Fear Not

I John 4:7-21:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannota love God whom he has not seen. 21And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Despite these biblical calls not to dwell in fear, it seems like evangelicals have embraced what Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell describes as the Republican Party’s “closing argument” in the 2018 midtern election: “Be afraid, be very afraid.”

Here is a taste of her piece:

Immigrants are coming for your children and lake houses. Socialists are coming for your Medicare (huh?). Black football players are coming for your flag. And now the Democrats are coming for your 401(k).

Republicans’ closing argument: Be afraid, be very afraid.

The GOP has had unified control of government for nearly two years now. Yet, somehow, Republicans’ promised return to morning in America, that end of “American carnage,” still hasn’t arrived, according to both their own standard-bearer and their terrifying campaign ads.

It’s funny, in a way. Unemployment is historically low. Consumer confidence is buoyant. There actually is a compelling, positive story to tell about the state of the country — or at least, the state of the economy — today. Whether President Trump can legitimately claim credit for recent economic trends is a nonissue; we know he has no problem taking credit for things he inherited, including his personal wealth. So at the very least, he could be emphasizing those economic milestones.

Read the rest here.

Of course “fear” among evangelicals is a central theme in this book:

Believe Me 3d


15 thoughts on “Fear Not

  1. James,
    I don’t know if you will see this reply as this is now an older post, but you asked me a very good question and I think I owe you and answer. Yes, the fact that my religious beliefs don’t line up with many in my political party has bothered me for some time. I feel that in some ways the party has “gone off and left me”. However, I would feel that I would be even less at home in the other major party, especially the way it is now. This doesn’t mean I always vote a straight party ticket. I don’t. I remember when elected officials from both parties were friends and worked together! I know there are other options than belonging to either of the two major parties, but, at least where I live, one almost has to be in one of those two in order to have any real say in government. . I’ll move on from replying further on this post. Thanks for your question, and may God’s blessing be on you.


  2. John, thank you for bringing pieces like this to my attention. One thing I appreciate about your blog is that it brings sensible, non-panicky, un-shallow thought to the evangelical perspective.

    I imagine sometimes you hit a nerve with your conservative audiences, especially when you point out that sometimes they seem to be living in fantasy land. This is especially true of groups, who tend to resort to a herd mentality, although individually here and there evangelicals can be quite decent and sensible.

    However, for someone like me who escaped conservative evangelicalism, it is really nice to see that one does not need to abandon the gospel or Christianity to grasp the sense of loving others more than protecting borders, as if having a secure, wealthy, or supreme nation is a Christian value, or to understand that “respecting the flag” is not something Christ died for.

    That’s why it is very disheartening to see the evangelical culture of America so thoroughly merged with its culture of patriotism and nationalism–it leaves ordinary evangelical believers vulnerable to political manipulation, because their faith has taken on an essentially political shape, where politics and religion are no longer distinguishable.

    I personally think this began to be a major problem with James Dobson (and company), and the emergence of the “moral majority” machine that began to teach evangelicals what to think about cultural issues and who to vote for–to the point now that a figure like Pat Robertson (in his dotage) defends murder for the sake of lucrative arms deals. Trumpism has really exposed some of the core flaws of political evangelicalism, especially to those outside the evangelical bubble–when Trump is gone, the rest of us will remember which values evangelicals prioritized.


  3. You are correct, Tony, The piece of writing by Ms. Rampell is a transparen Democrat campaign piece. The Washington Post has long been an organ of the elite Democrat Establishment, but the editorial staff used to be more selective in the choice of writers.


  4. Ric,
    But does it concern you that your core religious beliefs are undermined and disparaged by a plurality your own party?


  5. Just to clarify: not all of us Democrats fit this stereotype. Some of us are even evangelical Christians, too. May God bless you


  6. Dave,
    Every group has a certain percentage of people who overreact to circumstances. Some of the evangelicals you know did err by saying that the DEMs would outlaw Christianity.
    I personally think the DEMs have no problem with Christians who meekly and obediently stay within the confines of their parish buildings between the hours of ten and twelve on Sunday mornings. But don’t let these primitive supernaturalists think they should be allowed to influence public policy!
    This fact became apparent to me during the 1980 presidential election. Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale were being challenged by an energized Christian conservative movement. This movement was showing unprecedented strength and I think that Mondale was rather surprised. He simply couldn’t understand why Christians were opposing him and Carter. After all, Mondale’s father had been a Methodist minister.
    Mondale seemed genuinely baffled by all of it. To paraphrase one of his remarks I heard at the time on the subject———“I can’t understand why the Democrat ticket is being opposed by Christians. I am a Christian. I can’t even count the number of weddings and funerals at which I have sung in the choir.” Or words to that effect.
    That very blind attitude shows how most DEMs feel about religion. Walter Mondale, for all of his experience in politics, was unable to grasp the fact that believers want to express their faith outside the four walls of their local churches. To him religion was one realm and daily life was wholly another.
    So, Dave, I don’t think Democrat party attitudes have gotten any warmer toward Christians influencing public policy. Walter Mondale’s attitudes about faith were probably rather tame compared to the overt hostility which one sees today in certain DEM circles. Many of them probably would like to appoint judges who would strip conservative churches of their tax exemptions. In order to accomplish this goal, they would start with a wedge issue like homosexuality. “Church XYZ will not allow practicing homosexuals to become members or to marry. These are accordingly discriminatory organizations. We cannot constitutionally tell them who they can admit to membership but we can remove their tax exempt status based on discrimination.” If you think that the Democrat party does not have people who think this way, you have not talked to some of their activist types.


