Religion, Politics, and Fear

Fear is in the air. This past Friday during the events surrounding the presidential inauguration, violent protests broke out in the streets of Washington striking fear into innocent event attenders and those of us watching on television. Nonviolent protesters were on the same streets because of a different type of fear - the fear of what the Trump presidency may bring into the world.

Just two weeks earlier Esteban Santiago, influenced by the radical teaching of ISIS, gunned down five innocent victims and injured eight others at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport as hundreds of travelers took cover. Fear strikes again.

Unfortunately, we have grown used to such events when it comes to politics and religion. These two topics more than any others are a source of fear in our world today and throughout history. It is understandable why some would rather give up chocolate than have a conversation with someone who holds an opposing religious or political view. It is understandable, but it is wrong. In fact, I believe this type of thinking contributes to the problem.

My purpose today is not to make a political or even a religious statement, but to point out that one of the chief contributors to the obvious fears in our world today is the subtle fears many of us hold. We aren’t afraid to post our positions on social media, but we are afraid of having face to face conversations with those who see the world through a different lense. We are afraid we won’t present our viewpoints well. We are afraid we might be proven wrong. We are afraid of what others will think or afraid they won’t like us. We are afraid of stretching our thinking. We are afraid of being open-minded. We are afraid of admitting we don’t have it all figured out. All of these fears lead to isolated political and religious groups who have little chance of ever working together for good, but great potential to bring harm. Fear begets fear. 

In previous posts we have seen in Matthew 14 two signs you might be living in fear: 1) a failure to leave your comfort zone, and 2) a failure to ask “What if?” Today we will look at a third sign.

Sign #3 you might be living in fear: You have surrounded yourself with people just like you.

Peter was in the boat on a stormy sea that day with his 11 closest friends. They were all in training to become the first wave of leaders in the Jesus movement and had experienced the same amazing events, teachings, and miracles of Christ. Together, these early disciples were described as “ordinary men.” And now they found themselves figuratively and literally in the same boat, terrified of the storm. Make no mistake, storms on an open sea are scary. Yet they were not going to overcome the storm or their fear by simply sitting there in unity. Peter finally makes the choice to face the situation with courage. He is the one who dared to be different than the crowd he was with. And he was the one who experienced a moment none of them would ever forget.

Purposely choosing to be different is a rare quality. Instead, we find comfort in sameness. We hang with those who dress, talk, and act like us. The one who likes sports gravitates to those who like sports. They have fun talking about the games but that’s all they talk about. Someone else follows a particular political party and she refuses to listen to or consider any idea coming from another viewpoint.

Is there a better way? What about the way of Peter? What if we faced our fears? What if we did what no one else seemed to be doing? What if we took a chance? What if we viewed these conversations not as opportunities to convert someone to our point of view or discredit theirs but as opportunities to learn from one another?

Intentionally seek people who are different from you. Position yourself for uncomfortable conversations. Force yourself to consider new ideas. Reject fear and embrace growth. Whether you ultimately adopt these ideas or not you have risen above the fearful temptation to be surrounded by those who will never challenge you.

When was the last time you had a respectful conversation about religion or politics with someone who holds an opposing view from yours? Who could you talk with this week?