The paradox of Fear and Social Meanness among Christians in the “Bible Belt” is frustrating to clergy. We hear how wonderful it is for Southern politicians to be unafraid of identifying as Christians. And we watch as these elected officials take the most reactionary actions against the benefit of our citizens. The past year we saw the “leaders” respond in fear and cynical brutality towards our neighbors.
Politics Before People
The Tennessee legislature put politics over people when it decided to let federal money go unused to expand Medicaid coverage. Why? Because the coverage was part of the Affordable Care Act. The legislature engaged in social meanness and used fear tactics to claim they were piously and righteously opposing “Obama’s socialist agenda.” In taking this stance Tennessee has lost rural hospitals cutting services to the constituents of many legislators. One must ask how many preventable deaths will occur because of these losses?
Sure there are other hospitals available. But many people find the hospital trip to be an hour or more longer than it was before the closures. The pandemic has only increased the pace of these closures. Yet, the legislature is more concerned with whether transgendered students can participate in school sports, cutting jobless benefits, and of course, limiting voting rights.
Fear And Christianity
St. John the Apostle claims “There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”(1 John 4:18) And yet, our Tennessee legislators and Governor believe anxieties are relieved by citizens openly carrying firearms without a permit. I remember the glory days when a fellow had to get a permit. One person showed up to an open air community worship time. The community was so small few ever heard of it. When I asked why he was carrying, the reply was, “just in case someone started shooting during the worship.” Obviously, he had a point. Someone brought a gun and showed it off on his hip. Bad guys beware. A good guy with a gun is present.
Being a pastor, I have had my share of Sunday morning moments. Some of them were bizarre. I have presided over services disrupted by mentally unhealthy people. We have had a wondering “prophet” or two opposing women wearing pants among other issues. And there have been times a person feared an estranged spouse would “make a scene.” I do not have an easy answer for those situations when a shooter acts. Violence is to be opposed by church leaders. Preparing a worship setting for violent response makes the environment less safe.
The Mean Roots
Churches in the US South fail in one area. We fail in teaching people to give of their time and selves. Too many Christian “believers” are not Christian workers. Do members of your church volunteer in the community? Pastors should be community volunteers. It is sad when church members question giving food to people. One person asked, “Would they give food to me?”
People in this mindset believe time is money. Ministry to other people is to their minds a waste of both. The problem then is there is no opportunity to develop a skill. A person who never volunteered to coach youth sports took on coaching school sports for extra money. The school team was a failure.
Church members who expect compensation or reciprocation are a vexing problem. They are likely to support reactionary policies and claim superior piety. Such people also cause problems in their congregations. The best news is that they complain they don’t have enough supporters themselves.
Love Over Fear
We do not see Christian love in action. Christian love is action. Selfishness leads to fear. Fear leads to meanness and cynicism. Letting people die without medical care or depriving them of other necessities is violence and brutality. It is Antichrist.
St. John promises love casts out fear. Love overcomes evil.