I’m That Trump Voter You Hate by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir


There are people in my family who believe Christianity to be so inherently oppressive and harmful, that anyone who identifies as Christian is culpable for all of the harm done by all imperial colonization by Christian empires and nations, all harm done to Native Americans, to LGBTQ people, most slavery, racism, genocide, ecocide, and basically almost every problem the world has had for 2000 years.

Theirs is not an unusual view. I encounter this view regularly here in the Northeast US, though most people assign the blame to religion in general. For parts of my family, Christianity is the true evil because it was so popular, and thus the religion most commonly tied to violent and oppressive political leaders and structures.

I also encounter this attitude from feminists, quite frequently. According to many feminists, I am everything that is anti-feminist and misogynist… precisely, solely because I am Christian.

A few years ago, one family member directly compared me with a Trump supporter. He was explaining that he had found a way to tolerate my presence at family gatherings by consulting with Native American friends about how they tolerated family members who were Trump supporters. “Don’t poke at it all the time,” they told him. “You don’t have to hash out all your differences at every holiday dinner.” So he decided to follow their advice and try to coexist peacefully with me… me, the deplorable, Trump-supporter equivalent.

I was glad for the truce. However, it really got me thinking about Trump supporters.  It gave me wonderful, important work to do, to wrestle with being categorized as the moral equivalent of Trump supporters. The work started with feeling personally hurt. Why would he, someone who knows me so well, knows so much about my lifelong work as a peacebuilder and prophet for justice, insult me this way? But hurt feelings can be such beautiful teachers if we let them. I prayed about it, and I thought and meditated about Jesus… I remembered Mark 6:4 saying, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”(NRSV) And I thought about how Jesus was the leader of a religious reform movement, as are all prophets, and how some people surely thought he went too far with his constant criticism of the greedy temple leaders in collusion with oppressive government, while others surely felt disgusted that he didn’t go far enough, that he should start his own faith community instead of maintaining any ties with such a hopelessly corrupt religion.

I came to realize that this wrestling is exactly the work every human must do, to heal our basic, core fears that we are not good enough, not competent enough, not worthy enough of respect.[1] When he equated me with Trump supporters, it felt like a rejection and maligning of my core worth as a human. And that – THAT was the true source of my pain: the feeling that I am inherently bad, incompetent, and deserving of contempt – that feeling, that uncomfortable, painful feeling, was a beautiful, precious teacher.

So I sat with that feeling, and I thought more about Jesus, and about the clergy stretching back generations in my family, back to Cornwall, back to a Celtic blending of Druidry and Christianity, back to Wesley, who rejected punitive shaming and defined sin as woundedness and Grace as healing, back to popular, joyfully wise Pelagius, whose Celtic faith was so mystical, so opposed to the rigid, sexist, fearful dogmatism of Augustine, that power-hungry leaders rejected him as a heretic. Sixteen hundred years ago, Pelagius writes,

Look at the animals roaming the forest: The Divine Spirit dwells within them. Look at the birds flying across the sky: The Divine Spirit dwells within them. Look at the tiny insects crawling in the grass: The Divine Spirit dwells within them. Look at the fish in the river and sea: The Divine Spirit dwells within them. There is no creature on earth in whom The Divine is absent… When Our Maker pronounced that Creation was good, it was not only that her breath had brought every creature to life. Look too at the great trees of the forest; look at the wild flowers and the grass in the fields; look even at your crops. The Divine Spirit is present within all plants as well. The presence of The Divine Spirit in all living things is what makes them beautiful; and if we look with her eyes, nothing on the earth is ugly.[2]

As usual, when life handed me pain and fear, my faith tradition gave me a place to lay my weary head. I found peace in Pelagius’s words… Goddess dwells within me, and I am not ugly, I am beautiful. As beautiful as the birds, and the great trees of the forest, as the wild flowers and the sea. …And… the crawling insects. Hm.

As usual, when I found a place of peace and healing, my faith tradition gave me more work to do. My faith was telling me that I am as beautiful as…. a Trump supporter. Wow. Wow.

