"making nice": the call of the privileged

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension. It is the presence of justice.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

We’re 3 1/2 days out from one of the most traumatic elections in modern US history. It’s been brutal, folks. The pain, the grief, the shock, the reality. I was one of those people who believed it would be kind of close, that Donald Trump had indeed made huge inroads and tapped into the depths of American racism, nationalism, sexism, classism, and pretty much every other -ism. But I sincerely didn’t believe he’d win. As the results came in, our hearts sank and the painful reality began to take root.

Since then, many people I know and love and journey alongside in different ways are truly devastated, terrified, angry, confused. And I’m not talking sort-of struggling.

This has cut so many to the core.

How could this happen?  How could 81% of white evangelicals–brothers and sisters–support this? How could 52% of white women vote for him? How could that many people not vote at all when so much was on the line? How can this really be the direction our country is headed?

In the midst of the beginning of grief, we are seeing something very harmful begin to gain speed–the call to “make nice.”

The call to “get over it and move on.”

The call to remember “God is in control” (please don’t get me started on that).

The call for immediate “unity as citizens.”

The call for quick “Christian unity” after what for many feels like such a deep betrayal.

The call to “stop protesting and accept the decision.”

The call to “see the potential good in Donald Trump and just wait and see.”

The call to “fear not” as Christians because that’s what the Bible tells us.

I have not heard one of these calls from someone on the underside of power.

I’m not saying they aren’t happening at all, but the statements I have heard pretty much keep coming from white, privileged men and women, many conservative Christians.

They get said all of the time in abusive situations, in life and in church.

“He didn’t really mean it.”

“Give him a chance.”

“You need to submit to his leadership.”

“You’re creating disunity and division.”

“You need to accept reality.”

“Change takes time.”

“Be patient.”

These are all tactics used by abusers and people in power to keep others down, in their place, shushed, underneath.

It’s often so subtle.

It’s often blatant.

But it’s all the same–it makes the victims the ones who are doing something wrong and completely and totally dismisses the bad behavior of the perpetrator.

People, this man and his platform abused pretty much every group of people except for white men.  Everyone. Spewing hatred. Inciting division. Harming innocents. Inspiring fear.

That’s what a lot of abusers do.

Already, so many are completely blinded by the reality of what full-blown narcissists are capable of and the path of destruction they leave behind them (and how crazy they make victims feel in the end).

Power is not coming to the margins saying, “We are so sorry. We made a mistake. We want to listen to you. We want to change.”

It’s not bending its knee or humbling itself (it rarely does), but it’s still expecting those underneath it to bend theirs.  

Because that’s how this kind of power works.

Blacks, browns, Muslims, LGBQT friends, those-without-possibility-of-health-insurance, and a whole host of other people on the margins are on the floor or on the streets.

And many Christians, because we’ve often aligned (unconsciously and consciously) with this kind of unhealthy power, are not respecting the pain of the hurting, the devastated, the at-risk, the discriminated against-again-and-again-and-again.

We are so good at trying to encourage people to “make nice.”

Yeah, it’s a whole lot easier to talk about making nice when you are the one who has the power.

Jesus did not make nice.

He didn’t use violent tactics (and I am a firm believer in only nonviolent protesting), but he called out injustice and called it out strong.

The injustice here isn’t that people are sore losers or that a certain candidate didn’t get elected.

The injustice is that people on the margins were and are currently being deeply violated.

The status quo will never change by “making nice.” Every underrepresented group has somehow tried that over time, thinking if they played nicely something would change.

It hasn’t.

The -isms this election has uncovered are insidious.

And they won’t be uprooted by making nice.

I understand that living in more tension is exhausting. I feel it, too. So many want to move on so things can come to an ease-filled place again and we can get back to our known and comfortable positions, separated from each other, disconnected from the pain and suffering of people not like us.

But thankfully, it’s too late for that.

In the words of Dr. Cornel West, “We have to be willing to die before something new can be born.”

That’s what’s happening here–a holy disruption, a time for something new to be born (warning: it’s going to be a long arduous labor).

Through this process we must remember that “making nice” isn’t an option for people fighting for their lives, the lives of their children, their legacies, their livelihood.

Their fear is real, and platitudes won’t protect them.

We can’t have mutuality without equality.

And for a whole bunch of people in America it’s not just going to “be okay.”

Real peace–the kind we are called to be working toward–requires far more than marginalized people “making nice.”

But here’s my hope (and I’m trying to hold as much of it as I can because I truly believe the ways of Jesus transform, heal, reconcile):

That men and women of all shapes and sizes and experiences will help bear the cost of injustice and bravely honor this holy disruption through brave, consistent, faithful, peaceful, power-shifting practices.

