Casting out Fear

Casting out Fear

1 John 4:18

August 20, 2017

Steve Hammond

Perfect love casts out fear.

The images from Charlottesville are etched on many of our minds. We have seen the pictures and videos all week long. We have realized, among other things, that the faces of White Supremacy are much different than many people imagined. Many people have been particularly disturbed to realize that many of the members of White Supremacists groups are young, educated, affluent, and live all over the country. And it was also disturbing to see how on display the hate was. Not only were these people not who we were expecting to act like this, but we had no idea how bad it really was. Or, at least, White folk were surprised by all of this. Many people of color have pointed out that nothing that happened in Charlottesville or Trump Tower last week or the cautious response coming from Capitol Hill took them by surprise.

We have been down this road before, many times. Fortunately, there are those who have taught us some things along the way. Martin Luther King, Jr. faced with so many others the violence of White Supremacy that was simply understood as the norm for race relations in this country. He was able, though, to look behind the hate and see the fear. And not only did he teach us that you don’t meet violence with violence, hate with more hate, but you don’t let them make you afraid. That line that says we are not afraid in that most famous anthem from the Civil Rights era, We Shall Overcome, is there for a reason. Then there is the one that goes ain’t gonna let  nobody turn me around, turn me around.

Martin Luther King, Jr. knew well the power of fear. But he knew a much greater power at work that was exhibited in the life of Jesus, the power of love. Fear, not hate, is the opposite of love. And what we saw in Charlottesville was more than hate. It was hate fueled by fear. What did they keep chanting? You will not replace us! And Jews will not replace us.! They are so afraid their assumed place of dominance in our culture is threatened. And they are right. But when Jesus said the last shall be first and the first shall be last he meant in God’s Realm there is no first or last. This kind of equality threatens these folk to the core. And the only way they know to respond to that fear is make others afraid. It’s a time-honored strategy among White Supremacists. They want to cast out our love by making us more afraid than they are.

It is not unusual, at all, for politicians to appeal to our fears. But what we have seen in the current Administration has taken this to a whole new level. The blatant stoking of White folks fears by President Trump and many of his aides and supporters used to be the kind of thing that was done in coded language, like Ronald Reagan was so good at. But these folk don’t want to bother with subtleties. Not only has something awful been unveiled these past months, but they are gladly lifting the cover.

The hard facts are that the President of the United States of America is, at best, an apologist for White Supremacy because he gets so much praise and support from them and 83% of Republicans and more than 90% of those who voted for him approve of the way he is doing his job.

So, one of the issues for us is aren’t these the people we are supposed to love? It has been interesting to see many of us in this and other congregations grapple with this question. And rightly so. Sure, we are making these great connections with immigrants and refugees and those who are trying to keep them safe. We’ve been doing all this work to confront our own white privilege and strengthen our relationships with African-American folk. Cindi and Joella and Mary Hammond have been key in helping this city adopt Indigenous Peoples Day. And we were even willing to risk having our building taken away from us for our stance in support of the LGBTQ+ community. I don’t know about all of you, but I am amazed at the people I have gotten to know these past months, the stories I’ve heard, the relationships I’ve made, the help that’s been asked for and offered.

Yet there is this unease because we don’t know how to make similar movements toward those who believe Donald Trump is probably the best President this country has ever had. And it feels like until we get this right, nothing is right. Isn’t Jesus looking for us to make this better? Yes. But let’s look at how Jesus did this. As we know he had some pretty sharp conflicts with a variety of the religious leaders of his day. For example, here are some highlights from Matthew 23.

It was no secret that Jesus’ enemies were looking to neutralize him. They tried destroying his reputation. They would set these traps hoping to get him to say something that would turn the people against him. They went so far as to have him killed. But Jesus wasn’t going to give into fear and let them throw him off his game. He kept doing what he was called to do. He reached out to the stranger. He went to places where nobody thought good religious people should go. He offered healing and acceptance wherever he was. He continued to challenge the religious and political authorities. He never strayed from his trust that living the way God wanted him to live was the right way to live.

Though he loved everybody, Jesus was never looking for these guys to become his best buds. He knew the best way to speak to their fear was to continue doing what he was already doing. And it turns out that some of them did get it and became followers themselves. In the same way, Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t have a goal of going to Alabama football games with George Wallace and Bull Conner. Rather he wanted to prove to them that we don’t have to live by our fears.

One of the ways of responding to the hate and fear on display in Charlottesville is definitely not what I hear plenty of people saying, when they suggest there is no shame in beating up Nazis. That’s the voice of fear. We have been so conditioned to believe that that meeting fear and violence with more fear and violence somehow works. All it does is create more Nazis. [excerpt from the Politically Reactive podcast]

We talked at the service on Friday about how, as much as we want to believe otherwise, what happened in Charlottesville is not an aberration. The insistence of so many White people that this is not us, or this is not America was quickly challenged by many people of color. Their experience is that this is what America has always been. But like we also said on Friday, it’s not the only thing we have been. It doesn’t do any good, though, to deny that White Supremacy is as much as part of our national DNA as that countervailing DNA strand that has welcomed so many into this country.

It’s the same way with fear. As much as we want to deny our fears, we often find ourselves afraid. And we also know that those fears can be easily manipulated by internal and external forces. I came across this quote earlier this summer that I would like to put on the sandwich board outside of church, but it’s too long. It’s from the book Gathering the Fragments by Edward Farrell. Jesus is at the fragile center of where we are afraid. And how does Jesus arrive at that fragile center? Through one another. That’s why we keep saying courage is contagious.

As I have watched those videos of the White Supremacists marching through Charlottesville, I couldn’t help but think that the White Supremacists and the White Christian Nationalists were doing exactly what I have been suggesting, building relationships, reaching out to others, finding strength in one another. The difference is, though, that they are reaching out in fear, building coalitions of hate. We have this amazing opportunity to resist that by simply building coalitions of love. What we can show the White Supremacists and their near kin is that hate will never cast out our fear, but love will.