True faith leaves no room for fear

by Kristin on September 8, 2009

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by Vincepal

I’m trying to figure something out, and it’s going to require that I do some generalizing here, so please bear with me.

If Christians believe that God is good and all powerful and on their side, why do they seem so much more afraid than everyone else?

Because that’s the main thing I get, when I look around at mainstream Christian blogs and news outlets and I catch wind of what’s being preached from the pulpits of many evangelical churches: Fear.

There’s the fear that our kids might actually like and look up to a liberal politician—a black one at that!—if they watch President Obama talk to them tomorrow about working harder and staying committed to their education. Because let’s face it, people really can’t think that Obama’s secret plan is to indoctrinate their children with his socialist agenda, as some far-right critics have claimed. (There’s an overview of the controversy here, and an interesting tie between Obama and trustworthy nature of Mr. Rogers here.)

Then there’s the fear that if your church or denomination—or even your state—has a reasonable dialogue around the issue of homosexuality, something really bad will happen to innocent old you.

For instance, you might get caught in a Jesus-orchestrated tornado, or God might get busy starting some divine fires. Because, you know, God isn’t very clever or creative, so he always resorts to natural disasters when he wants to get our attention about something that isn’t remotely related to our shameful treatment of the environment.

And what about the predominantly Christian fear surrounding sex education? The type of sex education that isn’t focused solely on abstinence-only forms of birth control and STD prevention. What are people afraid of? That too much accurate information might give our kids ideas they don’t already have.

When someone does unintentionally get pregnant (perhaps because they weren’t fully informed?), there’s fear, too, and not just about abortion. What if these babies who didn’t get aborted are raised in non-Christian, liberal homes? Maybe even by single moms! Gasp! Trying to actually help these women find places to live and ways to support themselves and their babies is just too risky. Christians should just adopt them all. (Check out the article “Shotgun Adoption” in the September 14 edition of The Nation.)

What are we afraid of?

We are all entitled to our political opinions, our interpretations of the Bible, and our understanding of who God is and how he works in the world, so I’m going to share mine: God does not use fear to communicate, manipulate or otherwise discipline us. Plenty of Christians might do that—and non-Christians, too—but we should know by now that God’s people too often don’t follow God’s lead.

As one of my favorite verses in the New Testament state, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Can we just try using that as our guide to help us determine if some communication or idea is actually from God? Again, I’m not saying we can’t disagree and feel strongly about one of these issues I’ve mentioned, but can we at least honestly ask ourselves “Are my feelings about this rooted in any form of fear?”

Because maybe the number one thing we’re afraid of is the prospect of asking ourselves the question: What am I afraid of?

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  • Leslie

    Well said, Kristin. I haven’t been able to figure out what all the fuss was about regarding our president speaking to our nation’s children. You’ve reminded me that fear is a powerful motivator, and it’s been my experience that many organized religions are very fear based. I hope that religious leaders can shift to a more loving, less fearful, style of influence.

  • Alisa

    Kristin, the topic of fear is permeating the discussion cirlces I’m connected to (Max Lucado’s new book is titled Fearless), so your blog couldn’t have come at a better time! Thank you for being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. There’s much truth in what you shared. Keep it up.

  • Wendy

    I see this a lot too and it makes me sad. How can we say we are the people of love if we are a people of fear, when “there is no fear in love, for perfect love drives out fear”? How can we understand and communicate with–let alone love–those who aren’t like us/aren’t believers if we are afraid to even listen to them? Or maybe some are afraid that we will begin to truly love them, and love makes you do all kinds of crazy things, like listening instead of doing all the talking, and admitting when you’re wrong, and giving things up for the good of others . . . and danger! danger! that might even start changing our lifestyles and our perspectives (though I would argue for the better).

    I don’t think my religion or politics are rooted in fear, but it’s still a good question for me to consider: “What am I afraid of?” I think we all have many deep fears which do too often rule our lives: fear of losing people, things, control; fear of the unknown; fear of being known and not accepted; fear that oh, we are not as strong as we think we are (see the wonderful lyrics of this Rich Mullins song:

  • Neal Taylor

    Great post Kristen – I have been wrestling with my own fear of stepping out of the ordinary for some time. Seems I have lost that boldness of youth! LOL!

    Will have to read Lucado’s new book and come back here and see what some of your other readers have to say.

    Subscribing to your blog too!

  • Gail

    There’s a lot of truth in your blog’s statements… but, as you pointed out in the onset, in order to deal with your topic it would “require that I do some generalizing here…” It’s not the generalizations that flaw your blog… it’s the assumption that the mainstream Christian blogs, or the various organizations with bully pulpits are what they say they are: Christian.

