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