Lament, and then follow it
November 12, 2016
I read Jim Wallis’ response to Donald Trump’s election, calling for healing and resistance. I found it encouraging, and I appreciate his calls for practical solidarity and resistance. I hope it will find an audience, and in that spirit I wanted to take a look at what I think that might look like. I don’t have the same politics or theology that he has, even though there’s overlap.
So if you, as a white Christian, are sad or angry, a little or a lot, about Trump’s victory and its aftermath, that is a beginning, not an end. Don’t sugarcoat it. Lament. Then follow where the lamentation leads. It will lead, if you let it, to honesty and truth telling. You’ll be able to be honest about why our country is like that, and indeed the extent to which it has and has not always been like that. Our country is and has always been fiercely unwilling to do that kind of work, and most of us are individually unwilling as well. This moment presents an opportunity, perhaps, for people who wouldn’t normally do this work to engage it. The work is the same it has ever been.
But after you’ve honestly faced this moment, keep following that lament. Follow it more and figure out your own socialization in it. You and I have been socialized into American whiteness and it is destructive. It is destructive to everyone, including us. It is also the foundation of both of our political parties, and indeed our economic system. Follow it there as well, don’t just leave it at the foot of Trump. He’s not as much of an outlier as we want to think. That’s not to say that both parties are exactly the same, or that you should/shouldn’t engage in electoral politics as best you see fit, but understanding the underlying oppression of both and the powerlessness of centrism in this moment is part of the work that comes with figuring out this socialization. Centrism and unity without truth telling is not how we will get liberation. Our country is very good at asking for unity, but unity comes after reconciliation, and reconciliation doesn’t come without confession.
Keep following it. Follow it to your own complicity. Find out how you benefit, maybe unknowingly, from whiteness. Understand how it hurts people. Then figure out how it hurts you. Figure it how it divides you from other people and their struggles, and how it puts stupid expectations on you. Learn how your liberation is bound up with the liberation of others.
Decolonize your theology and your politics together. Figure out what it means when you say God is in control to people who are likely targets of injustice. Figure out how that theology is related to safety. Why it’s not the same theology Christians taught each other before Christendom when the empire gave them the power of the State. Why it shouldn’t be taught like that after Columbus and Jamestown and the slave markets and Wounded Knee and Auschwitz and Selma and Stonewall and Ferguson and Standing Rock.
Figure out what your role is if Trump, or his supporters, come for oppressed people. If his administration begins more mass deportations, what can you do to provide shelter and safety for immigrants and refugees? What can your church do? What are the implications of that work for you, or for your church’s tax-exempt status?
Follow that again, and figure out why, if applicable, you don’t know how many immigrants the Obama administration deported or detained or prevented from coming into the States without any requirement from Congress; how many were sent back to die before Trump. And indeed, follow that too and think about why they’re leaving their homes or sending their children on terrifying journeys. That is inextricably linked to our economic policies, including those of Democrats. Challenge that in yourself.
If Trump moves to deport or prevent Muslims from entering the country, the same things apply and the same critique of foreign policy arises. But what about Muslims who stay? What can you do when they are harassed? How can you stand with them so they can safely wear the hijab or go to their prayers or worship, or to school or on the bus? If the administration institutes registration of Muslims as it has indicated it wants to, will you register yourself on that list?
If Trump’s administration takes the United States out of the Paris climate agreement and appoints Palin or an oil executive as the Secretary of the Interior and you fear the destruction of the earth, follow that. Figure out who is trying to protect the land you live on and why. Are they Natives? If they are, what is their story? If they aren’t, are there Natives? If not, where did they go? What is Native resistance today like and how can you support it, and how can that affect your own life? What don’t you know about the Standing Rock water protectors? Why do you live on the land you live on? Who is displaced because you live there and how can you engage in an honest look at how you benefit from that, and how can you respond to that?
If you are straight, consider that Trump and/or his Supreme Court appointees may move to repeal gay marriage. What will you do for the people it affects? How will you help them if they should lose their federal marriage benefits? What if people in Trump’s administration, such as Pence, should advocate for the use of conversion therapies, which are abusive?