I thought about Jesus some more. I thought about how Jesus treated people that other folks held in contempt. Women. Children. The adulteress. The rich man who wouldn’t give his wealth to the poor. The tax collectors— a modern equivalent might be ICE officers, or detention center guards, or sleazy corporate lawyers. Jesus condemned corrupt leaders, and he got angry sometimes on behalf of people who were being oppressed and cheated right before his eyes. But as a rule, the stories of my tradition show Jesus treating the deplorables with honest compassion. Jesus wasn’t into “call out culture,” which can so often arise from our ego-based need to prove that we deserve respect. Instead, Jesus chose “mentor culture.”

As a woman, I find it painful to think about Trump supporters. Trump is such an unrepentant misogynist and sexual criminal, that I want to retreat to a place of self-righteous contempt and insist that other people—allies, men— do all the hard work of treating Trump supporters like human beings. I realize, rationally, that contempt never inspires anyone to learn, grow, and make better choices. If the people who voted for Trump are ever going to change their thinking, that will require mentor culture, not contempt. If we want to fix the misogyny and racism and violence— and have any prayer of saving our planet— that will require putting aside our need for self-righteous dismissal of others. But it’s sooooo painful as a woman, as a rape survivor, to imagine how any decent human could support such a violent misogynist. Then I think about Pelagius, and Jesus, and I realize that I can’t have it both ways. If I am beautiful, they are beautiful. If they are ugly, then I must be ugly, too. After all, plenty of people can’t imagine how I can be considered a decent human, and they struggle to treat me with decency… because I am Christian.

And that’s the central work for all humans: realizing that we are each, to someone, a deplorable. It may feel satisfying to our core fears, if we reject and snidely mock other deplorables, rather than focusing our critique on the actual issues at hand (racism, misogyny, colonialism, ecocide, etc). But if they deserve contempt, then we deserve contempt, too. That Golden Rule… gets me, every blessed time. Maybe that’s why all religions have some version of it: because, while impeccably simple, it is the hardest work in life. So… even if neither of us would ever vote for Trump, …I say this to you. From one deplorable to another: We are beautiful. We are Divine. We are worthy of love. Let’s reject shame. Let’s find healing. Together.

 

Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.

 

[1] For more on these three core fears, see Difficult Conversations: How to discuss what matters most, by Douglas Patton, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen (Penguin Books, 2010).

[2] –The Letters of Pelagius 71, (Ed. Robert Van De Weyer. Turtleback Books, 1997.) revised to make the language inclusive/female



Categories: Abuse of Power, Breaking News, Christianity, Family, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, Peacemaking, Politics, Relationships

Tags: , , , , ,

27 replies

  1. You refer above to Jesus as fighting against a “hopelessly corrupt RELIGION”. In fact, it was that very religion he was fighting FOR – against a corrupt PRIESTHOOD put in office at the direction of Judea’s Roman conquerors.
    Nothing Jesus is quoted as having said is not paralleled in either the Hebrew bible or in Rabbinic sources of the period. He seems to have differed from the Pharisees in his strategy and tactics – not his beliefs. They were prepared to work within the system and he was not. In our era you might compare it to the radical left scorning mainstream Democrats as hypocrites (why even waste words on the un-reconstructable Fox news Republicans. Christianity, to which I presume you refer, is product of his disciples – which does not diminish its tremendous value and accomplishments.
    Your comment above is an insidious, albeit unintended, back door attack on the legitimacy of Judaism. Frankly, as a Jew, I resent it. Misrepresentations like this provide an opportunity for the misuse of religion by the evil and powerful among us that you rightly castigate earlier in your essay. Please review the facts and clarify your remarks. Thank you.

