“Paranoia strikes deep … Into your life it will creep … It starts when you’re always afraid … Step out of line, the men come and take you away!” (Stephen Stills, 1966)
Franklin Graham says, “I appreciate the fact that the president does have a concern for Christian values,” said, “he does have a concern to protect Christians — whether it’s here at home or around the world.”
Given Mr. Trump’s lifestyle, rhetoric, and policies I can’t imagine how Graham concludes he has any concern whatsoever for “Christian values.” But it’s this need for the president to “protect Christians,” that I find most disturbing. The LORD is my Shepherd, my Rock, my High Tower. I don’t look to any politician, let alone one of Mr. Trump’s ilk, to protect me.
Graham went on to say, “And I appreciate the fact that he protects religious liberty and freedom.” Historically, the Church’s most pitiful moments have been when our liberty and safety have ranked higher on our agenda than the radical advance of the kingdom of Christ at whatever the cost. Our darkest hours have come when we’ve mortgaged God’s agenda for our own material and social prosperity, when we’ve gained the world and lost our souls.
Robert Jeffress was asked where he saw religious freedoms in decline in the U.S. “The effort by the ACLU to sandblast crosses off war memorials. The attempt to remove nativity scenes or Ten Commandments displays. All of that is an outright restriction of religious liberty. The Supreme Court decision removing prayer from the schools, followed by Bible reading…”
From my vantage point, the things he cites are just window dressing. They’re symbols, that though appreciated by most people of faith, citing these as evidence of an attack on faith is, to my mind, shallow and superficial. To the raucous cheers at his rallies, Mr. Trump promises to bring back “Merry Christmas!” in holiday greetings, as though it makes any substantial difference one way or the other. These particular complaints as proof of an insidious growing tyranny over faith are ridiculous and good only for accolades and applause.
How did the Church become so timid? Our fears are certainly not cultivated in the soil of faith. This “spirit of fear” isn’t quelled by looking to a bellicose bully. The best treatments for peace-sapping timidity are “power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
It’s been said that the opposite of fear is not courage, but love. “Perfect love,” says John, “casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18) The opposite, that fear casts out love, is equally true. Instead of loving our neighbors from across town and over lands and seas, we fear them. When our policies are driven by fear, instead of being inspired by love, we tend to do a lot of bad things to people that God loves. If we fail to choose love over our fears and anger we’ll find ourselves in a world of trouble––even more trouble than we had before we began looking to a demagogic man as our leader.
Fear is an effective marketing and political strategy. Effective in the short run, but like guilt, in terms of actually moving people toward more worthy objectives, fear and anger have a brief shelf life. Bruce Springsteen sings, “Fear’s a dangerous thing, it can turn your heart black, you can trust. It’ll take your God-filled soul and fill it with devils and dust.”
Never mind that the Bible has more “Fear nots” than there are days in a year, fear is such a lousy motivator to living responsibly, but effective if you’re campaigning for office or trying to garner support for an unworthy cause.
Have you heard the story of the pack of Cub Scouts who were out camping when late one night sitting around the fire telling ghost stories of monsters in the woods who eat children? After midnight, terrified of being gobbled up by such creatures the whole pack crawled into a single tent. One boy awoke a couple of hours later with a full bladder. He fumbled his way to the tent door but was too scared to go outside. Everyone awoke the next morning to soggy sleeping bags. The boy was so scared of what might be on the outside that he made of mess of everything on the inside! Sounds to me like what’s happening in our country today.
In August of 2018, while stumping for GOP candidates in midterm elections, Mr. Trump gathered his fawning Evangelical pastoral team. “You’re one election away from losing everything that you’ve got,” he preached. Opponents, he said, “will overturn everything that we’ve done and they’ll do it quickly and violently, and violently. There’s violence. When you look at Antifa and you look at some of these groups — these are violent people.”
While it’s true that this tiny, loosely organized group of anarchists has wreaked havoc in a few Alt-right rallies, this is simply a hyperbolic scare tactic to adrenalize his fans to raise the decibels on the cheer meter.
Panic and hostility have drained our Christian compassion for those whose needs are greater than our own and shredded our testimony in the world. From Christian voices, I hear more antipathy than empathy for the world’s least, last, lost, and lonely. Each toxic bite of the president’s propaganda of fear and anger that we swallow diminishes our appetite to obey the Great Commandment and fulfill the Great Commission.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32
“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.” Psalm 37:8