    Jesus himself gave us a litmus test by which to tell if everyone who wears the name “Christian” are truly followers (disciples) of Him. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

    So whether the people you’re referencing are currently viewed as mainstream Christians, or are the most vocal or prolific Christian bloggers, this does not necessarily make them true Christians or Christ followers. The true BODY of Christ will always have the same genetic make up as its Head… and God did not manifest Himself in the flesh as fear or hatred, but as the physical embodiment of LOVE.

  • Brian

    Thanks for raising some very valid points Kristen. My frustration is that the opinions that get most of the attention out there do not fairly or accurately represnt the overwhelming majority of the Christian Faith community. However, noone wants to read about how well everyone is getting along. What’s newsworthy about that?

    The other qualifying comment that I would make is that there is a difference between Christian commentary and “Right-wing” commentary, although admittedly the lines are often blurred. The rhetoric about President Obama’s “Socialist Indoctrination” of our children did not start in Christian pulpits. It began with conservative commentators like Limbaugh & Hannity. Unfortunately for us, they have a lot of power to influence the “lunatic fringe” in conservative politics and religion, and their rubbish inevitably impacts mainstream society.

    As a sincere believer, I can confidently attest that my faith is founded on the principles of grace, mercy, compassion, and confidence in God through Jesus Christ. I also believe that I am a far more representative example of the majority than the “clanging cymbals” on TV, radio, and the blogosphere.

  • Archie Mck

    I would add that getting people to ask any kind of introspective question is American Christianity’s greatest obstacle. Why think for yourself when there’s so many people willing to do it for you?

  • Trina

    Great question Kristen. It seems to me there is value in spreading the fear, the fear is a way of controlling. It is ‘man’ who spreads the fear, claiming to be in the name of God, but as so many of your readers have commented that is hardly the word of God. From my point of view the only thing to be gained by this control through fear is greed and power – neither of which seem very God centered, but rather ‘man’ centered.
    Why so many individuals allow themselves to be controlled by this fear certainly begs one to ask what they are afraid of, but a Catch22 seems to evolve from that.

  • Meredith

    Kristin – fabulous!

    The one thought I kept coming back to in my head when I was reading your post was: ignorance. While I think the word “ignorance” has a harsh sort of sound and has acquired a somewhat negative connotation, the basic idea is the same.

    We fear what we don’t know, that which we’re ignorant about. For all of your examples listed above, I kept thinking, “if they just got to know x y or z, then it wouldn’t be scary.” And I think there’s something to that.

    Children going to school for the first time are afraid, but once they settle in, they lose their fear because what was once unfamiliar has become familiar. It’s hard to fear something that you know or someone you’re familiar with. It’s hard to be afraid of a culture, a lifestyle or a point of view once you’ve had the chance to get to know it. Once the unknown becomes known, it’s hard to fear it.

    I can only hope that some good old-fashioned learning can help bridge the gaps that exist between those who would incite fear and those who have learned not to fear.

    (Side note: that Nation article made me shudder. Very frightening.)

  • Genevieve Charet

    Awesome post, Kristin, and excellent questions to ask. As some commenters have already mentioned, it’s a very destructive link (even if it is blurry) that has formed between Christians and far-right-wing politicians. In this sense, then, we see how deep the causes of this problem truly run. The fact that this nation supports a strict, two-party system as a means to represent the ideas of all has contributed to this polarization that sadly extends to other areas of life, including religion.

    While I understand that some of you understandably object to being linked with these Christians, it is hard for the media and bloggers alike not to do so, at times. These so-called extremists define themselves as true Christians. You define yourselves as true Christians. It would seem a bit presumptuous for a third party, such as Kristin, to try to separate the two and make a judgment about which Christian is the “real” one (at least, not without inserting her own view of what Christianity “should” be). It’s not fair at all, but these divisions exist inside of Christian communities–not outside of them. The solution, then, has to come from within.

    The fear-mongering is too absolutely ridiculous, as you say, Kristin. These people are not afraid that their children will be turned into homosexuals and weirdos. They’re afraid they won’t–and then, these people will have been proven wrong. Wrong about Obama being sent by Satan himself, wrong about information being a slippery slope to evil-doing, wrong about a few liberal laws being poison for the country. These people have allowed their own egos, their own desire to be right, to undermine the good of all. They would rather see Obama–and the country–fail than be proven wrong. THAT is what’s sick, flawed, and evil. Root for who you want during the elections–but once we have someone in office, the conservative voter who is truly good at heart will hope to be pleasantly surprised by how well everything goes.