    Like

    • Dear Steven,
      I am so sorry you heard my statement as me saying that Jesus was fighting against a hopelessly corrupt religion. That is not what I was saying at all. I was saying that there would have been people in Jesus’ time who believed that the Judaism Jesus was critiquing was hopelessly corrupt, and so he should start his own religion rather than trying to reform Judaism. I agree with you completely – Jesus had no intention of leaving Judaism or condemning Judaism at all. He was condemning only a certain group of corrupt leaders who were colluding with imperial domination systems. He was prepared to work within the system of Judaism, though not the system of imperial domination. I was trying to point out that just as some people believe Christian reformers (such as myself) are wrong to stay within Christianity because Christianity is hopelessly corrupt, all religious reformers (and even secular reformers) have experienced some people feeling the same way about what they are doing. My comment was meant as the counterpart to the previous comment, in which some people would have thought Jesus went too far, just as some people believe I go too far – because of my feminism or some other reason – while some people would have thought he did not go far enough, such as my family members who think I should leave christianity in order to have integrity, because no one can be Christian and be an ethical person. Maybe no one ever thought that about Jesus… after all, in those days, religion was not seen as a separate sphere of life the way it is now, in which people just opt out of the faith tradition they grew up in, and choose no faith or a different faith, etc. Back then, faith tradition was more a seamless aspect of culture and reality. But either way, Mark has Jesus implying that his family and hometown friends criticize him and think he is dishonorable. And we also read about some of his disciples criticizing him for letting Mary pour costly ointment on his feet. So he surely had to put up with the same sorts of constant criticisms of every prophet and reformer, from Moses right on down the line, and it comforts me to think that prophets and reformers for thousands of years, from many faith traditions, have had friends and family who denounced them with the kind of contempt I have received. Painful as it is, it comforts me… to think that Jesus saw the beauty and precious worth of Judaism, just as I see the beauty and precious worth of Christianity, despite what some of our contemporaries may say.

      Like

      • Why did you vote for him? People of color are not only meant to carry the burden of racist policies, hateful words, endure caged babies, but are also obligated to mentor and teach the very people that are hurting them NOW? What do you think they have been trying to do for a couple of centuries?

        Like

  2. Thanks for writing this post. You make some excellent points, like we need to “put aside our need for self-righteous dismissal of others.” I’ve been saying for years and years that so-called followers of Jesus the teacher should read, read again, and pay attention to the Sermon on the Mount. I bet Trump and Pence never heard of that sermon. Alas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barbara,
      Your reference to the Sermon on the Mount is well taken. Sadly, while Trump likely has not read it, Pence certainly has – and seems determined not to Open his heart & understand it.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Steven, I believe that neither Pence nor the various fundies who preach and act against practically everyone who doesn’t share their narrow and corrupted views of just about everything have paid the slightest attention to anything Jesus said. They’re all following the nasty, misogynist views of that nasty old man Paul/Saul and the equally nasty old OT prophets. The Christian church may have sponsored some fabulous art back in the medieval and renaissance periods, but today it…well…needs a new reformation and some serious cleansing. Which, no matter that Pope Francis asked the people to pray for him, ain’t gonna happen. Catholic and Protestant–all those men are just too happy with their power and position. And (often) wealth.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, Barbara. It is always deeply frustrating when a religion or secular ideology becomes wedded to domination systems, such as the Right Wing in the USA, or Secularism in Turkey, or Communism under Stalin, or Buddhism in Myanmar, etc. To me, it just shows that humans are always prone to seeking power over others, regardless of what framework we use in our attempts to build healthy communities. The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are full of stories of people who tried very, very hard to build healthy communities – and got some things right, and failed, and tried again, and got some things right, and failed spectacularly, and kept trying. I have deep love for the Bible, because in all its messy, flawed, authenticity, it reflects the messy, flawed truth of humans, including me, and if I can love the deeply imperfect people/writers in the Bible, then I can love myself, too. And, I hope, continue to strive and grow, along with reformers of every kind, who want to build a kindred community of JustPeace for all Creation. Peace to you. <3

          Liked by 1 person

          • I wouldn’t call them an attempt to create ‘healthy’ communities. It’s an attempt to control people who don’t fit in with others’ ideas of what things ‘should’ be like based on fear and ignorance.

