To Conservatives Who Want to Buy Me Coffee and Tell Me I’m Wrong
I’m a middle aged, white mom who frequently writes about social justice on the internet. In my real life, I’m surrounded by conservatives, both in religion and politics. They are coworkers, extended family members, part of my friend group, and the parents of my kids’ peers. It’s been tricky, trying to reconcile relationships with people whose everyday lives appear so similar to mine, but whose values differ in such profound ways.
There’s a mom at my son’s preschool who I am friendly with; in fact, I could see us being good friends. But one day I wore a graphic t-shirt with the words Coffee, Books and Social Justice (these are a few of my favorite things) and she commented, “Oh, I can tell we would never agree on politics, but I would be willing to listen to you.” I found it almost funny that social justice, which is supposed to mean equality and fairness for all human beings, is now considered such a liberal term. And just like that, wearing that shirt apparently signaled to those in my community that I’m on a different team.
When I post my writing on social media, I get a lot of private messages, mostly from white men, inviting me to coffee to discuss these issues. The thing is, I’m more than willing to engage in conversations with people who disagree with me. I truly believe that so much of the division in this country comes down to our inability to listen and learn from one another. We talk at each other, mostly from behind our keyboards, and are constantly formulating our next biting response instead of listening to what the other person is saying.
But I’ll be honest, I’m wary of the motives behind these invitations to conversation.
So many of them feel like a set up, with the goal being to refute and pick apart my points instead of an opportunity to be curious and learn more about why I see the world the way I do. And if we can’t agree on the values of what constitutes basic human dignity, and, at minimum, that things like systemic racism, white privilege and gender diversity actually exist, engaging in conversation is futile.
So, as to not waste anyone’s time, I have some guidelines for engaging in political conversations, especially in the Trump era while approaching an election year (God help us all).
I would love to meet you for coffee, sit face to face, and learn from each other. But here’s the deal:
If you want to talk about immigration reform, I’ll listen. I think we can at least agree our systems need major fixing. But if your solution is to keep people OUT rather than find a way to welcome them in, we have nothing to discuss. If you think locking kids in cages or allowing white Americans to “adopt” brown babies when their parents are deported (actually, let’s be honest and call it what it really is: child trafficking and kidnapping), I’m not listening. There is no productive dialogue to be had when we dehumanize and demonize desperate people. They need help, not hatred.
If you want to talk about racial tensions in this country, I’ll listen. But look, you have to do the work. You have to actually listen to people of color, and believe their lived experiences. You have to be willing to acknowledge the shameful history of our country, and that this means white people living in America today have privileges built on the backs of black and brown people. You must consume some of the countless resources available (many of them free!) if you truly want to learn. And hey, if you celebrate a black man forgiving his brother’s white murderer but don’t believe that black people have a good reason to fear the police, we aren’t going to get anywhere.
If you want to talk about differences in spiritual beliefs, I’ll listen. But if your theology keeps people out of the pews or the pulpit because of their gender or sexual orientation, I’m walking away. If you believe Donald Trump’s presidency was God ordained and his policies reflect your Christian values, we have no common ground for conversation.
If you want to talk about why you’re pro-life, I’ll listen. I struggle with the abortion issue too, and would love to make space to hash out questions like when does life begin? But if your view of Life leaves no room for nuance, no consideration of maternal health, and no policies to support women who do choose to carry and parent children, I’m out.
If you want to talk about healthcare reform, I’ll listen. I believe healthcare is a human right, but I’m willing to consider different options on how to make sure every person gets the care they need. But if you believe it’s acceptable that a person’s access to doctors, medicine and preventative care is contingent on their ability to pay exorbitant insurance premiums, I can’t and won’t engage with you.
If you want to talk about your confusion with our changing culture and language, I’ll listen. Yes, it’s a shift to learn that gender is a fluid spectrum, not a binary. I get that you don’t totally understand why a person’s gender identity may or may not match up with their biological sex, and using different pronouns feels awkward. That’s ok. You don’t have to understand, or even feel comfortable, as long as you’re willing to listen and learn. But if you refuse to open your mind and see the humanity behind the headlines, we’re wasting our time talking.