  • Steve

    Author Joe Myers (The Search to Belong, Organic Community) puts it this way: “Why do so many Christians believe in the omnipresence of evil more than they believe in the omnipresence of God?” My wife and I asked ourselves this question for much of the summer as we were prayerfully led to choose a public montessori elementary school for our daughter (She started this morning) and we weathered a season of second-guessers. We both come from large extended families of Christian Reformed schoolteachers and some cannot comprehend our choice. We received two empassioned letters from dear family members that begged that if we cannot afford Christian Ed this year, we must keep her home for another year to protect her from evil influences and save up for a year so she can attend a Christian School; after all, one year of school won’t matter and it’s only kindergarten. Others invoked Martin Luther, saying if it’s not Bible-based, it’s a waste. If all believers followed this logic, there would be no Christian influence in the public schools, and what does that have to do with the great commission?

    Economics were only part of this decision; we are joining this school as a family and expect many opportunities to be salt and light to our new neighbors and friends, in and out of the classroom. Refreshingly, some of our family DID understand our missional approach to this decision and were supportive. It was an interesting summer.

  • Kristin T.

    Leslie, “fear is a powerful motivator” indeed. As a Twitter friend pointed out about this issue, fear and hatred are easy, but love takes work. People tend to gravitate to what’s easiest, even though it seems like Jesus said something about his way not being easy, (but he makes our burden light).

    Alisa, sounds like another book for my reading list. Thanks! I just noticed today that “fear” is a decent-sized tag on my tag cloud here—it must be on my mind.

    Wendy, I’m so glad you added that great verse about perfect love driving out fear. Instead of testing that maxim, it’s this, I’m sad to say, that seems prevalent: “…maybe some are afraid that we will begin to truly love them, and love makes you do all kinds of crazy things, like listening instead of doing all the talking, and admitting when you’re wrong, and giving things up for the good of others….”

    Neal, yes, I’m afraid of things, too, and will be asking myself the same question—what am I afraid of and how is that fear shaping me? Thanks for jumping in here!

    Gail, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve written before about the tricky nature of certain terms—how “Christian” means one thing in one context (like media) and something very different in another (like in my heart and mind, and within my close community). A big part of my aim here is to help pry loose some of these stuck definitions people have, in one direction or the other. I’m giving this a shout-out: Not all people who call themselves Christians are like whatever you imagine them to be! (And by the way, I happen to think the verse you bring up from John 13 is THE litmus test, period.)

    Brian, I hope you are right about the “overwhelming majority of the Christian Faith community” not adhering to these extreme views. When I’m reading blogs and books I like, and spending time with Christians I tend to see eye-to-eye with, I can begin to believe it’s true, but for the most part it really feels like the bulk of people who identify themselves as Christians lean toward the “clanging cymbals” approach. Also, you’re right about these views starting with conservative commentators like Limbaugh & Hannity, but my guess is that a vast majority of their listeners identify as Christians, and tie the two together.

    Archie, “getting people to ask any kind of introspective question is American Christianity’s greatest obstacle.” Indeed, and isn’t that the saddest thing in the world? Think of all the introspective questions Jesus asked his disciples, every day. It seems like those types of questions should be at the heart of our day-to-day faith, doesn’t it?

  • Sam

    So far, my favorite comment (taken from a Facebook thread) is from someone who said, “What can you expect when you allow the government to educate your children?” Commence mouth dropping open on my part!

    Oh, the comfortable seat of privilege.

    I really do understand that some of the questions in the study material made some parents uncomfortable. That is totally okay, in my book, and you can bet that if “W” would have made a speech to school children, it would have been examined. (And those of us who protested it, would have been labeled unpatriotic, don’t you think?)

    It’s just plain silly how we do cling to fear; when we know the One who has ALREADY won. As Christians, we know that evil does not win in the end. God is always triumphant. These tiny little earth squabbles we have and expend so much energy over are so pointless.

    I really do hope that all parents with school aged children use this as a teaching moment. It’s a great time to say, “Well, I don’t agree with everything that President Obama does in his administration, and I didn’t vote for him, but I think it’s great that he wanted to encourage kids to work hard for their success. What do you think?” And for those parents who do support Obama, it’s just another neat thing about our President, who obviously cares about children and their success in the future. I look forward to the day where we hear from a leader who says, “That speech made the difference to me.”

  • Sam

    And to be very clear, I have nothing but respect and admiration for those who homeschool. I love homeschoolers! I know many people make sacrifices to do so, but when it comes down to it, I do believe it’s a privilege and luxury, much like my own current job as a stay-at-home mom!

  • Jeb

    Hi KT,
    You have quite effectively made my argument for me against organization as a whole. Whenever, it seems, men and women gather in support of something, that something slowly but surely becomes secondary to (fill in the blank with any of the following, or add your own for added fun: position jockeying, self-aggrandizement, gossip, judgment, pursuing an agenda that has very little to do with ‘something’).

