Fac­ing the fear fac­tor

The Covington News - - Opinion -

Ar­guably the great­est pres­i­dent of the 20th cen­tury was Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt, who led Amer­ica out of the Great De­pres­sion and through World War II. Crit­ics con­tend his poli­cies were so­cial­ist and anti-busi­ness, yet his New Deal pro­grams pro­pelled eco­nomic growth and job cre­ation and con­trib­uted to his record four terms as pres­i­dent. In his first in­au­gu­ral ad­dress FDR said, “First of all, let me as­sert my firm be­lief that the only thing we have to fear is fear it­self — name­less, un­rea­son­ing, un­jus­ti­fied ter­ror which par­a­lyzes needed ef­forts to con­vert re­treat into ad­vance.”

Let’s use his work­ing def­i­ni­tion of fear as name­less, un­rea­son­ing, un­jus­ti­fied ter­ror that par­a­lyzes our ef­forts for ad­vance­ment. There are many rea­sons for Amer­i­cans to be afraid: eco­nomic re­ces­sion, en­ergy de­pen­dence, job loss and the war on ter­ror to name a few. What trou­bles me as a fam­ily man, pas­tor and com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer is the elec­tion cy­cle ten­dency to man­u­fac­ture even greater fear. This is a sin for which many na­tional, state and lo­cal cam­paigns are guilty. The cam­paign slo­gans for the year 2008 might as well be, “be afraid, be very afraid.” Oh how we have been all too will­ing to co­op­er­ate.

“Be afraid that New­ton could be­come the next Clay­ton.” “Be afraid that demo- crats have reg­is­tered more new vot­ers than repub­li­cans.”

“Be afraid that Obama might be a for­eign ter­ror­ist.”

“Be afraid that McCain could die in of­fice, leav­ing us with Pres­i­dent Palin.”

I hear it in town, in restau­rants, at the golf cour­ses, in the sta­di­ums and even in the churches. My chil­dren hear it in school; it’s the by-prod­uct of fear.

Fear is danger­ous be­cause it breeds des­per­a­tion and vi­o­lence. Repub­li­can candidates have re­cently staged ral­lies re­plete with au­di­ence out­bursts of “ter­ror­ist,” “kill ‘em,” “off with his head” and racial ep­i­thets aimed at mem­bers of the me­dia. While no one can con­trol big­ots, we do have com­plete con­trol over our re­sponse to big­otry. Both candidates should have paused to de­nounce those com­ments while curv­ing the cam­paign rhetoric that may have en­cour­aged them.

By my count, the list of fear-based in­sults from candidates, cam­paigns, pun­dits and the com­mu­nity at large has grown to in­clude the fol­low­ing: so­cial­ist, com­mu­nist, rad­i­cal Mus­lim, ter­ror­ist, racist, sex­ist, liar, up­pity, elit­ist, un-Amer­i­can, adul­terer, baby killer and anti-Christ. What’s amaz­ing is that the fear be­ing ex­ploited by this cam­paign cy­cle is the same emo­tion ter­ror­ists play on to par­a­lyze our ad­vance­ment. Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns and ter­ror­ists should never evoke the same emo­tions.

Sadly, the church has will­ingly con­trib­uted to this prop­a­ga­tion of fear. Whereas pas­tors should pro­mote peace and prayer, fear mon­ger­ing has been high­lighted from the pul­pit. The Al­liance De­fense Fund along with 35 pas­tors in 22 states de­clared Sept. 28 as Pul­pit Free­dom Day and many took that op­por­tu­nity to rally their con­gre­ga­tions to vote for McCain/Palin cit­ing Bib­li­cal rea­sons.

“No­body who fol­lows the Bi­ble can vote for Obama,” said the Rev. Wi­ley S. Drake, pas­tor of the First South­ern Bap­tist Church of Buena Park, Calif. The Rev. Jody Hice of the First Bap­tist Church of Beth­le­hem, agreed and ar­gued McCain is “most in line with Bib­li­cal val­ues.”

Pul­pit en­dorse­ments not only threaten a church’s tax ex­empt sta­tus, but also they present a spir­i­tual dilemma. What are parish­ioners to do should their pas­tors en­dorse the loser of the elec­tion? Pas­tors run the risk of us­ing in­spi­ra­tion to gen­er­ate anx­i­ety rather than faith.

I have many be­liefs and po­si­tions I could es­pouse in this col­umn. I have de­fin­i­tive po­si­tions on the Bi­ble, Chris­tian duty, abor­tion, gay mar­riage, civil unions, cap­i­tal pu­n­ish­ment, tax hikes, el­derly ser­vices, gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion, health care as a right, re­lief for the poor, cor­po­rate bailouts, en­ti­tle­ments, war and many other is­sues of na­tional, state and lo­cal im­por­tance. How­ever, I de­cline to share them in the cur­rent cli­mate be­cause fear crip­ples com­mu­ni­ca­tion; peo­ple don’t care what I or any­one else think any­more. Fear­ful peo­ple are in­tol­er­ant of di­ver­gent views and can­not rec­og­nize the role of fear as an ob­sta­cle to com­mu­nity ad­vance­ment.

Xeno­pho­bia is the fear of the un­known, a ha­tred for things un­like you. This is a ma­jor threat to our ad­vance­ment. I be­lieve we have more xeno­phobes than racists.

One day, and I hope it’s very soon, we will aban­don the pol­i­tics of fear to be­gin the search for com­mon ground. Many in our com­mu­nity will be mo­ti­vated by fear on Nov. 4, us­ing their vote as a rock and the bal­lot as a sling shot aimed at the ob­ject of their re­proach. Re­gard­less of your se­lec­tion in the bal­lot box, you will step out of that pri­vate space and be con­fronted with a more crit­i­cal de­ci­sion — em­brace fear or ex­er­cise courage.

The Cam­paign for Nov. 5 is a call for every­one to do three crit­i­cal things im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the elec­tion. First, re­move all po­lit­i­cal signs from your yards and busi­nesses, re­plac­ing them with Amer­i­can flags. Sec­ond, pray for our cur­rent and newly elected leaders as the Bi­ble in­structs us, and fi­nally, do some­thing constructive to ad­vance our com­mu­nity. This is what is nec­es­sary to “con­vert re­treat into ad­vance.” The Amer­i­can re­sponse to fear can only be courage! “All we have to fear is fear it­self!” Re­mem­ber, we’re still the land of the free and the home of the BRAVE!

Eric W. Lee, M.Div., is the Se­nior Pas­tor of the Spring­field Bap­tist Church of Cov­ing­ton-Cony­ers.

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