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Living Lives of Faith in Our Fearful Society

We live in a fearful society.

I remember going to school after the 1999 Columbine massacre and meeting in the auditorium to learn about our now necessary lock-down procedures. The fear of going to school and dying there became very real.

I also remember a time before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was an era when terrorism wasn’t something we thought about on a daily basis. It wasn’t something we feared.

Our fearful society doesn’t end there. Thanks to the popularity of crime shows, we think that our world is a very dangerous place. We think that around every corner is a rapist, a murderer or some twisted psychopath whose only goal is to hurt us and everyone we love.

We respond to this perceived danger the way anyone would expect – through fear.

We amass weapons in our homes because we fear someone will break in while we are asleep. We propose building walls on our borders because we fear people who are different than us.

We scoff at diplomacy as a weakness and favor violent, military interventions because we fear countries that disagree with us.

We advocate for teachers to take guns to school and pastors to carry in the pulpit because we think that by our guns we will be saved.

All the while, one of the most repeated commandments in the Bible is: “Fear not.”

It would seem that, as I’ve heard it said by Caleb Oladipo, professor of Christian mission and world Christianity at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, the opposite of what the Bible calls faith isn’t doubt, it’s fear.

Fear causes us to take our trust, our faith, away from Jesus and to place it in lesser things.

Fear leads to idolatry. While we may not pray to golden calves, we sure do place a lot of confidence in border fences, armies, guns, bombs and predator drones.

Meanwhile, Jesus stands at our side saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

In other words, the peace that God gives through Jesus isn’t a peace that is won by arming ourselves more or by keeping people who are different than us away. The peace of God is different. The peace of God comes by trusting that nothing will ever separate us from God’s love.

So we love everyone with an uncontrollable passion; both those who are like us and those who are different from us; both those who are our friends and those who are our enemies; both those who would like to do us harm and those who wish us well.

I wonder what a faithful response would be to all the fearfulness of life in the 21st century United States.

I wonder what it would look like if, instead of building up stockpiles of weapons, we beat our guns into plows and worked to feed the world instead of killing those who are unlike us.

I wonder what would happen if, instead of talking about building walls on our borders and keeping refugees out of our communities, we welcomed them into our homes, had dinner with them and welcomed the stranger as Jesus commanded us to?

I wonder what would happen if, instead of constantly worrying about being confronted by criminals, we took to the streets to end poverty, make quality and affordable education available to everyone, and focused criminal justice on rehabilitation instead of punishment?

You can say that all of this is a pipe dream. You can say it’s not based on reality. You can say that it’s naive and that it’s opening myself and the ones I love up to being trampled upon and taken advantage of.

What I say in response to that, however, is that I’m happier living a life attuned to the call of Jesus to love everyone, welcome everyone and serve everyone than I would be living with a gun under my pillow, waiting for the day when I would feel the need use it.

I hope that other Christians will join me. To taste and see that this is, indeed, the better way – living lives of faith in the face of fear.

Blake Hart is missions coordinator at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina. A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @blake_hart.