Every year, as we enter into the Thanksgiving season, I make a little list in my head of people I am most grateful for — and sometimes I call them. This year, with the election results still fresh in my mind, I thought I would write out some of them.
At Thanksgiving, I am always very thankful for both my parents, and the things they taught us about how to relate our faith to other people. I remember my mother telling me two things I needed to do. First, she said, “If there is a kid on the playground nobody is playing with, you play with them! If I see a kid being left out on the playground, and you’re there, you’ll be in trouble with me!” Second, she said, “If there is a kid bullying other kids on the playground, you be the one to stand up to them.” My parents were white evangelicals from a church of mostly white working class people in Detroit, Mich. But I know who they would have never voted for — because of their faith.
I continue to feel so very thankful for a new generation of Christians — many in our extended community of Sojourners, and in our own office. I have been listening carefully to their angry, fearful, and emotional responses to this election.
So I’m praying for those young people as they go home for the holidays and struggle with how to talk about their faith and ask their families hard questions about how they voted on the basis of their faith. Listen to what that conversation might be like as imagined by our multimedia editor JP Keenan.
I am particularly thankful this year for a new network of young black activists: people like Brittany Packnett and Bree Newsome, who have changed the narrative about race in this country, not by seeking power but by risking themselves for what they believe in. And I am grateful for the multiracial clergy I believe will act to hold their local sheriffs and departments accountable to end racial profiling and to also obey the law in their treatment of all young men and women of color — especially if the new Justice Department and White House won’t hold them accountable.
I’m also am very thankful for the rising up of prophetic Hispanic evangelical leaders, like Gabriel Salguero and Noel Castellanos, who uncomfortably remind other evangelicals that how we treat “the stranger” is how we treat Christ himself (Mt. 25). And I am thankful for the congregations who will listen to them and are already considering their support for immigrants at great risk now, and who will force a new administration to arrest undocumented immigrants in their churches instead of at home alone.
I am especially and personally grateful for Peggy Flanagan, a young Native woman who won her election with 64 percent support for her seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Peggy is an adopted daughter for me and my family and is often with us, so the hate-filled messages she has received (like many others) and the well-being of her family is of great concern to our family. And I am so very thankful for the indigenous people at Standing Rock in North Dakota, who now demonstrate to the nation what it looks like to be stewards of the Creator’s creation — a cause virtually denied by the people who will now be in power now in Washington, D.C.
Of course, I am feeling thankful and quite protective, this Thanksgiving, for dear friends like Eboo Patel and Daisy Khan, who like every Muslim in America wonder what is ahead for them now. So many of our Muslim brothers and sisters have been attacked throughout this election campaign because of their religion, yet continue to demonstrate every day how members of the Islamic faith are making America better and “great” again. And if a new presidential regime decides that Muslims in America have to “register,” I will be very proud of all the Christians and Jews who will be first to get in line.
I am very grateful this Thanksgiving for the evangelicals who still realize that being truly “evangelical” means to follow the words of Jesus in Luke 4, which clearly describes the gospel he came to proclaim as “good news” to the poor that will “free the captives,” and “let the oppressed go free.” Drawing a circle of protection around the poor and vulnerable will be the first thing to do with this administration and the new Congress, and I am so grateful for all the people of faith who will unite together to do that.
I am also thankful for evangelicals who are less concerned about being persecuted for their beliefs, and more concerned about their brothers and sisters in Christ — immigrants and other people of color — who are now so afraid of persecution because they were targeted by the campaign of the incoming president, and whose children are already being verbally and physically assaulted at their schools and on their playgrounds by people who claim to be his supporters.
I am also thankful for those Christians whose concerns for “religious liberty” are not merely focused on whom they can hire but instead are deeply alarmed at the prospect of “banning” of all Muslims from coming to America, as the incoming president said he would do.
I am thankful for my oldest son who tells me that America is still a “young country” that is becoming more diverse all the time. He told me on election night, “don’t lose your hope,” because while the new president “could slow us down,” a new America will come. I’m also thankful for a younger son who now does hilarious Donald Trump impersonations at dinner, causing his parents to erupt in much-needed laughter. I’m thankful for a wife who is also an immigrant and is able to bring an outside perspective to American politics.
Things will definitely change after Jan. 20. Everything will not be all right, but we can and will stick together, go deeper in our faith, and realize that our primary relationship is with an international and completely multiethnic community of faith, now based in the global south instead of the dying churches of the western north.
In America, we will re-learn what it means to live “in exile” as the body of Christ, as we are always supposed to do. One advantage of being in exile for the children of Israel was that some of the strongest prophetic voices emerged — like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others; I believe that will happen for us, too.
So enjoy feasting and loving and laughing this Thanksgiving. Talk together about things that are important and concerning and hopeful for you. Pray deeply over your food and over each other. And ask how you can expand your table.
Remember, the Sunday after Thanksgiving is when Advent begins — a time for waiting expectantly and preparing. And there is much to prepare for with a new administration and Congress on the way next year. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving everyone.