All my life I’ve been taught two competing attitudes towards others. One is the Jesus attitude: Love thy neighbor (and everyone is your neighbor). The other is the America attitude: Fear the stranger/other.
Like all good women, I’ve rationalized and reconciled these two beliefs. After all, I have to be prudent. I shouldn’t walk alone in the dark, or let a guy I just met drive me somewhere, or leave my purse hanging open when walking down a busy city street. All women know how to avoid being a victim, right? Because in our current rape culture, the burden is on women to avoid victimhood, rather than on criminals to avoid crimes. So being “street smart” didn’t mean I didn’t love my neighbor. I can love someone even while I protect myself from him, right?
As I watch the rhetoric of the presidential race, I’m beginning to wonder just how fear and love interact. Fear of the stranger is a common theme running through all the speeches. The immigrants take our jobs, the refugees will be secret terrorists, the Democrats want to destroy capitalism, the Republicans want to enslave women, and the Libertarians just want to split the vote.
I’m reminded of 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Is that true for me?
I’m not talking about survival fears, and I don’t think John was either. The physical fight or flight reaction that kicks in when someone points a gun at me isn’t what is driven out. I am an animal: survival instincts will overpower my rational mind when necessary. I’m talking about everyday fears. The fear that if I leave my car unlocked, someone will steal it. The fear that if Candidate ____ gets elected, the country will fall apart. The fear that if we raise the minimum wage, the economy will tank. The fear that if we don't balance the budget, China will take over the USA. The fear that Muslims, LGBTQ people, white men, black men, feminists, fundamentalists, rednecks, gangs or pedophiles will destroy whatever we personally hold dear.
We have been taught that we can love our neighbor even as we fear him, and I don’t believe that’s true. Love is self sacrifice. Love is being willing to die for someone, yes, willing to die. Jesus' death demonstrates that God believes every single human ever born is worth dying for. Every. Single. Human. If I am not willing to die for a person in order to show him/her love, if my fear for my own needs and desires stop me from serving that person, then my fear prevents me from loving him/her.
I write these words to myself as I see my own rage and hatred towards Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. I fear what they will do to this country if elected. I despise them. And I am wrong. Because both of those men are worth dying for. Both of those men are deeply beloved by God. I cannot be a light in this world if I allow hatred to cloud my heart. I confess and repent. I will not vote for either man, and I will not support either man, but I will endeavor to soften my heart and let God's love be present there.