opened my eyes to the fact that the world is 50 shades of grey. I can sit across a deadbeat dad who pissed his life away on drugs and alcohol and genuinely recognize the humanity in him. I can still see the guy who made the wrong choice at some point or took a wrong turn, and things spiraled. I have no problem extending grace to the broken, and yet I have deleted people from my timeline for posting a MAGA hat.
Why is it so easy for me to give grace to a drug addict when I can barely muster tolerance for Republicans? (In my defense, do you know how painful it is to hear a white man in a Trump t-shirt try to convince you that Obama was divisive without banging your head against a wall? The fact that there are still women who support him after hearing him talk brazenly about sexual assault on TAPE, makes me want to eat a Tide-pod.) It just feels like we are worlds apart. But I think that’s what Satan wants. He wants me to be so right that everyone I believe is wrong gets muted. In a world where no one ever listens to anyone, we all lose. Why can’t I challenge people while still wanting the best for them?
The apostle Stephen pleaded with God for mercy over the same people who are stoning him.
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs tells the story of James, the brother of Jesus, getting thrown off the roof of the temple. With the strength he has left, he makes his way to his knees, and prays for God to forgive his church-going persecutors. They stone him to death while he intercedes for them.
The book is filled with stories of men and women, literally shining in the glory of God, offering meals to their executioners before they burn them at the stake. If they can sincerely pray for their murderers, isn’t it a bit self-righteous of us to say we can’t even have a conversation with Kanye?
I know we are living in crucial times. A black man can be killed on camera in his own yard, and the very same people you sit with at church will tell you he should have put his hands up. The Jesus we all pray to was a LITERAL refugee, and yet the latest study just showed evangelical Christians were the least likely group of ANY in America to feel a need to provide asylum for people in countries ravished by war. I get that you’re angry, but I think we have to be conscious of what we do with that anger.
Jesus was angry with the church. He challenged it, He called them on their crap, He was bold in His conviction that it was service to others, not service to self, that the gospel needed. He took 30 years to preach the sermon on the mount, and in the very first line, He proclaims, “Blessed are the poor…”
At the cross they mocked Him. “If you are who you say you are, then come down. You saved others but you can’t save yourself?” They didn’t understand that because He was who He said He was, Jesus would never save Himself. Jesus never sacrificed others to save self, He always sacrificed self to save others. True Christianity requires us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. It’s not optional.
I used to get really offended when people, usually Republicans, told me I needed to pray for a man who I could never stand behind. When Senate Chaplain Barry Black genuinely prayed for Trump at the prayer breakfast, I felt like he was a traitor. I didn’t know how to extend mercy to someone I didn’t think deserved it. But as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have…decided to stick to love…hate is too great a burden to bear.”
When the apostle Stephen prayed for mercy toward his killers, God extended that prayer to a Pharisee named Saul, who approvingly watched the blood drain from Stephen’s body. Saul, who was later named Paul after an encounter with God, would become the greatest missionary the Christian church had ever seen. He converted more people than Christ’s original disciples. Saul the persecutor, became Paul the missionary. Christian comedian Mark Lowry said, “God spreads grace like a 4-year old spreads peanut butter. He gets it all over everything.”
So I’m truly trying to let God teach me how to love the people I don’t like. I need Him to show me how to believe in people who don’t believe in me. The grace that is available to me, has to be available to all of us. That’s the power of the gospel.
Hating Trump makes me a bad Christian. I don’t have to like him. But I want a heart that can pray for people that I don’t like, and actually mean it.
Heather Thompson Day is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Andrews University. She is the author of five Christian books, including Life After Eden, and writer for The Spilled Milk Club. Facebook her, or check her out on Twitter.