If you want to talk about your right to own guns, I’ll listen. I don’t believe the founding fathers’ intent in writing the 2nd amendment was to give you the right to own however many and whatever kind of guns you desire, but I will hear you out. But our conversation will end if you can’t acknowledge that my right to send my children to school without fear that they won’t come home is greater than your right to own an AR-15. And if the only sentiment you have in the face of the mass shooting epidemic in this country is Thoughts and Prayers, you’re definitely wasting my time.
I’m sure there are many who will read these words and react in defensiveness and anger.
I’m ok with that. People’s reactions to me say more about them than they do about me. And I think it’s healthy to both be open to intense conversations and have firm boundaries about the content of those conversations, especially when they conflict with my values of respecting the dignity and humanity of everyone.
Amen and amen.
Agree wholeheartedly!! 😍
How did you get my words in your brain, lol?
Elizabeth…bless you! I hope everyone reading this article will take your words to heart and open their minds. Communication is the key that unlocks the door to understanding and I think you’ve done a wonderful job of communicating your thoughts and feelings. Keep up the good work!
Thank you, Elizabeth. You speak for many, many Americans who are being sidelined for holding true to their core values. I am fortunate to live in a “blue “state and to have extended family who share our perspective, although some live in the Southwest. I’m sorry to say that we’re currently being held hostage by a close-minded minority of mostly aging white people who are not interested in becoming informed citizens, or supporting a policy of compassion and fairness, but instead choose to look out only for themselves and their own narrow agenda. I pray that this nightmare will end next November, and that it won’t be too late to at least partially reverse climate change and establish policies that reflect the values our nation was founded upon.
Extremely well-said and well-written. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
I share all the sentiments expressed in your article Elizabeth. I too struggle with the issue of abortion which I think has now become a form of birth control. I wish that we could have a frank discussion on the topic and advocate for more birth control and education so that we could reduce the number of abortions.
As the “older white Male”. A military career, a second career in the energy sector I thoroughly enjoyed this article. I live in the reddest state in the reddest count in the US. And I get all kinds of looks and comments about my “Liberal beliefs”. Which are actually my religious beliefs. But we hen a few venture to open a discussion we tend to agree on about 75% of everything. Thanks
I love you for saying this for me. I too try to follow what Jesus said. However, it is very difficult for me because of our society of hate created by Trump and his administration. I too have family that support Trump and they still claim to be Christians, some of us do not speak to each other how very sad.
I am a 78 year white male all four of my grand parents immigrated from the country of Finland during 1890’s and helped build this country as they worked in the the construction industry and served during war time. And yes I am a proud Finn.
This was great. Thank you.
If I lived anywhere near you I would buy you coffee or a margarita. I am longing for people with open minds to talk with. The Jesus I read about in the bible was radical, generous, and merciful. He did not ask about anyone’s circumstances before offering them grace. Blessings to you on your journey.
I am so grateful to you for speaking this truth. It’s like you pulled these thoughts out of my head and made them coherent. Thank you.
Yes to all of what your wrote. I often struggle with the division in our country and between family and friends, it breaks my heart. The hate is real and that scares me.
Bravo. You covered so many salient points. I would add the climate change emergency. Any discussion must start will the acceptance of the scientific consensus. Argue over solutions not the empirical facts.
Agree with you 100%!! Tolerance and respect are needed now more than ever and at no point should someone’s hate be forced on others.
I agree with you and thank you for this article. I wish I had people I could talk to and share view’s with and learn from each other.
Are yo u living inside my head? Exactly my thoughts, thank you for so gracefully writing this essay.
I’m one of those white, male, senior Evangelicals. And I am also a moderate Republican; how’s that for an oxymoron; a staffer for US Senator Diane Feinstein guffawed when I confessed this, “Yeah, you and four others.” Moderate GOPer because while I used to carry the label of conservative proudly the far right has co-opted it and are now the ones called “conservative.”
I too am dismayed by the 81%-87% of white evangelicals who voted for and still uncritically and reflexively defend Donald Trump (I can’t call him “President”), who violates the moral and spiritual of rectitude of a tradition which once could be proudly but humbly ascribed to. It has caused some young evangelicals to eschew the label or even discard their faith.
I have been stunned by the loyalty of a number of white evangelicals who are otherwise well considered. I ask myself how could so many who would testify that the Holy Spirit resides in them, giving them direction., could be in the Trump camp.
