(RNS) On the Sunday after the election, I walked into a suburban Phoenix evangelical church under an already hot morning sun, looking for some post-election comfort and communion.
I did not find it, as I described in an op-ed last Wednesday (Nov. 16). Where I hoped to find a sense of community and healing after a brutal campaign season that ended, for many, in recriminations, protests and soul-searching, I found instead a congregation celebrating one man’s triumph and condemning those who did not vote for him.
As I write again a week later, I sit alone in my Northern California living room, and though it is blustery and brisk outside, I can say I have found more warmth and understanding in the reaction of far-flung strangers who read about my experience than I found in people sitting next to me in those Arizona church pews.
Since my piece was published, I have had hundreds of messages via Twitter, Facebook, email and in the comments section of my op-ed. One or two people suggested I suck it up and quit my caterwauling — thanks for the advice! — but the rest overwhelmed me with the warmth, compassion, solace and grace I had hoped to find in church in the first place.
“Dear Kimberly,” many of them began, and went on to wish me strength and courage. I heard from Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Protestants and other “nones” like me. Some of the messages came from a few miles away, from well-wishers in Oakland and Los Angeles; others came from places as far away as Australia and Tonga.
“I’m so very sorry,” wrote Lily Burana, a New York-based author and fellow journalist I have never met. “PLEASE know that all around the US, there are pastors and religious leaders who are in dismay. Hugs, friend.”
I'm so very sorry. PLEASE know that all around the US, there are pastors and religious leaders who are in dismay. Hugs, friend.
— Lily Burana 🗽 (@lilyburana) November 16, 2016
Many of the messages came from evangelicals who expressed embarrassment, outrage and sorrow at the behavior of their spiritual brethren.
“I am so sorry, both for your experience and my country and church,” Patsy Newman, a Tennessee retiree, wrote. Aaron Earls, a Southern Christian writer, said: “I love my family, but sometimes I don’t recognize my family. Our churches must be places of hope and healing. I’m sorry, Kimberly.”
And Sue McCarthy Palmer, a Christian author, made me cry with her response. “Your article broke this evangelical’s heart,” she said. “I’m sorry we hurt you.”
Again. I love my family, but sometimes I don’t recognize my family. Our churches must be places of hope and healing. I’m sorry, Kimberly. https://t.co/Anr48LhIIW
— Aaron Earls (@WardrobeDoor) November 16, 2016
In my op-ed, I said I had reached out to the pastor after the service, asking him to call or email me so we could talk about what I heard expressed from his pulpit. He never contacted me, but dozens of other pastors wrote to comfort me.
“I don’t know you, but as a pastor this bothers me deeply,” Keith McNamar, a Rhode Island evangelical pastor, wrote. In a second tweet, he continued, “What I wish you had found was grace, that would have made me (and Jesus) happy.”
I don't know you, but as a pastor this bothers me deeply. I wish you had experienced something different on Sunday.
— Keith McNamar (@keithmcnamar) November 16, 2016
“Thank you,” wrote Zack Eswine, a Missouri pastor.”It broke my heart to read. I am an evangelical pastor. You took a risk and we failed you. Please forgive us.”
Thank you. It broke my heart to read. I am an evangelical pastor. You took a risk and we failed you. Please forgive us.
— Zack Eswine (@ZackEswine) November 17, 2016
I received invitations to attend church with folks from New England, Southern California, the Midwest and right here in the San Francisco area. I plan to take more than one of them up on the offer.
Many people sent copies of or links to the sermons heard in their churches on the same Sunday. Some were scholarly, drawing on the Bible and philosophers; others were delivered in plainer prose with references to sports and movies; all expressed the yearning for peace and progress for all Americans I had so needed to hear.
“Humility helps us to assume a posture that communicates, ‘I don’t know you or understand you but I’m willing to empty my heart, just a little, of myself and welcome you in,’” Gregg Caruso, pastor of King’s Harbor Church in Torrance, Calif., said in a post-election sermon he sent me, with his regrets for my experience.
“Can Democrats find common ground with Republicans?,” his sermon concludes. “Can a Christian family carry on a civil friendship with the Muslim couple down the street? Can divergent people get along? The early church did — without the aid of sanctuaries, church buildings, clergy, or seminaries. … Hospitality opens the door to uncommon community.”
Before I step back behind the line of objectivity that — hopefully — separates journalists from columnists, I just wanted to say thank you for helping me see my own “uncommon community” this week. Your kindness has gone miles to making me feel better about the state of the country we all love.
(Kimberly Winston is a national reporter for RNS)