In the final days of this election campaign, a new message has emerged. For the entire political year, the overriding theme has been change
--with each candidate competing to be the real champion for a new direction. With 80 percent of Americans unhappy with our country's current direction, it seemed that no other theme could break through.
A new message has, and it is this: "Be Afraid-- Be Very Afraid." Most of that fear is directed at Barack Obama, the leading candidate with just days to go before November 4. Instead of being content to offer a competing policy vision to Obama's, the Right has now focused on the man himself in an attempt to stir the fears
of the electorate that "he" is not really like "them." "Do we really know who Barack Obama is?" has been the refrain of partisan peddlers. A parallel and ugly national innuendo campaign stokes the fear. Is he a Muslim? An Arab? A pal of terrorists? Or maybe even a closet Socialist? Where did he grow up? Why such a funny middle name? Doesn't his support come from those parts of the country (and those people) that deep down inside are anti-American? And, of course, what has quickly become a campaign classic--guilt by association.
The fact that Barack Obama is the first black nominee of a major party for president gives all the fear a decidedly racial undertone. YouTube has quickly become populated with video after video of the dark underbelly of American fear and racism. The innuendos and rumors have brought to the surface latent fears and thinly veiled biases that many had hoped were gone from our country. The message of fear is the same: Obama may look okay on the surface, but we don't know what might lie beneath.
Regardless of whether one favors Obama or McCain, this development should be of concern to all Americans, and especially people of faith. There is now a new spiritual dimension to this election, and it is decidedly evil. Christians believe that "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear..." (1 John 4:18.) There are, of course, good and decent motivations to vote either way in this election. Strong people of faith will be marking different boxes on Election Day, but for people of faith there will be a spiritual decision to be made as well. Will we put our trust in the power of fear or hope?
Conservatism did this with the bright and hopeful theme of "Morning in America" with the Ronald Reagan years. I disagreed with most all of Reagan's agenda, but his appeal was to ask us all to choose hope, not fear. Similarly, the best of liberalism was seen in the power of John and Robert Kennedy's appeal to build a "newer world." Both conservatives and liberals can appeal to the better instincts of the American people, or to their worst--and each side has done both over the years.
Fear has always been the dark side of American politics
, and we are seeing its resurgence in the campaign's final days. Demagoguery has come from both the right and the left in America, and the most dependable sign of it is the appeal to fear over hope. Facts don't matter when fear takes over. Fear covers over the debate on a candidate's tax plans, the wisdom of their foreign policies, their experience and judgment to handle the economic crisis. Fear attacks character and lies with false prophecies of what a candidate would do if they are elected.
Some of the worst fear-mongering has sadly come from leaders of the Religious Right
who are worried about losing their control over the votes of the evangelical and Catholic communities, especially a new generation of believers. Their apocalyptic rhetoric has been among the worst and most irresponsible. When religious leaders sound so desperate and seek to stoke fear and hate, they have lost their theological perspective by putting too much of their hope in having political power. It is that loss of power and control which seems to be motivating the current campaign of desperation and fear now being waged by so many conservatives. Instead, scripture points to a better way:
For "Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you." (1 Peter 3:10-15, emphasis added)
With that reminder that Christ is our ultimate hope, let us pray that, on November 4, the need for change will finally prevail over the appeals to fear. Pray that the voters will choose either Barack Obama or John McCain as the best agent of change, rather than submit to the tyranny of fear. It is always better to live (and to vote) in the light of hope than in the darkness of fear. It is always an act of faith to believe that, in the end, hope will prevail over fear. So pray, and vote.
Jim Wallis is the author of The Great Awakening, Editor-in-Chief of Sojourners and blogs at www.godspolitics.com.
Click here to get e-mail updates from Jim Wallis