Opinion

From bubbles to bridges: My post-election check-in

(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.


READ: Bursting my personal bubble in a church full of Trump supporters


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.”

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.”

https://twitter.com/smcpalmer/status/799236898430615552

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.”

“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.”

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) 

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

6 Comments

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  • I am certainly happy to see that you received a large measure of encouragement from those that responded. I know that my own response was more clinical and practical in its focus, but was well intended if not warm and fuzzy.

  • I believe all the churches–evangelical and mainstream, need several more weeks to get their footing after this extraordinary campaign and election season. Some of them may even be so blessed as to rediscover their mission of cultivating spiritual growth in their adherents and the spiritually needy in their communities instead of seeking to bring about the kingdom of God through political means. Kimberly, you need to give it another couple weeks, then visit any church of your choice. I’m betting that the Advent message has moved the church to refocus on the miracle of the coming of Christ, and the few political conversations–if any, are happening out in the parking lot!

  • Well, bridges ARE better than bubbles. Good to see evangelicals in particular, apologizing and reaching out.

    At the same time, I saw the phrase “a line of objectivity”, somewhere in Winston’s essay.

    Some media outlets and personalities have abandoned that phrase when it comes to evangelicals (especially those who voted for Trump). They’re not even **trying** to honor that phrase.

    It is what it is, but evangelicals are taking — and will continue to take — the time to seriously speak out when and if that phrase is ignored.

  • I’m glad that many people communicated to you the love and graciousness that was apparently lacking in your Phoenix experience. (I also know that controversial posts generate a lot more response, which is apparently good for people who make a living by their Internet posts.)

    I do hope that you, as a reporter, try again. Otherwise, your reporting may leave me wondering if you are willling to try to understand the “other side.”

    If I visited an atheist meeting and had an unpleasant experience, I’m sure I would be advised to try again, because “not all atheists are like that.”

    I don’t agree with atheists, theologically, so I wouldn’t have a huge desire to keep going to their meetings, except for this: it is hard to have compassion for, and show grace to, those of other convictions unless we are willing to leave our safe circles and engage with others (as you tried, at least once). For most of us, the bubble is very comfortable and we don’t leave, even if we know we “should.”

  • It makes me very happy to read about the positive responses you’ve received, especially from evangelical clergy. My hope is that evangelicals such as those, including clergy, will speak up more publicly against the political excesses of some of their brethren. A kinder reset for the face of evangelicalism would be a very good thing.

  • And a similar reset for the critics of evangelicalism as well.

    (No, that’s not an attack on you, but the sentiment genuinely exists out there, and it’s NOT going back into the bottle. The professional pundits & politicians — and a few preachers too — really shouldn’t ignore that sentiment anymore.)

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