            Like

          • Chris Lynne perhaps you see every community in history as inherently oppressive? From a social science point of view, communities always try to come up with ways to make meaning and understand what is right and wrong. These ideas become expressed in lived behaviors, gatherings, rituals, words, agreements, and structures. Every indigenous community has this sort of attempt to guide and nurture goodness in community, and so do large and industrial societies. In every case, aspects of human nature intrude and cause violence and oppression in various ways. When power imbalance grows, do does oppression and violence. So communities fail to achieve their goals and ideals. All communities. Just like all people fail to achieve their highest selves sometimes. But we keep trying. All of ethics is the study of the difference between “what is” and “what should be” – and how we define those ideas, etc. It’s important and challenging work, always.

            Like

          • Hi Trewlaney, As I said earlier, I enjoyed this piece. However, in this comment you overgeneralize. Humans are not “ALWAYS prone to seeking power over others, regardless of what framework we use in our attempts to build healthy communities.” As Rodgers and Hammerstein put in _The Sound of Music_, “you have to be carefully taught…” to be racist, sexist, etc. And there are still many matriarchal communities, where the teaching is the opposite, and as a result, they have a much better balance of power, the Mosua of China, the Minangkabau on Sumatra, the Ainu of Japan, the Hopi here in there U.S, and many others. We also know from our own history that there were egalitarian societies in Old Europe, for instance (see Marija Gimbutas).The modern-day matriarchal societies have created egalitarian structures based on a gift economy, the values of “motherhood,” consensus decision-making, and an undergirding value of the common good. When we overgeneralize like this, it leads to pessimism and even cynicism. We can and must teach our children and ourselves better ways to live, and history and anthropology show us that we can.

            Like

          • Nancy, yes, I did not mean to imply that ideas do not matter. Ideas certainly do matter. Some ideas have more potential to help human individuals and communities find JustPeace than others. I agree with you – egalitarian ideas are very important! Thus, the importance of feminism! What I meant to say is – no matter how good the ideas are, someone, somewhere, will find a way to use them that ends up causing power imbalance, harm, violence, and oppression. So for example, within feminism, we find individuals and communities who end up harming others and behaving with cultural, structural, and direct violence. Certainly there are differences in the levels of violence in different communities, and certainly those differences have to do with the ideas they promote. But there is no magic formula of ideas that will always, everywhere translate into a nonviolent, perfect community. Because humans are just humans, and as wonderful as we are, we will never create the magic formula that inoculates our communities against ever having problems. I’ve seen so many beautiful efforts by brilliant people – people who foreswore religion or christianity or conservatism or whatnot – to create community “the right way” without any of those “bad, violent doctrines” etc. And they eventually end or divide or go through big changes, because the problems that arise are the same problems we always see in all churches, families, schools, offices, hiking clubs, etc… the struggles of being human together in community. So yes, by all means, we must find the best ideas we can find, from within or outside our traditions, whichever we prefer. And we must not complacently think that those ideas will inoculate us against conflict, power imbalance, or violence of various kinds. I was part of a beautiful, beautiful egalitarian community for years. And a passionately justice-oriented person destroyed it with zealous commitment to getting everyone to do justice the way s/he wanted. I’ve seen it over and over. The problem isn’t that Jesus, or Buddha, or Moses, or Muhammad, or Marx just had terrible ideas. The problem is that some of their ideas were so good that they were incredibly popular. And there will always be some people in every community who DO want power over others, and who try to figure out how to get it, even if they think they are doing it for the “greater good.” There will always be fear, and there will always be people who are good at manipulating fearful people by manipulating the idea systems they use. That doesn’t mean we should give up!! On the contrary… it means we must accept that this is our most central human task, and never stop trying to understand and improve our ability to heal fear and nourish peace. I certainly don’t encourage fatalistic pessimism. I just don’t want to see people hurt because every time they think they’ve found the “one perfect community” it turns out to be full of imperfect humans doing the things humans always do. It’s like thinking that if you find the right marriage partner, there magically won’t be any work to do. Communities take work, a combination of healthy ideas and healthy structures/systems, and a continual willingness to do the emotional labor of maintaining wellness.

