Theology of Fear

At the close of 2016, it seemed as if people everywhere were clamoring for the year to end and for a new year to begin. I was less optimistic. The negative energy, the constant yelling, dividing communities, and rabid fear didn’t seem like it would stop simply because the calendar page flipped.

And it didn’t.

All of the things that made 2016 long and tiring have carried over well into 2017. And I predict, unless we have an intentional change of perspective, that 2018 will wind up the same way.

Christian communities certainly are not exempt from this. Maybe it seems like this because Christian communities are the ones I have found myself in my entire life, but it sure seems like Christian circles themselves are at the apex of the fear and hostility that fills the atmosphere.

When was the last time a week went by and there wasn’t some ugly fighting between those on the proverbial left and right? I have a hard time thinking of one. Recently it was the Nashville Statement , the myopic statement on gender and sexuality that furthered the marginalization of LGBTQ people. And this weekend news reached major outlets that Father James Martin SJ was disinvited from speaking at universities because he wrote a book suggesting a better method of engaging the LGBTQ conversation in our religious spaces.

The increase of the usage of the word heretic is unmeasurable, but I see it on a daily basis. If someone’s Christian living looks different than what the might I thinks it should look like, there are immediate accusations of heresy or misguidance by a dark force.

The political divide in America has infiltrated our sacred spaces. If you supported X or Y, you were demonized by the opposite side for not holding Christian enough values. I know I’ve been an outspoken critic of the Christian support for Donald Trump on multiple occasions. I do not foresee that stopping anytime soon. However, it’s one thing to criticize the ugly mechanisms and actions of Donald Trump. It’s another thing entirely for me to allow that to place an ocean between me and someone who voted for Trump. The overwhelming situation of intolerance and division that we are experiencing will not be solved by leveling lofty loaded language at the other side. That is not the neighborliness that the scriptures call for. It only dehumanizes and fosters a view of “otherness”. I need to get better at this. I think we all do.

If we want change – and I’m talking about real, transformative change to come to our communities, we need to identify how our theology is being driven by fear.

It is said that the opposite of love is hate. It tend to believe that love’s true opposite is fear. Hate is the likely consequence of fear, but hate must be rooted somewhere. It has to be birthed and grow. Hate is like a parasite that feeds on the energy of another entity. That entity is fear.

The world is changing, and rapidly. I’ve heard many Christians say that it feels like their values are being forced to change. Sometimes it seems like there is a game of tug-of-war occurring, and that we are the rope in between. Change, or even the perception of it, is frightening. Vulnerability hits us, and our defense mechanisms go up.

Christians seem to be at the intersection of fear and theology. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, but there isn’t really a lot of love for either our neighbor or ourselves. The concept of neighbor seems to be lost entirely. Instead we only have those we agree with (the “safe” ones) or those to whom we disagree (the “unsafe” or heretics). Theology mutates, then, from transformation to assimilation. More decrees are put into place to regulate how one must think in order to be right, and anyone who holds a variation of belief is looked upon with fear.

The Christian message cannot and will not thrive when it is rooted in fear. Fear divides. Fear separates. Fear fosters a mentality of otherness and dehumanization that marginalizes specific people or groups. All of this is the antithesis of the life and message of the Christ.

We must begin to shift our vulnerability towards empathy and proximity. We cannot learn from each other, from our pain and joy, if we allow fear to take hold the moment we feel vulnerable. The Gospel demands vulnerability. The abstract rhetoric about others is likely very distinct from how others actually live. If our theology is telling us that certain people are scary simply because of who they are, then our theology is not rooted in Christ, but in our own fear.

We must begin to examine ourselves to identify how this takes hold in our lives. Fear cannot lead to love. It only leads to hostility and division. Just look around. You see it everywhere. It only has as much power as we give it. So let’s say an intention NO! to fear and begin working towards a transformative theology that unites.

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