  7. Alex: I agree that the focus was on the messaging, although I don’t agree with her presentation of what claims are being made. Second, implicit in her argument is: those lockstep Trumpers fall for the “fear-mongering.” There’s some very real condescension built in here. My view is: certainly some do — John says he knows plenty — but this is not limited to the evangelical right, and most people in general are not so easily manipulated. Finally, her glaring inability to locate this tactic on her side of the ideological divide is, well, priceless.

    Hope you have a great weekend.


  8. Just wan’t to be clear: my charge of hypocrisy was leveled at the author of John’s cited piece, Catherine Rampell, not John.


  9. “Immigrants are coming for your children and lake houses. Socialists are coming for your Medicare (huh?). Black football players are coming for your flag. And now the Democrats are coming for your 401(k).”

    Tony, I think Catherine is being critical of republican leadership here, not voters, or you and the people you know. This list is spoken in the second and third person (If I’m wrong please don’t tell my grandma!). And since these are claims made by republican leadership (mostly Trump) they aren’t really just straw men.

    And is it possible John doesn’t talk about the media and Dems as much as Trump and the GOP simply because they aren’t as much “at the intersection of …religion…”?


  10. I very much need to clarify/correct my next to last paragraph. I transitioned from one point to another one and in doing so conflated them. This was careless, albeit unintentional, and was a function of hitting “post comment” too quickly.

    That which I mean to say is being reinforced daily by our President and his party and his media supporters is the general sense of fear. My comment reads that they are specifically reinforcing fear of a Democrat plan to extinguish Christianity. I don’t mean to say that. “There are a lot of people who have this mindset” refers to the specific fear I mentioned that I observe in some evangelicals that their very faith is being targeted for elimination. This is a specific fear they formulate in their minds, and this specific fear is being reinforced by the general appeals to fear from the President and his party and his media supporters. I transitioned in that one sentence from one specific fear of some evangelicals to the general sense of fear being promoted and reinforced, and I transitioned very badly. Mea culpa.


  11. John,
    First of all the passage you quote from First John 4 is misplaced. Please see the context and the key verse which is verse 17. St. John is talking about the fear of divine judgment. In other words, what happens to you when you die or either when Christ returns? The passage has little to do with legitimate daily fears which are common to man.
    But let me take this a step further, I really don’t think most Trump supporters have a “fear” of illegal immigration as much as a righteousness “anger” that no one before Trump has been willing to safeguard our borders and the rule of law.


  12. “Immigrants are coming for your children and lake houses. Socialists are coming for your Medicare (huh?). Black football players are coming for your flag. And now the Democrats are coming for your 401(k).”

    This is just series of straw men. Is there a segment of voters, on the right, who believe this? I suppose. Just like that segment of progressive voters (I’d wager, a larger segment given the very public displays of hysteria which have been ongoing since, oh, Nov. 7, 2016), who believe they are living under the Reich, and any day now the Trumpstapo will arrive at Starbucks to send the Resistors to the camps.

    No one I know thinks immigrants (note the failure to distinguish between legal and illegal, dilutes the nativist narrative) are coming for their children. I wish I had a lake house to protect; maybe they are coming for my tool shed. No, what many people believe is that unfettered illegal immigration is a problem, that economic migrants are not the same as refugees, and that our border needs to be more secure. We can and should have a rational, substantive debate over those policies, which are complex and contentious.

    As to the second charge, there actually are a bunch of self-described and proud socialists (see, e.g. Ocasio-Cortez, A.; DeBlasio, B. and other leading lights) on the Left; majorities of D voters are in favor of universal health care, which has been the Left’s crusade for decades. Many non-fearful but numerate people on the right believe 32.6 trillion dollars (the price tag over ten years on the D’s latest “Medicare for All” proposal) would be economically crippling and infeasible, and are further unconvinced of the government’s hyper-competency and benevolence.

    “Black football players are coming for the flag.” No, many people believe that kneeling during the national anthem — I’m ambivalent — is disrespectful, whether one is black, white or chartreuse. Others also believe that protest is fine, but doing it at work, on a private employer’s time and dime is not something which should be promoted. Colin Kaepernick is not very scary, although his cops-are-pigs socks are #edgy.

    People of good will can and do have vehement policy disagreements on all of these issues. Smugly caricaturing people on the right as mind-controlled, low information fearbots is precisely why Trump was elected. And making this argument — Cynical Appeals to Fear Bad! — while studiously ignoring the D’s and their media adjunct’s 24/7 shrieking about Hitler and millions dying and concentration camps and wars on women and blacks being put back in chains (hat tip: Joe Biden) displays a nearly invincible level of hypocrisy.


  13. Since you specifically mention the evangelicals buying into the general sense of fear that is being politically promoted:

    Voiced by several of my evangelical acquaintences prior to the 2016 election: “if the Democrats win, within four years it will be illegal to be a Christian in this country.” Fear beyond any measure of reasonability. A terrified sense that their VERY SURVIVAL was imminently threatened.

    Fast forward two years. Same mindset. “Trump’s presidency is the ONLY THING holding back the persecution and eventual extinction that the evil godless Democrats have planned for us.”

    This is more than anecdotal. There are a lot of people who have this mindset, and it is being reinforced daily by our President and his party and his media supporters. By far too many pastors and “Christian leaders” as well. All day, every day.

    So much for not having a spirit of fear.


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