That Time I Agreed With Ben Carson   Leave a comment

When I’m in a reconciling mood while talking with conservatives—especially conservative Christians—I try to focus on what we have in common. They may think America is in a sad state of morality because of Muslims, immigrants, and same-sex marriage, while I think the United States is in a sad state of morality because of racism, xenophobia, and people thinking that the word “America” is synonymous with “the United States.” But maybe we can agree on the sad state of morality and leave it at that. It’s not much, and it sounds like a joke, but trust me when I say it has enabled a few conversations I’ve had to end with smiles rather than in rage and resentment.

I was—blissfully—out of town the week of the Republican National Convention, so was mostly spared what from all accounts was the nadir of the apocalyptic warnings of the fall of white male Christian supremacy we’ve heard for months on the GOP campaign trail. I saw hints of the stories when I logged into Facebook, and I’m now filling in some of the gaps by catching up on last week’s episodes of The Daily Show and The Nightly Show.

And an interesting soundbite showed up in The Daily Show’s segment on Melania Trump’s  plagiarism of Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC speech. Trevor Noah showed a montage of Republican strategists defending Mrs. Trump’s speech, ending with former candidate Dr. Ben Carson giving voice to a thought I had been forming myself: “What we should be celebrating is the fact that a Democrat and a Republican have similar values.”

This is the first time I can recall agreeing in any way with Dr. Carson.

There’s a tiny glimpse of our shared humanity in the fact that lines that drew cheers from the GOP crowd were first uttered by a woman whom most of that crowd holds in disdain. One can take a cynical perspective and say it speaks to the meaninglessness of political speeches, the universality of banal platitudes. But maybe there’s a starting point to conversation in the fact that Right and Left seem to agree that working hard and following one’s dreams is a good thing. It’s not much, but it’s an agreement.

We disagree radically on many points, to be sure. But maybe there are points upon which we might agree if they came from different speakers, people we automatically dismiss because of whom we perceive them to be. Maybe in those universal points there is room to assuage some of our fears and seek greater truths.

At community organizing meeting yesterday, I heard a Lutheran pastor gave a reflection on living in ambiguity and paradox, about listening to one another when we disagree, repeating back controversial statements so that we can hear how they sound in our own mouths, and so that the other person can hear what we heard.

A sermon I heard recently made me think, “Yes, Trump and Cruz and their supporters have to realize that the people they’re marginalizing are beloved children of God, just as they are.” And then the last part of that stuck in my throat: I have to remember that Trump and Cruz and their supporters are beloved children of God, too.

My Gregorian Brother Karekin Madteos, BSG said today: “We tear our villains to shreds. Our heroes? They’re just villains whose fate has been deferred. Secretly we can’t wait to tear them down too. We just wait to see if they’ll save us first. And when they don’t—because they can’t—we tear them apart with even more fervor than our villains. Because neither of them can bring us peace. This is the nature of idolatry. Investing people and even ideologies with the power to tame our restlessness. To subdue our violence. This system is irredeemably broken. It reeks of our sacrifice of the innocent. We must reject the notion of either heroes or villains. There are only neighbors that we are called to love.”

Those of you who spend a lot of time with me know that for the past year I have worn a Black Lives Matter wristband almost everywhere I go. It’s a message that I see as intrinsic to my faith, directly interwoven with the life, work, and teachings of Jesus. That message is considered divisive by some. But if standing up for the marginalized is divisive, then it is our job as Christians to be divisive—as Jesus frequently was.

But the one place I don’t wear that wristband is serving in the Eucharist at church, particularly serving communion. I believe that Black Lives Matter—and other such messages of justice and anti-marginalization—can and should be preached from the pulpit and borne out in the liturgy in a variety of ways. I believe that people who walk through the church doors should be expected to be confronted with those messages. That White Fragility is among the sins of which God expects us to repent in that liturgy. But Christ’s table—that meal we share with God and one another—is the place and time for reconciliation. It is the place where we meet in a perhaps-rare—perhaps-only—place of agreement and end our conversation in a smile. Those who insist that “All Lives Matter” are just as welcome as I at that table.

We should always be raging against injustice, and always be loving those who disagree with us—even those who perpetuate those injustices. So as we call out our society’s—and our own—racism, sexism, homophobia, trans-phobia, and fear-and-scarcity mentality, perhaps we can find small things on which we agree, and start some new conversations from there.

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