“We have to be willing to die before something new can be born.”

And oh, I’m sure of it–birth isn’t “nice.”

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

7 Comments

  • Kathy, this is so “spot on”! Thanks for what I’d call (though you didn’t so label it) a “call to action”. My hope, backed by at least some small efforts, is that various groupings and/or “institutions”, such as churches and denominations, will communicate a LOT, and gradually more and more COORDINATE efforts of supporting the marginalized, etc.

    In my situation, for example, I’m urging one of our church leadership teams that I’m on, to begin serious research, planning and coordinating with our denomination (UCC) as to what we can/will be prepared to do in the event of possible cancelling of DACA (re. “dreamers”) or increased deportation efforts. This seems one of the more immediate and instantly disruptive/painful things that might result from the election. It is also one that is clearer as a non-partisan issue than some, and has clear moral and biblical guidelines. It might be theologically debatable and less-than-clear re. the way health insurance is structured or Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid is administered specifically. Not that Christians and their institutions don’t have “standing” to deal there also, but I think potential deportations, especially in relation to “dreamers” or breaking up of families, is SO clearly unbiblical and against Jesus’ teachings that it might be an initial key point of focus.

    If a large and coordinated body can be seen to be taking a moral stand and being sacrificially, in ACTION, in support of the “least among us”, it will have more power/effect than a smattering of resistance or actions spread around broadly. (Though breadth of action is also important and people will naturally move where they have passions, connections, etc.)

    The church team I refer to will take this up on Monday, 11-14, and I will be finding out what our denomination (already noted for support of the marginalized in certain ways) may have in the works, already strategized, etc. Just as Democrats are talking about planning and coordination, I believe we who are “progressive” (or whatever) Christians or Jesus-followers on some level MUST be “wise as serpents” and doing our own version of this. It may work in conjunction with certain political efforts, but it is ALSO clearly aside, as an operation of the “commonwealth [kingdom] of God” that transcends politics. It is not merely passive, as Jesus was not passive, though non-violent, as you importantly state.

    Reply
      • The team (7 present, including our recently-arrived pastor) was very responsive; encouraged me to contact our regional conference (representing much of Calif. south of LA) first to see what might be planned, if anything. I did so, finding nothing is moving so far and didn’t discover, yet, anyone working on it specifically. But I imagine at some level in the denomination, various people ARE keeping up on events and may be planning something. Frankly, with other things pressing, I’ve not followed up much yet.

        I do know that several in our congregation will fight, one way or another, to protect immigrant families because our church sponsors/houses an active tutoring program that is attended largely by immigrant kids with low incomes. Those involved consider them a part of our community although they don’t attend church or church activities. I have a feeling the majority in our church will back, if necessary, direct protest or other actions as necessary.

        Reply
  • Obviously Trump and his cronies think they are going to have their day in the sun
    at the expense of everyone who is not white, rich, male or a “ten” (These people grade women, and it seems everyone else, like cattle at a
    county fair, but don’t think any such system should be used on them. )
    Oppress people and they will rise up. That much is guaranteed.

    This
    may be the last major attempt of the white, racist,
    conservative/religious(especially the Evangelical types) groups to
    attempt to exert their dominance over everyone else. They did not learn
    anything from what happened in South Africa. The oppressed and
    marginalized will rise up. That much is guaranteed. The old white guys club is doomed to fall into irrelevance. The only questions are how long will it take, and how bloody will it get between here and there. I suppose this was bound to happen.

    A very sad thing here to me is the unholy alliance that so many “Christians” have formed with the oppressors. Rip health insurance out of the hands of millions. That is so Christian. Deport the minorities. Further marginalize the marginalized. There are surely Bible verses to support those things. There are Bible verses to support whatever you would like to do, if you know how to twist them (Also known as “the Bible clearly says”). Oops, excuse me. The horn is blowing and I see everyone running and bowing down. Catch you later.

    Reply
      • Even if these things don’t happen, even if it was all merely rhetoric designed to win an election, the idea that so many would agree, that so many Evangelical Christians would vote for such an agenda, is bizarre. In all the years that we’ve worked with the marginalized, the outcast, the homeless, we have seen that these same voters have zero interest in those people. But given the chance to vote for an agenda that will supposedly take away their health insurance, further marginalize them, and maybe even deport them, they stepped up to the plate and did it. Any “moral authority” these Christians may have thought they once had has been lost in the eyes of many, lost for generations to come. And they will blame the unparalleled loss of interest in the church and Christianity on “worldliness.” Indeed. (The “horn blowing” referred to the Nebuchadnezzar and the golden idol story.)

        Reply

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