There’s been a news story circulating about a poll that shows Americans have become fearful of one another. It seems like right now, here in America, we have a real problem with relating to people who are different to us.
The American people are a shared human family with a mixture of heritages. Americans have a wide range of positive and negative experiences, and Americans have many different spiritual beliefs. There are many different ways that we, the people of this nation, understand the world to work. There are many different ideas about how best to run things.
While diversity is good, different opinions, beliefs, and values mean that there are going to be disagreements. What I take away from this poll is that we have taught ourselves to fear those who do not think like us. As a follower of Christ, being fearful of the person who we see as somehow different to us complicates the main thing that Jesus told us to do. We are told by Christ to love one another, to love our neighbor, to love our fellow people. We are told to look out for one another’s best interests. How can a Christian help and serve others if they are living in fear of those who think differently? Well, fear is what might separate us from others, but love overcomes that, and hope is what unites us together.
In the midst of a global pandemic, there is fear that the virus will be transmitted easily, spreading to others without a person knowing it. As of writing this, COVID-19 has been known in the world for just over a year, and scientists are still learning about it. Studies are still being done on the virus. Anyone can be carrying the virus or might be infected so we try our best to socially distance. There are many unknowns that leave us fearful, afraid that someone will not be careful and our loved ones will be infected.
In the midst of a change of political power, there is fear for what will happen in the coming months and years. The nation was split nearly 50/50 between two opposing political parties during this previous election, and the partisan talking points about opponents are still raw in every voter’s mind. Around 50% of the country is fearful of the other 50% who think differently to them taking power. To make it worse, we have seen violence from different groups coming from all over the political spectrum. We might not just fear for the future of the country, but we might fear for our safety and the safety of others now. We fear those who think differently than we do.
The global pandemic is not without hope. There are currently several very effective vaccines. They are hard to get right now, but in a short time it looks like we will have them available. Just as there are doctors and nurses who are getting burned out seeing death due to the virus, there are people rallying together to let frontline workers know that they are not unseen. Schools, sports teams, social clubs, churches, and even families might not be able to gather in person, but people are finding ways to continue to be connected with one another. Continuing to be intentional with reaching out and connecting to people out of love and concern for their well-being is certainly following Christ. Fear that leads to distancing can be replaced with hope for a healthier future.
Our current social and political turmoil is not without hope either. A brighter future can be available for all people, if we do not let fear run our lives. We have to listen to our neighbors and find common ground. Yes, there are major differences in priorities and goals between the two partisan sides. Yes, your actual neighbor might have starkly contrasting differences to you. None of that makes them unworthy of God’s love, and none of that makes them unworthy of your neighborly love. While even the physical neighbor on either side of you might not have voted for the same people or causes that you did, there is no reason to think that they are something other than your neighbor. Christ, after all, came for the forgiveness of the sins of all people, no matter how they vote and no matter what they see as important. Love is reaching beyond the divide to the people who think differently than you. When we work at one part of loving our neighbor, when we actually talk to people who think differently, what at first seemed like a canyon between us might be revealed to be nothing more than a shallow creek.
There’s so much going on in our world, and so many frightening things happening right here in our own country, that we need to be mindful of what we are living in. Are we living in hope, or are we living in fear? Should we let fear destroy our human family? Of course not! God came to earth to tell us all how we are loved and how to love one another. 1 John 4:18a summarizes what we should do in fearful times like ours. We should live in hope, not fear, and love one another: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”