I finally realized Passion week is forcing me to come to confront the idea of Judas as betrayer. See, I realized that I understand the challenges between Jesus and Judas much better since November 8, 2016. I don’t pretend to be Jesus. But it certainly feels like way too many of my peops became Judas on November 8, 2016, when they voted for the current head of the US executive branch. I know I’m not alone in still struggling with the results of that felt moral betrayal and its results for my relationships.
This article (which follows up from two other Lent-inspired ones, here and here) will delve into the reasons I’ve loved and trusted my people (who are from a moderate denomination on the “liberal” edge of White Evangelicalism); how some of my people have made decisions in that election and since that have damaged my relationships with them; and the strengths and limits to having these communication scholarship resources of my PhD in Communication in such situations.
Okay, so Let’s Dive In.
If you’ve been following this blog, you know I’ve been speaking to a lot of the negative parts of where I’ve come from lately.
So let me help you understand that I come from an amazing people.
A delightfully stubborn people.
They Taught Me about Ethics, and Standing Up!
My people taught me the stories of people who like Corrie Ten Boom—who was a little over-the-top on some of her religious views, if I remember correctly from visiting her abode when I was once in Amsterdam—but took the extreme risk of hiding Jews in her house.
My people taught me the stories of the Underground Railroad and Harriet Tubman.
My people led me into nuanced discussions of ethics that made me wonder whether I would have the courage to do the same. They called me to do so, but gave me space to decide on my own.
(Have I mentioned I love my people?)
They Taught Me about Social Justice Concerns
They are a people who taught me that we ought to consider ourselves pilgrims on this land. To consider ourselves Christians first—and to live that out really seriously—and Americans second.
A people who were thoughtful enough to set up a whole denominational office to reconsider that kind of “pilgrims on that land” statement and the negative valences of it in light of questions of social justice, which they very much see as a Christian concept.
These are people who, when they do humanitarian work, are very careful to be transparent about it, show respect, and look toward sustainability as they do.
I appreciate all of this so much. They have their flaws, but all of what I’ve just said and more has deeply endeared me to my people. And has created my sense of self and of faith and of living in the world in so many ways.
Why Being from a “Moderate Denomination” Is Tough These Days
Since this past election, though, I’ll be honest: since I come from a moderate denomination, I’ve seen families—including my own—split in two. And all of it hurts like hell.
My half-joke during the last election was that I would vote for anyone else other than the current head of the US administration because I was a single-issue voter, and that issue was not opening the seventh seal of the apocalypse.
I wasn’t really joking.
I very much voted my conscience when I filled in the bubbles down the blue column.
Perceiving Moral Betrayal
But I have people I previously respected, many of whom told me the above stories and helped socialize me into the above values, who voted for someone every fiber of my stubborn being, my being steeped in the above stories, believes is anathema to every one of the values I was raised with.
After everything I’ve told you so far, surely you can figure out how that feels like a moral betrayal.
People who raised me, who trained me in looking oh so carefully at the persuasion techniques of used car salesmen—they “held their noses” and voted for one. (Which would be a tiny bit less hurtful if they didn’t continue to defend their choice. But they do.)
People I deeply love and have always respected who seem to now espouse talking points that betray everything they taught me to love. Everything they continue to espouse.
People who educated me in words and words and studies of words and taught me to understand words and love words and play with words and encouraged me up to and including my PhD in Communication—these people keep telling me to discount the meanings of words.
“Well, the Tweeting’s not great,” they’ll say, lamely. “But…we don’t want socialism!”
The Relational Damage
People I know, who talk an awful lot about “unconditional love,” have been known to toss “devil term” talking points my way, sometimes barely realizing that they are talking about me, but casting people like me as the enemy to be fought at all costs. I draw attention to this when it happens, naturally, and draw a boundary. Usually they back off. Some of them apologize. But it doesn’t hurt the less.
(May I say, it’s way less painful when it comes from the trolls that pop by the Assertive Spirituality FB page and don’t actually know me? Sigh.)
Sometimes they don’t say it to me directly—they say it on their social media feeds. Or they stay silent enough that I just know. Some have melted out of contact. (I’ll admit—I’ve been keeping more distance too.)
The Human Cost of Our Current Leadership
So the point is that all of this hurts–and I’m not even in the groups that are affected by the policies and rhetoric of the current administration as directly. I know I have a lot of privilege.
Even with the privilege, though, this hurts me and my relationships with the community I grew up with. Often it also hurts them deeply.
None of it is okay or normal. Nor should it be. We are, after all, living in deeply unusually unhealthy times, and there’s only so much healthy people can safely ignore that.