            Like

  3. Love me some Pelagius. Beautiful quotation. I am a pagan who still talks and listens to Jesus, though i can’t call myself a Christian as I am not part of any Christian faith community. I was raised on the Sermon on the Mount and on the passage in Matthew which requires us to see everyone (and I would say everything) as Christ. I was naked and ye clothed me…I sometimes say to Jesus in exasperation, “you love him/her whoever it is I am having difficulty with. I am not up to it today.” I do pray, often by name, including Trump’s, for people in positions of power to make and enforce policy. I pray for their hearts to open, and I have to open my own heart to do it. It ain’t easy. Christians historically and as a group are responsible for a lot of heinous things, so I understand why people recoil sometimes, though I am still and always moved by people who live by those tough gospel truths. I will confess that I am relieved that you did not vote for Trump. I honor you as a follower of Jesus.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thanks, Elizabeth, for reminding me of my need to pray for Trum’s heart to open, however ugly he feels to me. It was much easier when it was George W. Bush, who seemed to be at least a real Christian, who possibly was a front for others, who manipulated him.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Elizabeth and Nancy. Elizabeth, just as plenty of feminists say I can’t call myself feminist because I am Christian, plenty of Christians say I can’t call myself Christian because I am – for example – so feminist. I have stopped allowing anyone to tell me what I can or can’t call myself. So far as I’m concerned, that’s up to me. I did used to call myself Christo-pagan, but I found such repeated, violent rejection from pagan communities (because I am Christian), that I eventually gave up. I believe that my heart is really with the pre-Roman, pre-Norman Celtic Christian approach of my ancestral peoples, which did preserve much of British paganism. For example, in my ancestral home Cornwall, people celebrated Easter in the beginning of May, as the turning of the Celtic year to the beginning of the light half of the year. Even after the Celts were forced to submit to the centralized, hierarchical, punitive Roman Christian system, they held on to a lot of their pagan and Celtic ways of thinking – even Karl Barth dismissed Britain as hopelessly Pelagian. John Wesley, founder of Methodism, loved Pelagius. My Cornish grandfather (a Methodist minister) identified as both Christian and Druid.
        I really admire you for your prayers. I have prayed for Trump, and Bush, and the 9/11 suicide bombers, and other people I view as deeply broken and terrifyingly harmful. I can do it. But it is hard work. My daughters are better at it than I am. Maybe as children, they see these things more clearly. Most of my praying nowadays involves very few words and involves trees and/or my ancestors altar. Or singing/chanting. I honor you both in your integrity as weavers of the world you want to see. <3

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Trelawney, I honor your personal courage in facing up to the people who would judge you negatively for being who you are.

    And this an excellent reminder of how important it is not to be judgemental. In the tradition I studied we worked to have what we called “baby eyes.” That is looking at the world, other people, ourselves as a baby would with that look of wonder and joy in their eyes.

    Thank you for writing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Judith. I love your idea of “baby eyes.” I think about that sometimes – one of my colleagues, an Episcopalian priest and professor, asks, “How did this person’s community let h/er down, before s/he let h/er community down?” People do not grow up in a vacuum. We do have responsibility, yes, but I have no idea what I would be like as a person had I been raised the way Trump (or his supporters) was raised. I might be even more harmful. I’ll never know. When my oldest daughter was three, she used to read a children’s book about the Christmas story, that mentioned King Herod and how he wanted to hurt baby Jesus because he was afraid Jesus would be king instead of him. She used to hug the picture of Herod and talk soothingly to it, and comfort Herod, and tell him he didn’t have to be afraid, and then say, “There, now King Herod won’t try to hurt baby Jesus.” I wonder sometimes if it really is that simple. Maybe if we all actually got the healing we needed for our hurts and wounds, we would stop hurting each other. That would be wonder and joy, indeed. <3

