Immediately after the Nov 6, 2020 election, many well meaning, but naive, predominantly white progressive religious leaders were advocating for “unity.”
But Black and brown people knew better.
We understood that unless Trump and his most ardent supporters were held accountable for the pain and suffering they caused, that things would only get worse.
Most of us weren’t advocating for violence against them.
But we couldn’t afford to ignore Trump supporters.
In fact, most of us were actually listening to what they were saying, not because we wanted to take the high road, but because our lives depend on listening to our enemies.
And what we heard scared us.
We listened to our enemies and what they said, in no uncertain terms was that they wanted us dead and they wanted to destroy whatever vestige of American Democracy remained.
While many (white) Americans were shocked about the violent insurrection that occurred on Jan 6, 2021 at the Capitol Building and the lackluster police response, many Black and brown people were shocked this hadn’t occurred earlier (or more often).
We have no choice but to listen to our enemies and to take what they say seriously, not simply as hyperbole. And our enemies were promising large scale violence and had been making those threats for years with very few consequences.
Trump supporting white supremacists had already terrorized Black Lives Matter protesters in cities across the country.
They burned down Black Lives Matter signs hanging from churches in DC. They have terrorized us in our work, churches, and online for years.
And the police and national guard has done little to nothing to stop them. In many cases they had been caught on tape helping the white supremacists.
Police unions across the country have actually formally endorsed Trump.
What white progressive religious leaders need to understand is that loving our enemies is not about forgetting what they have done. That’s a naive distortion of what grace means.
Naive unity is what got 9 Black church members killed by a white supremacists inside Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
Unity Demands Accountability
Loving our enemies is also not about cheesy soundbites and cutesy slogans. Loving our enemies means seeking their transformation.
It also means ensuring that they are not in a position to hurt others. Loving our enemies means holding them accountable for the harm they cause. Glossing over our enemies’ harmful beliefs, words, and actions benefits no one.
Not those on the receiving end of their violence and most certainly not the ones causing the harm.
If we really truly want to love our enemies, if we truly want to bring healing to the nation, then we can’t keep preaching a shallow unity and a cheap understanding of grace that emboldens those who cause harm. We need to seek their transformation.
And that comes from holding them accountable for the pain and suffering they have caused.
The question is not, “should we hold our enemies accountable, but rather, what does an accountability infused with justice and compassion look like?”
The problem, however, was that too many of these white progressive religious leaders were advocating for a shallow unity.
Additionally, they conflated demands for accountability with retribution.
The ones calling for Trump supporters to have a seat at the table were ignoring the fact these white supremacists wanted to take over the table and kick out anyone who disagreed with them.
Too many of these white religious leaders had a narrow definition of compassion and empathy. Their description of empathy and compassion seemed to imply that Americans needed to pretend that the last four years never occurred.
Theses white faith leaders were especially urging their counterparts to show compassion and empathy towards those who voted for Trump.
To be sure, many did have a point: acting out of hatred and committing violence against those who voted and adamantly supported Trump would cause more harm than good.
What we did not need, as a nation, was violence or retribution.
We need accountability. And accountability starts with calling the white nationalists who stormed on the capital domestic terrorists and treating them like it.
Let them experience the consequences of their actions. Let white people watch them get prosecuted, deplatformed online, and put on no-fly lists.
Black and brown people were expected to “move on.” Those who pointed out the tangible harm caused by Trump supporters were told they were being “divisive.”
White people who claimed that their relationships with friends and family members were fractured because they had no qualms about confronting their loved ones about the racism and violence that Trump explicitly advocated for were told they needed to be the “bigger person” and mend fences with their loved ones.
Particularly harmful was the way in which these religious leaders used Christian understandings of “grace,” “compassion” and “love” to assert (either implicitly or explicitly) that those who truly loved Christ would seek to immediately mend bridges with their enemies. Offer them forgiveness, listen to them, and then move on, as if the past four years never happened.
While such messages sound good, particularly as sound bites, they are politically and theologically superficial.
And that superfacility is dangerous.
Why? Because those messages pretend to offer a tangible solution to the divisions that plague the United States when in reality, all they do is gloss over the very real injustice and violence that occurred over the last four years.
Moreover, these messages make members of historically marginalized groups less safe by giving those who supported and actively participated in the harm caused by Trump’s presidency, a pass. It also distorts what many Black and brown people were advocating for in the wake of the November election.
However, those of us who bore the brunt of Trump’s violent presidency knew that Biden’s election did not automatically mean a better or more peaceful tomorrow, even though many of us who could vote, did to get him out of office.
These progressive religious leaders wanted the marginalized to forget about the last for years and move on, while disregarding the fact that some Trump supporters had no intention of letting go and moving on.
We can’t ignore this. Our lives are at stake.
Ignoring their violent threats was not an act of compassion and empathy, It is a free pass that emboldens them.