For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT).
In 2015 my Canadian colleagues pointed out that they were undergoing the longest campaign season in recent history: 11 weeks. I confess that after several years of hard-fought primaries and then a brutal general election season, a campaign season of less than three months sounds blissful!
After all of the money that was spent and the bitter campaigning, our country remains incredibly divided. What is this divide about? Many factors play into it, far more than can possibly be discussed here. But one factor that bears further examination, particularly for those of us in the church, is fear.
One set of research on voters’ attitudes carried out before the election asked what makes voters most fearful. Among Clinton supporters, climate change was noted most frequently, along with nuclear weapons and war in the Middle East.
Trump supporters’ main fear was terrorist attacks in the U.S. Other Trump voters cited concerns about the economy and immigration.
Fear can lead us to scapegoat others, to take entire groups of people and deem them less than worthy of our love, of God’s love. For example, fear of terrorism is often expressed against Muslims, who are seen as the most likely to carry out a terrorist attack, although of course many shootings and other violent acts in the U.S. have been carried out by non-Muslims. Fear can keep us from seeing another as who he or she really is, probably also driven by fear for our safety and the fear of not having enough.
All of us have fears. As Scott Bader-Saye notes in his book, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear, there is nothing wrong with fear at its most basic level. In fact, it keeps us from doing stupid things!
But fear can be taken to an extreme. Whatever it is that we fear, Bader-Saye says that fear teaches us to value three things: suspicion, preemption and accumulation.
The Gospel, he says, gives us other values. When we are tempted to become suspicious, we can consciously offer hospitality instead. When we are tempted to take preemptive action, we can decide to work instead for peace. When we are tempted to store up wealth, we can choose to be generous instead.
In the next year we will face many challenging fears. There will be fear in immigrant communities about potential deportations, fear in Native American and other communities that pipelines will be built regardless of the impact on sacred lands and water, fear of losing access to affordable health care, and fear among those struggling against racism and sexism that the work is about to get harder.
But rooted in the reassurance that God is sovereign over everything, we can work together with a committed and Christlike spirit against those and all fears and toward a kingdom of hospitality, peace and generosity. —Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach