I live in the southeastern United States which, after the 2016 Presidential election, I have dubbed "The Red States of America." The electoral map had a big red mass in the lower right hand corner of the map. And that's where I live, move, and have my being.
Life here has been intense. As I noted in my prior entry ("Love, Now More than Ever") I have been on edge traveling through south and central Georgia. I have seen postings from people in the Peach State that have made my skin crawl. Pictures of pick up trucks touting Trump's win and what that will mean for "fat dykes." Stories of children worried that they or their families will be deported or "sent back to Africa." A barista shared with me that her boyfriend, who looks like a typical southern red neck, was heckled by car full of anti-Trump protestors as he was outside in his Tallahassee neighborhood. Of course, they didn't know that he was also anti-Trump. A classic moment of judging a book by its cover...or a southern guy by his beard.
It's also gotten ugly over how best to show support to people who are feeling threatened and scared about the incoming administration. A small gesture, fastening a safety pin to your clothes to indicate "You are safe with me" can kick up a firestorm from both sides. Those on the right ridicule and scoff at the gesture and accuse the wearer of fomenting division in the country. Those on the left ridicule and scoff at the gesture as white people attempting to assuage their white guilt about electing a white supremacist to the highest office in the land. Never mind that the people sporting the pin are more likely than not Clinton voters. The pin has become a prickly point in these parts.
I guess it might be too much to ask those on the left to consider that maybe, just maybe, the people sporting pins are making a commitment to always stand up against bigotry and prejudice and that this has nothing to do with their own feelings, and more to do with their empathy for the oppressed. Perhaps it's time for the left to stop attacking its own people simply because, unconsciously, it's easier to beat up on fellow liberals than to face the anger, hostility and meanness of their true opponents on the right.
I have found myself taking hits from people on both sides. To be both queer and Christian puts me in a perpetual place of vulnerability.
What does that mean today, to be a person who is among the targeted and despised and yet professes a belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God? The people on the right reject me and my relationship and are ready to roll back all the civil rights gains the LGBTQ+ community have made and put me into conversion therapy. The people on the left have called me the equivalent of a Hitler-loving Jew for attempting to live into my calling to stand with the oppressed while always looking for ways to soften the hearts of those who right now seem so hard and fast in their hatred of me and my kind. In other words, to be queer and Christian at this time is to become even more in tune with what it means to follow Christ. As I've said, it's easy to say you love Jesus; it's a whole different thing to actually follow him into these impossible places to do the work that bridges gaps and attempts to raise up people rather than continuously drag them down.
With this Sunday being the last Sunday of Pentecost, or Christ the King Sunday, listeners in the pews of Episcopal churches will hear a gospel lesson in which Jesus, hanging on the cross between two criminals and being mocked and scorned, says, "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." From one side, Jesus gets more abuse from a convict; on the other side, he hears his fellow death row inmate come to his defense and beg for remembrance and mercy. Fast forward many centuries and place this scene in a contemporary context, I can see my queer Christian self being similarly taunted and disrespected and tested. I can feel the frustration and pain of seeing how totally screwed up the scene is around me (a man who was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and NO major newspaper wins the presidency?) and yet I am, by hook or by crook, required to be in relationship in the world with people who supported this man while not making peace with his oppression of me or others. "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." Really? Did they not know who they were electing? Sadly, strangely, it seems some people would not take the Republican candidate's incendiary talk on the campaign trail seriously. The rationale is "he didn't really mean all that stuff about Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims." I'm not sure how one believes his economic plans while ignoring his troubling rhetoric about the many minority groups and his lack of respect for women. But it has been done. The votes were cast. So now what? How do I go to the communion rail with people who will not see the damage done with all the name-calling and whipping up unwarranted fears about "the others" of our society? "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing...."
There are some who are among the unreachable. They've tapped their inner fear button through the right wing medium machine so many times that it's become as addictive as any drug. But there are those who are not the totally lost. These are the people I hope to reach with remaining as a presence of Love so that they might see the need for them to join in the work to prevent the spread of fear and to stop the violence--verbal and physical--that is already happening in the wake of this election.
In the meantime, for those who have genuine fear, I am wearing my safety pin in the Red States of America to be an outward and visible sign of a willingness to speak up against the hatred that is swirling around them in the world. It is a small, yet radical, act of love and an assurance that I will not leave my brothers and sisters behind. Together we will stand on the side of love.