Check Your Fear

In a speech at Dordt University in 2016, Donald Trump promised power for Protestant America. While many would like to believe that he was referring only to the implementation of stricter abortion regulations, the truth is, this promise was about more than that: it was about stoking and harnessing fear to maintain an unjust status quo.

Almost every time in history that religion and political power have mixed, hate has triumphed, because of the two forces, political power will always become the dominant force. Power can manipulate religion, but religion cannot manipulate power. True religion cannot maintain its own existence by feeding on power, but power can be maintained by feeding on religious convictions and, more subtly, by fueling and hoarding the power of fear disguised as religious conviction. 

The Church was not born out of power, but out of powerlessness. Jesus–a helpless baby born in a grimy stable–spent His life ministering to the most vulnerable and marginalized people in His society. Defying all expectations, He did not reign as king of the Jews, nor drive out the Roman occupation. Instead, He wore a crown of thorns and went unresisting to the cross. This is not to say that Christians should stand idly by when it comes to politics. Jesus always acted on injustice. What I am saying is that power should never be the Church’s goal. Anyone who tries to win the Church by offering power wants to win power by offering the Church, and Christians in particular need to be cognizant of what our support is fueling.

Power may look like the way to change the world for Christ, but Christ Himself changed the world through helplessness. I’ve heard it said “the devil hates nothing more than he hates a powerless God.” That is to say, power is the devil’s playground–powers that wield the Bible in one hand more often than not wield hate and fear in the other. When it comes to powerlessness, though, the story is different– there’s absolutely nothing the devil could do to combat Christ’s willing sacrifice. 

When politicians call on the Church to defend our beliefs via political power–stirring up images of violence, unrest, and change that will supposedly result if we don’t buy into their control–it is our crucial duty to discern the beneficiary of our fear, and to turn from fear to love. When we are called on to fear our new neighbors because of their race or nation of origin–when we are told that their presence will mean fewer jobs for us, more violence in our neighborhood, or more drugs in our schools–we must be willing to see the manipulative effect of those statistically improbable, anecdotally compelling fears. 

In all things, we must be willing to love before we fear. We must be willing to relinquish our certainty, our privilege, and our power, for the sake of others. We must be willing to see that the systems that work so well for us also work to keep others down–the systems that keep us safe put others in danger. Love is a vulnerable, reckless act, and love drives change. 

Before you run to the promise of power as a way to protect your certainty and your privilege (in the guise of your conviction) from hyperbolic evils, I ask you to always ask who is really benefiting from your fear. Who is getting your vote because you’re afraid of differences? Who are you supporting financially because they will help keep systems in place that benefit you, even if they are harming others? 

The Kingdom of God does not triumph by political power. It triumphs in helplessness, in lowliness, and in uncommon love. It triumphs when fear is overwhelmed by love. 

As students, we are in a unique position to learn not only in our classes but from our community and each other. Many of us grew up believing what our churches and families believed: that the American Church–conflated unflinchingly with conservatism–is at war with all that is other and that we can only triumph by force, but I believe there is another way. I believe politics is not how we achieve faith-based morals but rather one of the ways in which we can express them. 

So how are you going to demonstrate love, humility, and grace this election season–by betting on Donald Trump to restore values to the nation or by advocating for the least of these and voting with them in mind?

Ask yourself what is guiding your political conversations, shaping your opinions, and deciding your vote. Ask yourself who taught you to be afraid and what they’re gaining from your fear.