The Currency of Fear

Like many of you, I watched in horror as we saw the crowds of protestors descend on the Capitol building in an effort to undermine our democratic process. That horror turned to sadness and heartache as the realization set in that this wasn’t a surprise. This is where we have been preparing to go, and not just for the last four years — as Kristin Kobes Du Mez outlines so elegantly in her book, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.

“Evangelical fears were real. Yet these fears were not simply a natural response to changing times. For decades, evangelical leaders had worked to stoke them. Their own power depended on it. Men like James Dobson, Bill Gothard, Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye, Mark Driscoll, Franklin Graham, and countless other lesser lights invoked a sense of peril in order to offer fearful followers their own brand of truth and protection. Generations of evangelicals learned to be afraid of communists, feminists, liberals, secular humanists, “the homosexuals,” the United Nations, the government, Muslims, and immigrants — and they were primed to respond to those fears by looking to a strong man to rescue them from danger, a man who embodied a God-given, testosterone-driven masculinity.” (p. 13)

What we witnessed on January 6th was a culmination of how White supremacy has entitled and created a culture in which this type of behavior is justified when it feels endangered. And where is this fear coming from? What are we to do about it?

Fear.

It’s a perfectly common emotion — one we’ve all experienced at one point or another, and one that drives how we approach life. The fear of flying following the 1986 plane crash that ended with the two planes that collided over our neighborhood on opposite sides of my street in Cerritos drove me to avoid flying as much as possible until a trip in 2019 to Orlando helped calm my nerves. The fear of being crushed in a collapsed parking structure during an earthquake led me to try and park as close to the top as possible whenever I could. Fear at times is healthy — it keeps most of us from doing strange and dangerous things, such as eating raw fish that is still moving at a sushi restaurant. Yet, for those that know how to manipulate those fears within us — that is where we begin to see toxic power taking root.

In the 1930’s, bad economic times and a fear of socialism became the driving force that led people towards the promises of a rising star named Hitler. Promising to create a great Germany, Hitler pointed fingers at the Jewish people and other minority groups as the ones to blame for their economic woes, threatening that Germany would never be great until those groups had been driven from the land. The “new Germany,” the Nazis promised, “would have no class, religious, or regional differences, and the political strife and dissension that characterized the Weimar parliamentary democracy would end. In theory, neither birth nor economic status would be obstacles to social, military, or political advancement.” (State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda, p.9)

Fear of not being able to reach the promised land and what could happen if they failed drove the Germans to support a murderous regime that cost the lives of over six million innocent people.

Fear can be a dangerous thing.

Perhaps that’s why God, throughout Scripture, continually tells us to not be afraid. “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more,” He told a crowd of followers in Luke 12:4, warning them to be on guard against the religious elite. The ones who had created a culture of fear-based religiosity.

“My father,” Jesus explained, “remembers the very sparrows, so how — considering you are worth more than many sparrows — much will the Father remember you?” (Luke 12:5-6. paraphrased) In the same sermon, Jesus also told the story about a man who wanted to work as hard as he could to conserve grain for many years so that he could ‘take life easy’.” The man planned an elaborate scheme to build bigger barns to store his surplus so that he could eat, drink, and be merry without worrying about the future. Yet God said, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:16-21)

I think it’s interesting how so much of our culture and life are obsessed with preparing for the future — a future that may not be guaranteed. What’s even more interesting is when that preparation distracts us from what God says is truly important — loving the least among us, all the while forgetting that the wealth we might experience is a blessing from God.

D.L. Mayfield, in her book, The Myth of the American Dream: Reflections on Affluence, Autonomy, Safety, and Power, says it like this:

“In the Bible, wealth is a blessing from God — but it is one that can make us forget our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable. It is a blessing and a curse; both of these things are true, and because of this dual reality economics is a core preoccupation of the biblical tradition. Old Testament laws were very much concerned with how the people of God would live together in covenant community: it was assumed you would be close to those who were poor, and therefore you would be more likely to be invested in their future… God’s ideal economy banks on the idea that you shall know your neighbor who is suffering and that you shall be compelled to do something about it.” (p. 15)

In the aftermath of this week’s attack on our nation’s Capitol, I took the time to listen to the news coverage between all of the major cable networks. MSNBC and CNN focused on the outrage and pain; the betrayal the American people were feeling at a leadership that had seemingly incited a mob to storm the heart of our Democracy while pundits like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham continued to stoke the fear that the media’s outrage was going to cost Americans their freedom. Two nights later, their conversations turned to denial that these were acts perpetrated by their viewership and that the “Radical Left” were threatening our First Amendment rights. Fear.

What is it that you are afraid of?

Are you living in a way that is afraid of your future, or are you looking to move forward in faith for what God is calling you to? God will NEVER call you away from loving the “least of these.” Jesus continually spoke out against those who would try and keep all of their belongings instead of giving to the poor and taking care of the most vulnerable of our society.

“But Ellie, what if I have nothing left?”

That, I would argue, is where faith comes in.

During the Old Testament times, while the Israelites wandered through the desert, God sent down manna from Heaven; a daily sustenance that would provide the people with just enough for their day. Try to save some for leftovers, and it would turn rancid.

I wonder how many people tried that. And how many people carried around rancid manna with them “just in case,” because it was “better than nothing” if the supply ran out.

Are you carrying around rancid manna? Perhaps this is your chance to purge that out, to look inside of your own life and faith, and to ask yourself if it is one that is driven by fear, or one that is driven by love.

May God help us on the path towards repentance.

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