Got Fear? That's Not Faithful

This new video by the Faith in Public Life Action Fund opens with an angry Donald Trump and the caption, "The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid." Psalm 118

The contrast is clear. Fear is not faithful.

On the one hand, we have sacred texts that sharply contrast faith and fear, from Psalm 118 above, to Jesus asking, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" (Mark 4:40), and the Muslim Quran (10:62) teaching, "Know that the friends of God have no fear." Other religions have similar counsel.

On the other hand, we have political statements from Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz that inflame irrational fears against immigrants, refugees, Muslims and even President Obama, while at the same time touting their religious faith.

Four-thousand religious leaders have spoken out against this fear-mongering as profoundly unfaithful.

But let's go even deeper. Why is fear unfaithful?

In all my years of teaching theology, I find over and over again that one of the most profound religious questions people ask is, "What can I trust?" When we give our trust, we are placing confidence in someone, and relying on them to be whom they seem to be. In a religious sense, this means trusting that God will be God, the holiness we need to rely on absolutely to provide meaning and purpose in life. Obviously different religions and people within the same religion describe this differently, but the common denominator is very frequently, saying yes to the question, "Can I rely on God to be God?"

In the same way, for me as a Christian, trust in God means I am instructed to invest in the neighbor, treating him or her as I and others would like ourselves be treated (Mark 12:30-31). That kind of reciprocity of love and trust is the foundation of community, and the basis of a decent society.

You literally cannot have community and thus a decent society when it is undermined by fear.

Contrast the current fear-mongering, which is a counsel of distrust, with the wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident, from his collection of writings, No Rusty Swords. As Bonhoeffer argued, "Peace is the opposite of security," because peace requires trusting somebody while national security requires distrusting everybody. You can't actually have peace or community, Bonhoeffer contends, if you don't find a way to trust. That need not be blind or naïve trust that tolerates everything, but it needs to be a real trust grounded in faith.

The reason we as religious leaders, and I am one of the signatories of the letter contrasting faith and fear, are speaking out against this type of political discourse is that it is absolutely corrosive for our democracy and for the many faiths and humanist values that serve to bind us together in a dynamic whole.

Hear the religious message: "Love one another." (John 13:34)

That's faith, not fear.