Culture Of Fear
Lately, in light of this extraordinary election year, the articles on this blog have ventured to political topics more often than usual. We have pondered the question, “How should Christ-followers engage political issues?” My friend Mike Goldsworthy has written a book on that very topic. Mike is lead pastor at Parkcrest Christian Church in Long Beach, California, and co-founder of PlantLB, a multi-ethnic, multi-denominational, city-centric church planting effort in the greater Long Beach area. He was kind enough to share a few of the insights from his book.
As I watch this election cycle, I can’t help but notice how both sides use fear to advocate for themselves, their policies and against their opponent. And as that has happened, I’ve watched Christians again jump on that same bandwagon approach of utilizing fear to advocate a position.
It reminded me of this Christian organization that, in 2008, before Barack Obama was elected, wrote a letter from 2012 looking back over the last four years. It was supposed to be a letter from the future. It contained 34 predictions of what could be true in 2012 if Obama were to be elected president. If you were to read through this letter, what you'd find is that every single one of those predictions is rooted in fear. Not a single one of them is something positive that could happen or hopeful in any way. The predictions are 100 percent fear based.
In 2012, some people dug that letter back up. They looked over those predictions and went through every one of them to ask: Did these come to fruition at all? Here's what they found: Of the 34 predictions they laid out there, one of them partially happened but didn't fully happen, and the other 33 predictions didn't even come close to happening. The letter had nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus and living out the gospel of Jesus. It had nothing to do with pursuing truth or trying to accurately predict the trajectory of situations. It had everything to do with perpetuating a certain political agenda.
If you want to perpetuate a political agenda, you scare people into wanting to move in your direction. I remember reading David McCullough's book on John Adams, and realizing that these same tactics were used when John Adams ran against Thomas Jefferson. We should expect that's what the political process is because apparently that works, and apparently that's built into the system, and it's what's been done since the early days of the American political process. But I will just tell you this: Making decisions out of fear is a terrible way to live, and you are called to something better than that. In fact, here's how the apostle John puts it:
"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18)
Perfect love—God's love that has been revealed in Jesus—If you've experienced that, it drives out fear. We are not a people who perpetuate fear, and we are not a people who are driven by, manipulated by or who make choices out of fear.
You may be reading this as someone who is passionate and politically zealous. You are concerned about certain causes and a particular person running for office—and the way in which you talk about it, the articles you’re passing around, the emails you’re forwarding, the things you’re posting on social media, are all about perpetuating fear. If that's you, take a moment and pull up your Facebook feed and read the last few political posts that you posted. Or turn on your favorite cable news station and pay attention to the stories they tell and the way that they tell them. Does the narrative have an undercurrent of fear?
A basic posture for those of us who follow Jesus is that we are not people who perpetuate fear.
Honestly, I don't understand why Christians in the church make so many decisions rooted in efforts to protect themselves. In the New Testament, the expectation is that Christians will suffer. The expectation is that the church will be persecuted. It's not that some Christians will suffer, that some churches will be persecuted. The expectation is that Christians will suffer, and the church will be persecuted.
It's not that we need to do things to try and suffer, and it's not that we need to do things intentionally to try to be persecuted, but I wonder why we spend so much time and energy —our resources, our finances—using politics to try and avoid suffering. The expectation in the New Testament is not that we would avoid suffering; it's that we would learn to suffer well.
Perhaps one of the gifts that Christians can offer during this election cycle, instead of giving into the same system of fear, is that we can approach the election with a different posture. One that refuses to allow fear to drive our decisions, who doesn’t perpetuate fear when talking about candidates and their positions, and one that doesn’t live just trying to protect ourselves as the goal of the political process. Perhaps this election cycle, we can show a different and better way.