Further, even if his administration is unable to take direct action, but general abuse against LGBT folk continues to rise (as it already has in the early days after the election), how will you stand with them? How will you work to increase safety from violence? Do you know that suicide hotlines have seen a spike in calls from LGBT folk since Trump’s election, even as the internet mocks the idea of tweeting the hotlines’ phone numbers as overdramatic? How does your straightness blind you to their plight? How can understanding their plight change your politics and your theology? It’s not a bad thing to change your theology based on other people’s suffering, even if you have done it before. That is built into the deepest roots of our faith.
If Giuliani is appointed Attorney General and moves to increase the militarization of police, the prison industrial complex, the impunity of police who kill unarmed, mentally ill people of color, mandatory minimum sentences and disenfranchisement, and the administration advocates the further stacking of courts and prosecutor offices around the country with people who will further these things, what will you do? Will you listen to the black voices who say this is America, and it is killing them? Will you investigate other ways that we could organize ourselves and keep each other safe as a society that do not rely on State violence, either at the end of a gun or in a cell? Will you, in the meantime, use your whiteness to keep people of color safe? What are the implications of that?
Get in the streets, for these things and more. Follow the leaders and organizers who have been doing this work. Learn from them. Do more stuff. Mess up and learn from it. Figure out where your liberation is in the work of resistance. Everyone’s liberation is in resistance, but it looks different for us as white people, or as straight people, or as cis people.
Follow that, and if you are comfortable being in the streets against Trump, figure out why you weren’t comfortable being in the streets after Mike Brown was killed. After the hundreds of other names since then. After Native folk were attacked with dogs. Is it because you didn’t know? If so, why didn’t you know? Is it because your circle, as most circles white people have, is too white? Try to divest your social life from whiteness as a homogenizing thing. Don’t expect people of color to listen to you at first, but listen to them. Don’t expect them to automatically accept you or want your opinions, but learn from them. There’s a power imbalance that has favored us for centuries, and that makes it hard for us to see at first, but sit with the implications of that. Be trustworthy. You don’t have to agree with everything that happens in movement circles, but nor do you have to have a say in it. Do you think you don’t know any LGBT people? Maybe that’s because they don’t feel safe telling you. Investigate why that is. If you do know them, do you know if they feel safe around you? Does your theology make them feel safe or unsafe? What are the implications of that?
All of this work is resistance to Trump as well as much bigger and older systems, and it can all start with real mourning and lament. Do that. Don’t hurry it. And then let it change your politics, including and beyond elections. It may or may not change who you vote for, but it will change how you vote. It will change how you view elected officials. It will change how you view the work of the State and your role in it. Let it do that. Let it change your theology and your reading of the Bible. Find God in all this. God takes sides. God has always taken sides for the marginalized and oppressed, and we are on God’s side when we do that. We find ourselves being changed when we do that. Converted. This is how the work of justice is part of the work God does.
As you do all of this, contemplate. Pray. Sing. Meditate. Fast (as in don’t eat). Contemplation can disrupt the thoughts of empire in your mind just as marching does in the streets. Find deep, abiding joy on the other side of lamentation. That kind of joy is part of resistance work as well. Shape your spirituality and your spiritual practices around hope for and pursuit of justice, not cheap optimism or cheap unity. It is a long march to freedom that never ends, but you can get free yourself, in many ways, as you march.
This work may or may not be costly. The United States is a long way away, maybe, from making it dangerous for white people to confront white supremacy. But it has been dangerous work in the past, and it may be again, even if it’s not under Trump. Even if it’s not, it can change the friends you have, the community you have, how you deal with people you know. I think this is worth it, as it always has been.
There’s a lot of talk in movement circles about how dealing with white supremacy is the job of white people, and it is. But we don’t have the ability to do that automatically. We’re not born with it; we’re born with the tools to propagate that supremacy. It comes with these kind of steps and more after, and these kind of steps can help us start to deal with it in ourselves and also, hopefully, help others see it in themselves.
I hope there may be some white Christians willing to lament right now, and maybe increasingly as they see the things a Trump administration may do. Not because these things are new, but because maybe there will be a different level of visibility. Too many others are telling the country to deal with it. To get over it. To go ahead and unify. No. That’s not how this works. That’s all we’ve ever done, but we’ve never gone through the necessary work. That’s an opportunity that is always available to us. Let’s not miss it.