God cannot abide with us in a place of fear.
God cannot abide with us in a place of ill will or hatred.
God cannot abide with us inside a nonstop volley of claim and counterclaim.
God cannot abide with us in an endless flow of online punditry and analysis.
God cannot speak inside of so much angry noise and conscious deceit.
God cannot be found when all sides are so far from “the Falconer.”
God cannot be born except in a womb of Love.
So offer God that womb. –Richard Rohr
The 2020 Election has seen religion and politics melded together like no other. Religious leaders appear to be lining up on one side or another, supporting either candidate for president. Why? Because they believe the stakes are high regarding the future direction of this country. One side seeks to “save” America from itself and restore its greatness while the other says it wants to reclaim the soul of America by restoring decency and integrity to government and our life together.
Using fear as a campaign tactic. One presidential campaign is fear-based while the other seeks to offer assurance and hope for the future. The Trump campaign seeks to stir people up while making baseless, false claims such as Biden will take away your guns and lawlessness will reign in our cities. To be fair, Biden and the Democrats are also sounding the alarm about the consequences of ignoring science—especially when it comes to climate change, health care, and the pandemic. But at least their warnings have been based on facts and evidence.
What does the Bible say about fear? How many times did Jesus say to his disciples, “fear not”?! St. John reminds us: “Perfect love casts out all fear.” (1 John 4:18) And St. Paul writes to Timothy: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) Let’s contrast these verses with the current political climate.
It is troubling that the Trump campaign has decided that fearmongering is the way to win an election. It all began with the demonizing of immigrants during the 2016 election campaign and well into the president’s first term. Trump and many of his Republican enablers have chosen to practice the politics of fear and division by sowing seeds of doubts and distrust. The September 15th issue of the Seattle Times reported that Michael Caputo, a top communications official in Trump’s cabinet, recently made baseless claims that left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the election. US Attorney General William Barr has tried to blame recent violence in many cities on left-wing agitators and conflate peaceful protests with rioting while the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism reports that “most of the violence lately is right-wing extremism.” And in spite of the fact that 93% of Black Lives Matter protests across the country have been peaceful, Barr further suggests charging all protestors with sedition or treason, ignoring their First Amendment rights.
Do fear tactics work? Consider the 1964 election when then President Johnson’s campaign ran a television ad that went nuclear. It sought to portray Goldwater as a radical extremist and war-monger. The famous television spot featured a little girl innocently plucking the pedals of a daisy as a disembodied voice began a launch count-down: 10, 9, 8…ending with the explosion of an atomic bomb. While Johnson was criticized for the ad, he won the election in a landslide. We seem to be watching scenes from a similar playbook. Trump’s mantra to the voter seems to be: “Be afraid! Be very afraid!”
How does a person of faith respond? A person of faith is encouraged to not give into our fears but to be of good courage, acting out of a spirit of love and hope. And how are we able to do this? Because we live and believe in this promise: “We boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” (Romans 5:3-5)