What I’ve Been Able to Do
As those of you who follow here likely know, I teach interpersonal communication at the university level, with an emphasis on stress, trauma and conflict communication, and so I have a ton of tips and tricks I’ve been lobbing at the situation.
This knowledge helps me understand what’s going on, as I’ve been outlining during on this blog over the last year.
It helps me cope personally.
It gives me useful strategies to apply.
It means I understand what’s going on, at least in my intellect.
And don’t get me wrong: that helps tremendously.
I wouldn’t be trying to help others learn these things if it didn’t.
The Limits of These Skills
BUT—and this is so important—all of that knowledge and practice, while it helps, still doesn’t, and hasn’t, fully healed the relationships.
It helps me make stronger arguments countering the problem issues. And it has helped make a few of the relationships viable if we put up and maintain boundaries around certain subjects.
But it doesn’t actually heal the relational damage.
Where It’s Been the Hardest
It’s been hardest with those who insist that there is no conflict, or no good reason for conflict. That my concerns, and those of others being hurt by the rhetoric and policies of the current administration, are not valid enough to consider.
(Surely, the implication is, the problem must be me and “my people”–meaning the party whose policies line up the best with my view of Christian values? Surely WE’RE the ones who have drifted?)
These same people often insist that we should just “agree to disagree” on the things that matter to me while they continue to push their viewpoints on me, whether on these or other matters. (The topics of “theological accuracy” and personal morality are especially galling in this regard.)
The Need for Reciprocal Empathy
As I said, since I study stress, trauma, and conflict communication, I can see and understand the root issues in many cases.
I empathize fully—I’ve always empathized too much, in fact, and sometimes that’s been wittingly or unwittingly used against me (in seeming hopes that I would just be quieter about all of this stuff).
But that doesn’t erase the ongoing hurt or loss either. Nor does it mean I have to say what they’re doing is okay (which is of course what is implied).
See, empathy only really works if it’s reciprocal. And the relationships that are pulling through better than others are the ones where empathy was practiced on both sides.
Politics (and Theology) Were Always Personal
I know I’m not alone in any of this. And it’s important to note that was true before these extraordinary times. The stakes of policy, of politics, and of theology were ALWAYS personal, I can see now.
As I’ve discussed before, a big part of the systemic issues that have made all this possible was the lie that we can somehow disconnect ideas from bodies, words from their impacts on lives. And one of the strange blessings of this apocalyptic time is that that is made clear to so many. (As a reminder, the root meaning of the word apocalypse is “to make clear.”)
The Barriers of Denial
But yes, as T. S. Eliot said in the years leading up to WWII, “human kind / cannot bear very much reality.”
I know many of my people have turned away from the insights that have come with this apocalyptic time. Many of them, I think, simply cannot or will not face reality. It makes me incredibly sad some moments.
This Project Is Personal
So, yeah. This project I started (nearly a year ago!!! Look for an anniversary post soon!) is both public and intensely personal.
It’s not wholly or only personal, as I know lots of other people have different stories and experiences, and different problems, than I do. And the tools I have will hopefully serve them too. As they have for many of my students over the years with different situations.
But all the same, it’s key to note that this is one of many ways this project is deeply personal to me.
So yes, while this isn’t the only conflict I’ve been through, by any means, it’s not just a line on my about page and the pinned post over on the Facebook page: I’ve been through conflict. Some of it has been productive.
But this particular type of moral betrayal-based conflict? It sucks. I’m dealing with it as healthily as I can. There’s been some progress, in some areas. But this one is recalcitrant, it’s ongoing, and it just sucks.
Doing What I Can, Not Doing What I Can’t
In the midst of these circumstances, when I say on the posts on this site, and over on the FB page, that we can only do what we can, where we are, with what we’ve got, this is not a philosophy adopted or lived easily.
Here’s what I’ve learned, out of this situation—there’s only so much I can do to persuade my people. In most cases, I’ve done what I can. I peg away at that as I’m able. I grieve my oft-times inability to get through.
Putting My Efforts Toward the Persuadable
The bulk of my efforts, though? I started this project to put those into talking to those who are more likely to have ears to ear. And that’s one of the big reasons why I started this project.
Thanks so much for following along. I hope it helps. I know it helps me to have the rest of you.
How Can You Relate? What Are Your Stories?
I imagine many of you are in similar boats with difficult relationships from moral betrayal these days, and I hope you’ll stick around for more info on how to keep living our consciences the best we can in the midst of such difficult situations. I would love to hear what you might be willing to tell of your stories. Thanks so much for hanging around.
Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s keep doing what we can, and grieving what we cannot!
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