Never Liberal Enough
June 20, 2013

Dear Theo,

I know we live in a country that has many angry people that say many hateful things about people that they disagree with or don't understand…mostly on Fox25. I hear all of the horrible rhetoric that people say about gays, women, poor people, minorities. I do see it and I'm outraged, too.

But then my "good" liberal friends post pictures of how conservatives are akin to Nazis, how people who don't share their views are stupid and not worth our time.  Actual concerns that conservatives have about liberal issues are harrumphed away rather than considered or explained, and I get so angry! Even as I write this I feel like I have to have a disclaimer: it's okay! I'm not actually a conservative or a Southerner!

The result is me always looking like a bigot because I'm angry at how dismissively liberals treat people with different world views. I would never sit by while a person said something cruel about a minority but I feel like I have to endure the constant slamming of American Southerners and Republicans. Isn't mean mean? What would you do?

Never Liberal Enough for Massachusetts

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Dear Neverliberalenough,

Oh, dear! It appears you were born with a capacity for complex thinking, empathy and fairness. You learned to listen and take people seriously even when their views are repugnant to you, and you've ended up in the unenviable position of discovering that every once in a while they actually have a point. But even when they don't, you refuse to demonize them.

You also seem to have absorbed what St. Paul says Christians need to be, namely, Jews with the Jews, and weak with the weak—"all things to all people" (I Corinthians 9:19-23). That doesn't mean we are supposed to be chameleons changing our colors to conform to others. It doesn't mean refusing to take a stand or not holding strong opinions. It means trying to engage people where they are in order to understand what's going on with them and assuming that they have something to teach us too. And it means we act that way with "all people," not just some—for example, those whose opinions agree with ours. As Jesus told us, if we only love those who love us (or share our political views), we really aren't getting the message at all (Luke 6:32).

In days gone by, your understanding posture might've been a blessing. In today's public discourse, it's more of a curse. It makes you easy to misinterpret. If you don't say anything when your liberal friends bash the enemy, you are complicit in their bashing. If you do speak up, they lump you in with "them." All this is unfair and not very constructive; and when it happens, it makes you really mad.

And that's what caught my attention in what you wrote—the anger you feel about the way your liberal friends speak of Republicans and southerners and when they lump you in with them. Here's the thing: We need many more people like you who can be fair-minded, who are willing to speak up and "moderate the debate" without name-calling and hate. But if you spend a lot of energy being frustrated and furious at the world because it isn't behaving properly, you might implode in a fit of apoplexy. Likewise when people think badly of you and mischaracterize your views.

Yes, it's "mean," but there's just not very much you can do about it. If you're sincerely trying to be fair, thoughtful, and charitable in the midst of all the vitriol, you may just have to accept that these days, nastiness follows. I'm not saying you have to like it, or go out of your way to get beat up; but if you continue trying to help others see how odd and counter-productive it is to hate the haters, it'd be so much better for you if you could do so from a place of deep acceptance and peace.

It's no easy thing to accept people in all their shrill myopia, and to be at peace with the fact that you may never be correctly understood. But remember, the prophets sent to us to prod us to change our ways kick up our resentment because they won't let us get away with oversimplification. If you have a calling to be prophetic in your efforts to be fair, you may also have to endure a prophet's fate!

Your liberal friends don't get you, and that hurts. When Jesus said no prophet is honored in his own home town, he was thinking of himself, but he could well have been speaking about you (Luke 4:24). It's not an easy place to be, but you're in great company. Little by little, over time, reflecting on this great company might help you channel your hurt and anger into a deep compassion for how stupid most of us are most of the time.

Bless you, and may you be a blessing,

Theo

Who is Theo?

"Dear Theo" is written anonymously by three UCC ministers of different ages and backgrounds - one main writer and two respite writers. We're hoping the questions will span all kinds of topics: from sexuality and relationships to church culture and conflict to mental health, family drama, ethical and moral dilemmas, and everything in between.

Every week will feature a new letter and a new answer. Please write Dear Theo with your questions and problems by sending to deartheo@ucc.org. Letter writers identities will also ALWAYS remain anonymous.

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