Image by Kevin B 3 via Flickr Creative Commons
Image by Kevin B 3 via Flickr Creative Commons

Once our grieving and protesting is over, what’s next for progressives in this new world in which Donald Trump will be President of the United States?

For many, the answer is to start working on the 2018 and 2020 elections. This is certainly important. But as I see it, this election demonstrates that politics as we know it simply isn’t working to change American society. Fifty years after the civil rights movement ushered in landmark legislation and right on the heels of recent victories for human and civil rights for LGBTQ citizens and others, we’re waking up to the reality that laws haven’t changed the hearts and minds of many Americans, a slim majority of whom have voted into power a government with the potential to undo much of what has been accomplished in the past half-century. Our political process is designed to win elections, not change hearts and minds, which is what we need for lasting change to happen.

As we process exit poll data to analyze what happened this week, here’s what it boils down to: millions of people voted for a misogynistic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, racist because 1) they share these views or 2) other factors or priorities caused them to look past these views and vote for him anyway. Either of these options is horrifying.

It’s not enough to simply point out that abiding sexism and racism won the day in this election, which is the refrain I’m hearing from many of my progressive friends. The real challenge is to figure out how to eradicate sexism and racism. This won’t happen through traditional political campaigns. A different kind of campaign is needed.

Further, I don’t believe that sexism and racism are the primary problems—these are symptoms or manifestations of a deeper issue. We have to ask: why are people sexists and racists? The root cause is ignorance and fear of the “other”. Trump received his strongest support from straight, white, Christians, especially men—the people who are rapidly losing their majority status and hegemony of power in the United States. Whether they admit it or not, this scares them. Trump played right into the fears of these people and others who harbor similar fears.

Instead of a political campaign that manipulates fear, we need a person-to-person campaign against fear.

It occurs to me that what I have in mind is a fundamentally evangelistic endeavor. We can no longer rely on politicians, activists, or institutions to accomplish our progressive goals. Our political process will only get us so far. Preaching to our choirs will only get us so far. Protests will only get us so far. Lobbing talking points at each other will only get us so far. Logical arguments and reason will only get us so far. Social media activism will likely get us nowhere.

Instead, we’ll need to get out of our progressive bubbles and echo chambers. We’ll need to actually sit down with our fellow citizens who see the world differently than we do. We’ll need to listen to their experiences as we passionately share our own experiences. We’ll need to be tenacious and persistent. We’ll need to be bold and take risks. We’ll need to act as if the future of our democracy is at stake, because we’ve seen now that it is. We’ll need to act as if lives are at stake, because they are.

I grew up in communities that were neither progressive nor diverse. I can empathize with those who perceive the widespread changes in our society as a threat to things they hold dear. And I know from personal experience that my own worldview only changed once I actually met people who were different from me and realized that there was nothing to fear.

I’m actively thinking about what this looks like in the three areas of ministry in which I am most involved: evangelism, youth ministry, and a new worshipping community I’ve been working on. I invite you to do the same.

John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit johnvest.com.

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  1. Well said, John. I have been thinking in similar ways, especially about fear as a driver and how to respond. As has been said, it is relationships that change people. Thank you! Vicky Curtiss

  2. One small note: there was no “slim majority” of people who voted in the new administration. The “slim majority” voted to support the (relatively) progressive candidate. A system built for another era created a situation where the majority do not get to lead. We will all pay the price for our failure to keep our Constitution updated over the last 10 generations.

  3. Sarah has recently published her first children”s book, “Little Lobster’s First Play Date.” Her simple words and delightful illustrations get the message you are encouraging about the pathway from fear to friendship across beautifully. It’s a small start, but who knows? Maybe it will reach homes where the adults need help overcoming their fears. It’s available on Amazon and in our local bookstores. Our church put a copy in the church library!

  4. My Republican friends voted Republican bacause they always have. They disagree with everything the party now stands for but voted for the old party of social justice and conservative financial principles.

  5. Ok, this might offer some how.

    I’ve done a lot of that in my current context, and mostly get laughed out of the room. There have been a few (like count on one hand, few) where someone has at least considered my experience or interpretation of scripture. I’ve been here 4 years. I know you can’t turn centuries of -isms on a dime, but is there a way to speed of the process?

    Hell, even when I’ve invited people to meet others, they’ve refused.

    I agree with you 100%, I’m just disillusioned that people can or will change.

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