• Tom Cleary

Never Give Up on The Other


A thread recently came across my personal timeline on social media. It was from a very angry individual, commenting on race relations. I am not here to claim her anger is illegitimate. Emotions themselves are neither good nor bad, they just are. It is how we regulate and respond to our emotions that is either good or bad. In any event, I have no direct knowledge of this individual’s experience and will not insult by claiming empathy where there is no knowledge.

The gist of this anger regarding the sorry state of race relations is that there is a system of white supremacy in this nation and that we need to tear down and rebuild these systems, as a part of all this, there is no need to engage Trump supporters because “Trump supporters are like flat-earthers” and “I don’t spend my time arguing with flat-earthers. You shouldn’t either”. So, the argument here is that Trump supporters are to be ignored because they are irredeemably racist. This apparently is axiomatic to this person because they voted for a racist, and further there is no need to attempt to persuade these people that a different path would be better and more just. Generally speaking, this is an attitude typical of both the right and the left.

Now, I think a strong case can be made for Trump being a racist as he has a long troubled history of race relations. Does it then follow that all those who are his supporters and who voted for him are racist as well? Let’s look at an opposing argument. Hillary Clinton is a war criminal (I’m not saying she’s a war criminal, she’s a war criminal), therefore all those who voted for her are also war criminals. Are there 62 million Trump voters who are racists? Are there 65 million Clinton voters who are war criminals?

Of course not. The reasons for why an individual will vote for one or another candidate in a binary system such as exists in the U.S. are many and varied. This is especially true when this system produces often (always?) unappealing candidates. The top reason for why a voter will vote for one candidate over another is that the one they vote for is not the other.

Aside from this obvious point there is a practical aspect to this line of thinking. If you take the view that this individual does, you will NEVER affect any change. How are you to move forward with change if you have consigned 62 million voters to irrelevancy and dismissively refuse to engage them in a dialogue. The reverse argument is just as true. For those conservatives who think all Clinton supporters and Democrats are intentionally trying to destroy civilization and should therefore be ignored, you will never make any progress either. If you think violent revolution is the answer to this conundrum, then be ready to kill millions and millions to get to your version of the “good society”. As if this path hasn’t been tried throughout all of human history and failed every single time.

All of this should augur for a position of working toward respectful dialogue, if only on pragmatic grounds. There is, however, for the faithful a much deeper reason that this should be our position. As followers of Christ, we should never, ever give up on the other. We are simply not allowed to walk away from proclaiming the Gospel and trying to reach others with the good news of God’s Grace and how we can best live into that grace in the here and now. Here, let me be clear; none of any of this means compromising on the theology or the radical mission of Jesus. Nor does it mean rejecting your sincerely held pragmatic beliefs for how to attain positive change

Of course, there were those who refused Jesus’ invitation to conversation and a relationship with Him. He respected that and never acted with violence toward anyone so inclined. However, the invitation was never withdrawn, and He never ceased to invite people into conversation and into relationship…ever. The thread I have mentioned here contains a particularly pernicious idea “the idea that if we can just change that one racist heart and mind we could change the world is an idea steeped in white supremacy”. If we, as Christians, do not believe that we can change someone’s heart then what in the fuck are we doing? Why bother with any of it if we embrace the deeply depressing idea that people cannot change. The very basis of our faith is that it WILL change us, that we are a new creation when we enter into a death like Christ’s and therefore enter into a resurrection like Christ’s.

How can we even look to the Scriptures and not be struck by those who have been radically changed by their embrace of Christ? Paul is the preeminent example. He went from vile persecutor to, outside of Jesus Himself, the greatest evangelist, and ultimately martyr. History is too full of examples to list of conversions that turned new believers completely around. All of this occurs precisely because someone, in answering God’s call, refused to give up on the other or to write them off as irredeemable. It all flows from the very Christlike notion that it is better to reach someone than to defeat them.

Some time ago I heard one of the best sermons I ever attended and flat out the best one ever on the Holy Trinity (a notoriously difficulty concept). In it the Pastor did not attempt to explain all the mechanics of three persons in one. It was not really relevant to discuss the how of the Trinity but she rather focused on the why of the Trinity. The Trinity reveals a manifestation of a God in relationship with Himself in order to show us the deep need to be a people in relationship with each other. To forget this amongst the understandable anger of the moment is to give Satan the victory before the contest even starts.

I have never ceased to be reminded of Jesus’ example of radical inclusion when I look upon the Cross and see that He died with His arms wide open. Nor have I ever forgotten that He never gave up on anyone, most amazingly, even from the Cross, when He forgave those who had nailed him to that Cross. Even to the very end of His earthly ministry He desired a relationship with ALL of us. To succumb to anger and break all bonds of fellowship with the Other is to turn our back on the Cross and the empty tomb that lays beyond it. So, how many times should we seek out the Other for dialogue and relationship? One more time than you think you should.

Praise Be to God

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