The Politics of Fear


“Congress needs something,” a friend said to me last night.

“Yes it does,” I responded, “and it’s so painfully obvious and yet so unspoken at the same time.”

The truth is I don’t know how to describe it any other way than this. But what’s maddening is that moment you catch a glimpse of what could be, a universe of thought moves against you, throwing everything from “you’re just trying to be famous” to “you’re so naïve, I mean it’s nice you’re wrestling with these questions like everyone else does but really just get on with life, this is the way it has to be.”

And so fear creeps in and tries to stop you before you get started. And what’s worse—even harmless questions from your best friends start to get interpreted through this lens of fear, and suddenly their taking an interest in your life oddly feels like a jury condemning everything you’ve set out to do.

Most of the time we don’t even recognize this internal culture of fear and how it affects our outward response, or if we do, we think it’s a good thing—and somehow our work gets twisted and we peddle solutions that are rooted in our deepest fears—and this is what makes the problems in our political culture so obvious and yet so hard to define. Our best attempts at solutions – of bettering the country – are so often rooted in a false reality, a reality of fear, and it is killing us without even a whimper because we can’t see the monsters we’ve created.

This plays out 535 ways all over the Congress, but it is perhaps more obvious with a quick look at the presidential race. The lines by now are fairly predictable:

“I’m the best candidate to beat Hillary.”

“The liberals are coming after me.”

“I’m a political outsider and the establishment is trying to quiet me.”

“We don’t need the politics and candidates of yesterday.”

“People of faith have worked hard to build this country and we can’t stand to see Barack Obama dismantle it all.”

For the love of everything true and beautiful in this world—what does that even mean?? If the president can dismantle whatever it is we think we’ve built, it can only be a house of cards built on a foundation of sand. Then again—that is exactly why we are so afraid. Maybe deep down we know we’ve set our affections on a kingdom of sand castles, in our desperation called it America—the hope of the earth—and even a hint of its crumbling is shaking us with fear. Somehow we’ve become very afraid of what will happen to America, or rather our perception of whatever we dream of America being, and if in our fear we can’t come up with a culprit—it’s the labor unions! The teachers’ unions! The feminists! The Supreme Court! The Tea Party! The illegal immigrants! The oil industry! The environmentalists! Wall Street! The rich! The poor! The gay community! The religious community! The lobbyists! Hollywood! The State of California! The Congress: throw them all out!!—then we have no narrative, no one to triumph over, no path to power. We stand condemned, and because the weight of it is too much to bear, we fear for our future and deflect the condemnation to anyone outside the façade of whatever it is we imagine America should be.

Individually, we fear condemnation from those around us, and as a nation we’re stuck in a vicious cycle of condemning anyone we think has condemned America to the hell of fallen empires.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”

“There 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. We love because he first loved us.”

If we could begin to realize in our political culture that we are set free from condemnation, we could create narratives out of love instead of fear. We could place our hope in a kingdom that truly is unshakeable. And instead of condemning those we see as the enemy, we could offer them the same freedom, the same perfect love. Instead of fretting over the America we think we deserve, we could tell a better story, adopting a new anthem: LIBERATUS—we are set free.

Note: next week we'll begin digging into what it means to tell a better story in more detail, picking apart our usual narrative with a story outline, and letting the gospel speak into our identities, our perceived problems, our hopes, our fears, who we look to for guidance, and our call to action. 

Issue 004 - A Better Story, Part 1: The Politics of Fear