    I’ve got enough guilt and fear about my life without any help from Christians, Republicans or otherwise. I agree that faith pushes those to the margins, eliminates them altogether when held tight. But faith, like charity, starts at home. Our first priority, in my experience, must be faith in ourselves…only then can we truly have it in other people, ideas, ideals…

  • bookhouseboy

    Great thoughts, great questions. And so many others have already commented thoughtfully, too, so I’ll just leave it at that. Thanks, Kristin.

  • Kristin T.

    Trina, you’ve pretty much summed it up: people spread fear (and do it in the name of God in hopes of adding credibility), and it’s all about greed and power. People who don’t think very critically about it either decide the message is somehow from God or assume the person spreading fear is really just trying to generously protect them. It’s very possible that love is the only antidote, but sometimes I just feel too fed up for spreading love!

    Meredith, “We fear what we don’t know” is exactly right. I might take that another step and add that by not knowing or understanding something, we can’t control it, which is what we hate most—helplessness. “Once the unknown becomes known, it’s hard to fear it.” Again, you’ve nailed it. Unfortunately, there is that catch 22 aspect of fear at play. Being afraid of something we don’t know makes us put up walls and distance ourselves from it as much as possible. Baby steps, right? Baby steps.

    Genevieve, this is a very perceptive observation: “It’s not fair at all, but these divisions exist inside of Christian communities–not outside of them. The solution, then, has to come from within.” I think you’re right, for the most part. But I also think people “outside” of Christian communities need to let go of their stereotypes and assumptions, and open themselves up to unexpected discoveries about people of faith, just as they open themselves up to other intellectual ideas, forms of art, cultures, etc. From my perspective, sometimes crossing that chasm seems utterly daunting if I’m not met halfway.

    Steve, another book for my reading list! It’s getting long—when is my sabbatical? :) Thanks, too, for taking this idea and expanding it by sharing another example, from your life. I love hearing people’s stories and seeing where they fit in with my own.

    Sam, I’d love to ask those people who wonder how we can let the government educate our kids how they can let the government handle national defense and safety! Or anything of importance, for that matter! Gah! Anyway, your post-speech conversation scenario between parents and kids is spot-on. Can you start taking some parenting seminars on the road? :)

    Jeb, I’m glad I could save you some writing time! :) No, really, I love it when bloggers I follow are able to articulate something I’ve been playing around with in my head, or when they write something that helps me understand a thought that was eluding me. Although your point wasn’t the one I was trying to make, it’s a good one! Of course, you know I disagree with your perspective on some of it. I’m a Christian, and I’m pretty sure I don’t add “guilt and fear” to your life, right? Also, while I don’t agree with all Christians, I do try to put my faith first in God. If I go about it with honesty and humility, I think faith in myself and others flows out of that. But that’s just me, and I know you respect that. :)

    bookhouseboy, thanks for reading and letting me know you’re engaged in all these ideas! The comments people have left are amazingly thoughtful and insightful, aren’t they? I’m loving it.

  • jenx67

    well, i want to tread lightly, but it’s kind of hard to, because what i want to say is that it seems like there is a profound lack of indwelling of the Holy Spirit. i’m not saying people controlled by fear aren’t Christians – only that when fear is controlling any of us for any reason we have further to go on the path to indwelling than we probably realize.

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  • Trina

    Yes, love may seem like the antidote, I understand not always being able to give it, as it seems sometimes like rowing upstream, and yes, without a paddle. Rather ironic isnt it, to see love as the antidote, but there is generally everything but love out there? Arent we constantly having to protect ourselves from bitterness, judgement etc, to me makes it hard to just ‘love’. I see your thoughts about compassion in other posts, and it makes me think more about the love. Tough, but worthwhile to be sure.

  • Dave Thurston

    I know that fear is out there and I have mine at times. Frequently when I look deeply at my fear, I see that the real fear is that I need to learn something that radically changes my way of thinking and (frankly) I’d rather not do that right now.

    Maybe it’d be simpler to change everyone over to my way of thinking (through fear perhaps) rather than deal with my own fears.

  • Kristin T.

    jenx67, that feels to me like a spirit-guided observation. It is, after all, the spirit that brings us peace that passes understanding. It’s the spirit that can break through the scary stuff, get inside us, then emanate from within.

    Trina, this is definitely one of the things that gets in the way of love: “…constantly having to protect ourselves from bitterness, judgment etc.” Very true.

    Dave, gosh you are all so wise! Yes, we don’t want to change our way of thinking about something. Not only is it too much work, but it has a domino effect, which often means we have to then adjust others ways of thinking. It’s like trying to do some minor house repair, like fix a couple of tiles in the shower, and before you know it, you have to tear them all out, repair the plumbing, put up new cement board and re-tile the whole thing! Makes us want to ignore the two loose tiles, doesn’t it?