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ugh, Janet, I apologize for accidentally writing Judith, I know who you are!! I’m sorry for the typo. <3

      Like

  5. Wonderful post, Trelawney. I would have to disagree, however, that everyone has “basic, core fears that we are not good enough, not competent enough, not worthy enough of respect.” I believe those fears are culturally conditioned, and that in our Christo-centric society, the basis for them is “original sin.” This is, of course, compounded by patriarchy for women, who are told from the moment they are born that they are not as good, competent, or worthy of respect as men are. Pelagius is a good counter to Augustine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very interesting point, Nancy. Original sin hasn’t been a widespread or popular belief for very long in human history, and the social science behind the theory of these fears is one that has been used in conflict resolution circles around the world in various cultures, with various belief systems. But I certainly agree with you about the damage done by the doctrine of original sin, and other such violent doctrines. And yes, Augustine was terrified by Pelagius, which makes sense… Augustine’s terror became the lynchpin for the violent and oppressive dogmas of church hierarchies for a very long time… I remember one famous ethicist saying that the church has been living in the shadow of Augustine’s erection for 1600 years… and if anyone has an erection for that long, he should really go see his doctor!

      Like

  6. Wouldn’t it be so easy, if the problem were Christianity? Or Trump? Or “religion”? Or men? Etc. It would be so tidy. Thank you for drawing out some of the complexity and hypocrisy… when we try to label one group or religion as ‘the villain,’ we get to pat ourselves on the back for being in the ‘right team.’

    I am also reminded of The Help, when Aibileen tells the little girl she takes care of every day, ‘you is good, you is kind, you is important.’ Everyone needs to believe this, not because we are on the ‘right team,’ but because it’s inherently true regardless of anything else. Whatever helps us understand it, helps us move away from demonizing others – or even having ‘others.’ Maybe it’s different for different people; I think the Creation is a wonderful mentor with which to do this work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Tallessyn… yes, it seems to me that humanity has this fundamental internal flaw of ingroup, which is – of course – the same as its fundamental internal strength of community – but somehow, when we get our self-worth from our group identities, we become violent. I had forgotten that part in The Help, so poignant. I agree… if we believed that were inherently true, we wouldn’t demonize others or other anyone. I’d love to see you write about how the Creation mentors us this way. <3

      Like

  7. Love the quote from Pelagius. Studying him in grad school in history of doctrine class, I learned only that he was wrong wrong wrong. I recall liking some of his words, but of course never studied him again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • From what I read, Britain and Ireland never stopped being pretty Pelagian, especially the Celtic areas, despite Southern European elite folks insisting he was wrong wrong wrong. Hildegard of Bingen sounds a lot like this, too. Certainly we weren’t taught much about him in seminary (or about Hildegard, for that matter), and my professor did him terrible disservice, I think. Unfortunately, not much of his written work survives. But as I say, his ideas survive, their influence survives, and to me, studying him has been very nourishing. I am going to try to translate the above quote into Cornish, I think… from what I can gather, he might originally have been from the area between Cornwall and Wales, which was all one Celtic identity group and shared language back then. So even though he wrote this in Latin, I like to think of him speaking about it in something similar to Cornish, 1600 years ago. I think Cornish will capture the essence of this idea better than Latin, anyway, personally.

      Like

  8. I totally understand your difficulty in calling yourself “Christian”. I am a student of “A Course In Miracles” and it has changed my life. And in the books, while it is not explicit, it does appear that the author is Jesus. And so, to follow the teachings of those books, that would surely make me a “Christian”. But most Christians seem to condemn the book as being a heresy, bordering on the occult. Moreover, for me to identify myself as Christian seems very uncomfortable, as it would seemingly identify me with doctrines which I consider extremely dangerous, and, in fact, completely antithetical to everything that Jesus of Nazareth taught.
    But thank you for the quotes from Pelagius. I had heard of him but was not familiar with his writings. Now I feel that I need to find out a lot more about him, because I certainly identify with the pieces you quoted!

    Like

Trackbacks

  1. A Conservative In Hiding

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: