11/05/2008

Evangelical Fear - Rise Above It!

Here are some wise words from Evangelicals for Social Action in light of this presidential election:

"My Tribe" by Bret Kincaid

I grew up a Roman Catholic but entered the Protestant fold when, as a college freshman on a secular campus, I fell into an evangelical conservative crowd calling themselves Campus Crusade for Christ. Through unconditional love and discipleship these new friends instilled in me a fresh and powerful desire for marinating my mind in Scripture and sharing my faith with others. Because at the time I felt a vocational calling to psychotherapy, they steered me to a Christian college and assured me that I would be better off learning Christian psychology rather than the psychology of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and B.F. Skinner taught at the secular university. I followed their advice, but at the Christ-centered college I attended, I unexpectedly came to face what they feared—i.e., the psychological theories of modern thinkers who started their thinking from non-theistic assumptions—and learned to love looking for truth wherever one can find it.

The last days of the 2008 presidential election reminded me of this fear-based approach to culture. I recently became aware of it when I watched an invocation given by an evangelical pastor at a McCain rally. Then Focus on the Family Action issued the “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America.” Of course, I had already heard the rumors circulating in the evangelical camp that Obama is a Muslim, not a US citizen, is the anti-Christ, “pals around with terrorists,” and the like. Last week I received a DVD from my evangelical in-laws that cast Obama in a scary light. I haven’t bothered to look, but I’m sure this kind of fear is expressed throughout the evangelical Christian corner of the internet. And just last weekend a former evangelical pastor and relative of mine said he plans to move back to the Eastern bloc country from which he escaped in the 1940s because it is less socialist than Obama’s nation will be.
This reaction to an Obama presidency is rooted in fear, and as any good horror flick demonstrates, fear often distorts what is real. I believe president-elect Barack Obama and his administration will make mistakes, and he will push for or tolerate policies that many will find problematic, even repugnant. I also expect some of those policies will be just and some won’t be. But he is no more likely to be an ogre—or, in evangelical parlance, the anti-Christ—than John McCain, the boogey man of the radical left.

I used to be surprised by this political fear, but I’ve gotten used to it. Nonetheless, I never cease being severely disappointed in many of my tribe for being so predictably fearful rather than hopeful, especially in the face of what they believe will be a political disaster. Since evangelicals became a powerful political force in the US, we have become widely known as fearful rather than hopeful people. Yet, the most common command of Scripture is “Do not be afraid,” a command tethered to hope. When election races are tight we so often act as though 1) God is not sovereign over history; 2) when God intervenes in history, it is primarily through politics; and 3) few of us are working in organizations that help move civil society in a healthy direction. Instead, let’s remember that the US is so fortunate to have a strong, richly textured civil society, a bulwark against tyranny, and a potential vehicle for encouraging a just society. Through our faith-based organizations—i.e., churches, colleges, businesses, nonprofits, etc.—and through our memberships in the political parties and various interest groups, we have the privilege and opportunity to express our living, vibrant, and hopeful faith, which will naturally reverberate in ways God can use.

I offer this reflection in the spirit of Paul’s common admonition to be content and to be thankful to God, while rolling up our sleeves to live into the prayer “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."


I've written before about how fear is all too often the rule for evangelicals.

Let's live with faith, hope, and love. Let's not give in to fear.

"God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." (2 Timothy 1:7)

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear." (1 John 4:18)

_

6 comments:

Henry Zonio said...

Great post and a great reminder!

Ted M. Gossard said...

Amen, Bob. I see it everywhere. It's amazing, and it wears on you after awhile. And unfortunately, while not buying what they say, it can rub off on one as well. I'm around these people all the time. Fact is just a bunch of bunk created by someone somewhere, with little or no grounding in reality.

I believe that clearly the best candidate for President won on November 4, but just my opinion.

Byron Harvey said...

This is a great post, defined as "one I've been thinking about for two weeks and trying to figure out how to respond to." First, I agree with the general point: fear isn't the appropriate emotion; we have a sovereign God Who is still on the throne, and we must trust Him instead of fear.

Here's the rub: I wonder, what is the appropriate emotion? Because in addition to loving and trusting God, I love my country. I believe that the election of Barack Obama, while not the cause of the eventual destruction of the America-as-we-know-it that I hold dear, is symptomatic of the elements that will destroy this country; the climate that would enable us to elect Barack Obama to the presidency is a climate in which things are taking place that will "radically transform the United States" (Obama's words).

I do not want to see that happen.

Disclaimer before someone jumps me: America has its warts, needs some level of change in certain ways, isn't perfect by any means. Fine.

But if you honestly believe that the events we are witnessing now (including some being brought about, or at least acquiesced to, by Republicans) are harbingers of some major redefinitions of our country and our system--and I believe that to be true--what emotion(s) ought to attend that belief with regard to the America that I love?

I guess I shouldn't "fear" moral anarchy or socialism? Fair enough; pray tell, what emotions would you find appropriate? I'm still thinkin'...

Bob Robinson said...

Perhaps the right emotion is to actually welcome progress and not see it as an evil.

Conservatism is good as far as it goes, but not all things need to be conserved. Without progress, a man like Barack Obama would never had been allowed to vote, let alone become president.

I believe that it is when we are so anchored to conservatism that fear rears its ugly head. Perhaps we should start to think that the country is meant to become rather than just stay the same.

This is not to say that there are things that don't need to be conserved. I think of it this way: When we rise above partisanship, we are able to rise above the posture of always fighting for conservatism and against liberalism, or (on the other side) for liberalism and against conservatism. We can instead take the posture of Christ, who knew when to conserve and when to progress.

Byron Harvey said...

Bob,

I'd respectfully call that a non-answer. If you want to call it "progress" that America has reached the point where a black man can be elected president, I'll join you in that assessment. But it is you who has chosen to use, over and over, the term "conservatism"; I didn't talk about a political philosophy, but never mind that. I fully believe that Obama and the climate in this country which would elect him cannot be described as "progress"; I see it as regress.

"Change", the mindless mantra of modern-day politicians (and implied by your choice to use the word "progress"), is devoid of meaning, and certainly not "progress", unless it is defined in ways that will enhance freedom and promote the general welfare, etc. I would remind you that "change" can happen in all sorts of directions; becoming Nazi or Communist would represent "change", but neither would represent "progress". Now, I do not suggest that either of those philosophies is the direction we're headed, but my point is that your assumption that Obama represents "progress" is, in my opinion, without foundation, and thus I am left in the same quandary: if I fully believe that our nation is headed down a precipitous path (possibly of no return), what emotion(s) are appropriate? You chose to try to persuade me to see these events as "progress", but since I do not and indeed cannot, what counsel do you have for me regarding my emotions?

Finally, I as well see some things that need to change in this country; I'd like to see this country "become" some things that it is not. I am convinced, though, that Barack Obama will take us in directions that lead away from, and not toward, those helpful changes that we need.

Byron Harvey said...

OK, well, I guess that the only answer to "rising above fear" is to forsake my core beliefs about economics and politics and embrace radically different positions, to call bad "good", and to call good "bad", and then I won't be tempted to "fear". Instead of any negative emotions related to the election of Obama, it'll all be seashells and balloons, I guess...

Got any better ideas for someone unable to see Obama's ideas as "progress"?