Fear is something people crave.
Think about it for a minute. People flock to theaters to experience white-knuckle situations that may or may not involve blood. Music only heightens the mood. Books allow people to conjure up situations in their minds and ruminate over them in their dreams (often waking up in the middle of the night as a result). When October 31st rolls around, people dress up like their favorite ghouls and monsters, walk around neighborhoods soliciting free candy, then shell out big bucks to be scared witless by other people dressed up like zombies wielding chainsaws. And then they bring their friends along to ‘enjoy’ the experience.
Okay, maybe that’s not entirely the case.
Fear is actually a four letter word people many Christians simply don’t want to deal with in life (it’s also the one George Carlin didn’t mention, but I digress). The end results are pain, suffering, and a huge black eye for Jesus.
The sad part is how pervasive fear can become and how, if unchecked, can influence an entire culture. A recent example comes to mind:
On April 20th, 2012, an article was posted on the Christian news site Onenewsnow.com entitled “What June Brings to Disney World.” The author, Charlie Butts, shared insight from Florida Family Association (FFA) member David Caton that on June 1-3, the Disney parks in Florida would be celebrating ‘Gay Day.’ While the comment may be true, the article was a classic example of trolling—or at the very least, not fact-checking before posting. Disney has no hand in sponsoring the days, as that is done by an outside organization. Instead, an air of—you guessed it—fear is conveyed through the article, imploring parents to consider keeping their kids away from the parks on those days. Butts ramps up the fear angle in the article with phrases like “Last year, FFA hired a plane to fly over the area with a warning banner” and “Caton’s team has estimated in several past years that as many as 10,000 people entered the Magic Kingdom only to promptly exit before 1:00 p.m. upon witnessing homosexual patrons.”
From the comments below the article, one would think Butts’ article had the intended effect. Numerous responses bemoan Disney and their audacity to do such a thing (not realizing they also have a Night of Joy for Christians as well) and implore folks not to go to the Parks on those days.
Step 1 of fear is avoidance of a situation deemed (correctly or not) to be against one’s beliefs or morals. If this was all that was going on in the Comments section, it would be bad enough. Sadly, there’s more. Much more.
Many commenters also took the opportunity to share their hatred of not only the gay lifestyle, but gay people in general. It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t loving. In fact, it was quite hateful for the most part.
Step 2 of fear involves the spouting of intense feelings about a situation in a verbal or written form. Sometimes the feelings have been internalized for such a long period of time that they’re bound to come rushing out at some point. These days, many people resort to sharing online instead of verbally. The effects of their words are magnified if they choose to blast their message to everyone instead of a select few (although it can still hurt just as bad).
Let’s go one level deeper. Many people who were agnostic, gay, sensitive to the homosexual movement, and (or course) a few trolls saw all the hate and decided to make their views known to the Christian posters. And they were just as mean, nasty, and verbally abusive as the comments they were posting to.
So, up to this point, Caton’s quotes served as the kindling. Butts’ article added the gasoline. The first round of comments provided the lit matches and started the fire. The responses to those comments brought more gas to the conflagration.
At this point, tons of damage has been done. It’s the Christian’s chance to respond in love, humility, and respect. Maybe even to apologize for all the nastiness the Church has caused these folks over the years (a la the confession booth scene from the recent movie Blue Like Jazz).
And you can guess what happens.
The Christians become riled up because of the attacks and retaliate. Armed with the words the former commenters used, a plethora of Bible verses, and various interpretations of those verses, they return fire. Some attempt to convert everyone in the Comments section by sharing the Gospel in one posting. Others share the truth in love and get shot down, only to suddenly blow up on the one(s) who attacked them.
Step 3 of fear is aggression in verbal, written, or physical form. I’m very happy that these folks weren’t face to face with each other, or there’s no telling what might’ve happened.
Although this example wasn’t a huge media spectacle, it was probably enough to give the gay folks, atheists, and others involved in the conversation that weren’t Christian a good reason never to darken the doors of a church while alive. As I read through the comments, my feelings evolved from surprise to shock to disgust to frustration to anger to pain and sadness. I wanted to stop a few times, but I felt that I needed to see if there was some redemption at the end of the tunnel for somebody. Alas, there was none (in written form, anyway).
Please know that I’m not singling out homosexuality as the sole element of fear that can bring about attitude changes in Christians. We do it with other push-button issues such as politics and abortion. We do it with certain elements of change as well (new styles of music in church, a potential move, a new job, coming to faith in Jesus), just not always exhibiting all three stages of the fear spectrum.
How can we overcome the fear that seems to be pervasive in today’s society? It’s something I struggle with daily and don’t always succeed at conquering. However, getting up, asking for forgiveness, and trying again is better than the alternatives.
It involves love.
I’ve been to West Virginia once—for a conference while in college. While there, I was struggling with an issue regarding my future plans (ironic, considering the conference theme was God’s Will for Your Life). Too many variables were in play and I couldn’t conform them into something I could understand. As a result, I ended up following the first two steps of fear listed above. The avoidance had been for a period of months. The frustration had come out as I was sitting on a third floor balcony talking to a gentleman from Clemson University. He sensed the fear of the unknown I was facing and pointed me to a passage in 1 John that says this:
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 Jn. 4:18 [NIV])
And there it was. Fear has to do with punishment. Punishment from myself. Punishment from others. Punishment from God. If I really was giving my future into the control of God, I had to know and believe that he was going to set things up because he loved me, not because he wanted to punish me for feeling a certain way in the past. Otherwise, there would always be an element of fear in this area.
If we’re going to stop giving Jesus (and, in effect, ourselves) a black eye in this area, fear must be repurposed into love. Love of people that matter as much to Jesus as you do, despite the baggage they carry or what’s going on in their lives. Love in what we say, what we type, how we respond, what we do when nobody can see us. It’s not going to be easy. Of course, nothing ever worth fighting for is.
So if you’re in Florida and have the means, go to Disney the first weekend of June. Be an example. Turn fear into love. Then do it in all the other areas of your life—and encourage others to do the same.