I think that for the past several decades they have felt dismissed, marginalized and ridiculed, those who Hillary Clinton ascribed as “the deplorables.” In Trump they like the ancient Israelites longed for a conqueror king like the surrounding peoples. Like the Jews of the first century CE they wanted a Davidic conqueror king. And like troubled Judah they sought the protection (or today the advoacy) of Egypt and aligned with it.
I fear a day of reckoning will come upon we evangelicals. I console myself with a faith in a God and true Savior who is bigger than these troubles and will ultimately reign supreme in the hearts of those who will be humbled and confess he is Lord over all, even our ideologies.
Some evangelicals while acknowledging the faults and foibles of Donald Trump, said he didn’t have to be the Pastor in Chief, comparing him to Cyrus the Great, the Mede king who defeated the Babylonians and freed the Jews, that he is in effect God’s man. I retort that I don’t doubt that Donald Trump is God’s man for these times, I just don’t know if he is Tiglath-Pileser III who destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel, Sennacherib the Great who humbled Judah, or Cyrus, the liberator.
I agree with you on all the issues but one. Bad actors will always get guns and they will always attack and slaughter the helpless in gun free zones because they are cowards. In France 90 people died in an entertainment venue because the 2 shooters were the only ones with guns in a huge room with 500 unarmed people. The same is true at the Aurora movie theater, the church massacres, and the schools. What if one or two “sheep dogs” with concealed carry licenses had been there to fight back? Or security guards? We need more we’ll trained gun owners so that criminals think twice before attacking. And do you think the millions of AR15 owners will happily march in to their local police station and turn a rifle that they love? You will have a civil war on your hands and you will lose the election because many democrats and moderates are gun owners. That’s why Beto couldn’t gather support. He wanted to make felons of millions of law abiding citizens. I want a good man for president who represents all of the people and that’s not Trump. We need someone who can unite the majority of the people in this country?
Slight amendment, we need someone who can get a majority of Electoral College votes who can unite the country.
Yep, You hit the nail on the head.
Thanks for another great article
(I am a middle age white male)
This resonated with me so much!! A very good friend of mine used the eight years that President Obama served to verbally bash me over the head with all her ultra conservative beliefs, I guess assuming she could eventually wear me down and I would finally see the truth?? Looking back I can see I should have shut that down right away, although I did try to in my Enneagram 9 way. 🙂 I honestly feel that she and I couldn’t have a productive conversation now about anything political – her beliefs are just polar opposite to mine on just about everything you mentioned. But I really appreciate what you have written and maybe my friend and I can someday talk and genuinely listen to each other. I know there needs to be more of that.
I too live in a very red area. I fear we have all become so tribal that I rather not broach politics in conversation. I work at a very large research university, and I’m a registered R, but I can’t find any more moderates… that said, I agree with everything you said, point by point. Somehow “my tribe” (family members also registered “R’s”) seem to think that I have abandoned them for my “liberal beliefs” – when not that long ago, my R family would have also agreed with the alignment between these positions, politics and theology.
Hey, I just came across an article of yours on HuffPo, and it was the first piece by you that I’d read, and I’m already a fan :). My Google search was “being friends with Evangelicals,” since there are many in my extended family, lol, and I know that I can walk in peace and grace in my relationships with them (easier said than done, but so much better for the soul).
I love the term “wandering Jesus follower” that you use in your bio here. There’s a big group of us wandering Jesus followers, and we believe in a big tent, and it’s a place of joy, even as we all recover from the different heartaches of evangelicalism.
To the piece above, I say “Amen.” I don’t want to argue with anyone. I don’t want to fight. I want things – everything – healthcare, rights for people of all colors and orientations, the economy, our food – to be BETTER. I’ve been invited for the proverbial “coffee and explain how you keep your walk with Jesus strong” conversation. I had to pass.
I’d put ALL of this on a t-shirt and wear it with pride.
I wholeheartedly agree with this statement!
What you describe is the only way forward: a respectful dialogue with reason. Thank you!
The truth is the truth and you are saying it! God bless you! We left the church about 20 years ago and have no desire to return. Toxic Christians manipulated us and controlled us. No love just control. Jesus loves everyone and Trump is not who we worship! I can’t imagine heaven and being around other Christians. Please pray for me because I am so wounded and I want to get well.
I am so late to this party, but I appreciate and respect your voice, articulation, and research. I agree with your comments and intention. It gives me hope that I can have coffee with others in my community and pose the same offer you pose here. Let’s talk, but let’s listen. I’m trying to find my way back and still feel alone.