This morning, driving my daughter to school, we heard a news report about Donald Trump. A few minutes after it ended, my seven year gave a big sigh and said, “Mommy, I wish Donald Trump was not even alive.”
I’m a Christian. I’ve raised my kids inside the Christian church and we actively talk about sin, evil and goodness on a regular basis. More specifically, I’m a Calvinist and so we talk a lot about how none of us are all good or all bad, but always a mix of both. And that God loves us because God is good. Certainly, wishing death (or being not alive) on another person isn’t part of the Christian message I’ve been trying to instill.
So, we talked about how Trump is a child of God just like we are. God reminds us that we must see all people as precious to God. We don’t have to like Trump, but we do have to see his humanity and we have to pray for him. My seven year old grudgingly agreed and we left it at that. That was plenty of theology for 7:45am.
Ultimately, I’m not worried about my daughter. I don’t think she was expressing real hate. My daughter surely doesn’t know the depth and breadth of the venality and criminality of the Trump administration. She has the understanding of a seven year old. But she has picked up from me the depth and breadth of my dislike of Trump. She was parroting me.
I’m concerned about my own propensity for hate. If I’m really honest, I wish Donald Trump wasn’t alive too. I believe all those good theological truths I spoke to her, but I feel something much more akin to regular old hate when I hear about Trump’s behavior on the world stage. I don’t think that my hate rises to the level of wishing violence to befall Trump, but a quick severe illness in early childhood that prevented him from growing to adulthood seems about right. I can’t think of anything less Christian than wishing someone had died as a child.
As I reflect upon my hate, the hardest truth to discover is the way my hate makes me feel powerful. Hate, in absence of some meaningful action, has taken to feeling like an achievement. I hate him. That is something I can do. I can’t call him to account for his ripping apart of immigrant families, or his desired elimination of health care for the poor, or his elevation of corrupt political actors. I’ve done the things I know how to do. I’ve attended rallies. I’ve written letters to the editors. I’ve called my representatives. And none of those actions have felt powerful or consequential. Hate has filled that vacuum and it at least feels like something.
Kathleen Norris writes of politics and the Antichrist in her book Amazing Grace. Like me, she had a sort of gut rejection of the idea of a boogeyman antichrist who would come to tear down the church or usher in the end days. Norris asked her Pastor how he made sense of it, “He quickly summarized and dismissed the tendency that Christians have always had to identify the Antichrist with their personal enemies or with those in power whom they have reason to detest. It is an easy temptation…What the pastor said was so simple that it will remain with me forever. ‘Each one of us acts as an Antichrist,’ he said, ‘whenever we hear the gospel and do not do it.’”
The gospel calls me to find a way to see Donald Trump’s humanity and to model that seeing for my children. At the same time that I protest and speak against and reject his leadership, I have to find a way to see Trump as just a person in need of redemption. A person just like me. Indeed, I need to know him to be a beloved child of God. Hate might be an easy fuel, but it tarnishes my ability to see God image in others. Every time I let myself indulge in hate, I enact the antichrist. It’s dramatic, but I also think it might be true.
My friend Larry gives blood every eight weeks as his spiritual struggle with hate. He says that as he sits in the seat watching his blood leave his body, he prays that it might be used to give someone life and he tries to picture those whom he hates as the ones receiving his blood. He says it is a spiritual exercise which forces him to come into contact with his own dislike and hate. I can’t do that. The Red Cross won’t let me donate. But I think it is a good idea.
I’ve been trying to come up with an equivalent practice. I think for me, whatever this practice might become starts in parenting. Donald once had a mother who held him and loved him and wished all the good things of this world for her child. Surely, just as I want my children to be held in mercy by both by their friends and their enemies, I can wish the same for Donald. For whatever has been broken in him and whatever has been broken in me, I can pray for healing and wholeness.