The Political Conservative and the Rhetoric of Fear

6 May

Should we fight our fears and take a stand? In conservative politics, this tactic is often encouraged, but it may not be godly. The following reflections explain why, and owe much to a conversation with a close friend following a National Day of Prayer breakfast.

Yesterday, I listened to a well-known political conservative urge a room of pastors and civic leaders to react in fear. The Revolutionary War and the Civil War were repeatedly cited, creating a sense of current crisis. Stories were told of individuals facing death in making a stand, from the 9/11 flight over Pennsylvania to the Chinese students waving the Declaration of Independence before oncoming tanks. Even Franklin Graham’s rejection at the Pentagon last year and his subsequent prayer in the parking lot became an example of what “we” will probably have to do more frequently in the future. Do you see? Face your fears, and take a stand. That is what the rhetoric said.

To someone prone to fear—someone like myself—such rhetoric is intimidating. Me? Face a tank? Face terrorists? Gulp. Listening then becomes imagination, and imagination leads to a fleshly determination to take a stand next time. If effective, some poor shopkeeper or bystander may perhaps get an earful, not due to my love for him, but due to my love for The Cause and to my selfish desire to be “faithful” till death. Similar things happen in evangelism, when a Christian is whipped into courage by statistics or by a guilty conscience, and then “tells” someone the Gospel. The issue becomes fear versus faithfulness, not loving sensitivity. As an effort to effect a loving change, such evangelism and politics are often hypocritical. Fear is the enemy, according to the rhetoric; and the solution is to take a stand—even if it is entirely futile.

Granted, there are times, such as the 9/11 plane, when it is necessary to lay one’s life down for others. And granted, such times will need courage to overcome personal fear. But even then, courage should be motivated by love. According to the apostle Paul, the answer to timidity is not raw courage, but a combination of power, love, and sane thinking (2 Timothy 1:7). If the only thing at stake is proving my courage, then love and sane thinking are irrelevant; but if I have nothing personal to prove, but only loving objectives to obtain, then I should consider carefully if running away may be the best course of action. Jesus retreated often, and urged those persecuted to do the same (see Matthew 10). History should not always honor the “martyrs” for a cause, even a right cause.

In the current political climate, there are two things that a Christian should keep in mind:

First, fear is never the issue. Love is the fulfillment of the law, and all earthly laws should be patterned after the divine law. “Let all that you do be done with love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).

Second, in Scripture dealing specifically with politics, we are told that it is God’s will for us to silence “the ignorance of foolish men” by doing what is right (1 Peter 2:15). Actions must speak louder than words, for those under authority are urged by the apostle in the larger context to keep quiet. Often action will require courage, but in focusing on acting over speaking, we are encouraged both to look to God for our vindication and to look to our neighbor for his good.

Take the abortion debate, for example. It is true that abortion should be outlawed as murder. In our political context, it should at least have been left to the states to decide. It was not, and now over fifty million have died. What should we do?

At first glance, it is tempting just to write letters to the editor and to picket outside clinics and courtrooms. Such letters should be written (and I have done so), but they must be done very carefully, for by saying abortion is murder, I am indicting lots of ladies who have chosen that option in the past, often under pressure and ignorance, and who now are often regretting such a decision, even to the point of suffering. Do I have a simultaneous word for them? Am I not a murderer myself, according to Jesus, for all the angry words I have hurled in my lifetime (Matthew 5:21-22)? Is not my mission to preach the Gospel, not the Law? Again, the issue is not fear, but love. Somehow, in keeping the preborn from dying, I must also learn how to love the living.

Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that abortion will never be fully eradicated, especially in our current climate. Abortion is the product of a culture committed to unbridled lust, and governments can only enforce one step above the culture’s mores. It was due to this fact that not even the Law of Moses could abolish divorce, though it did get regulated (cf. Matthew 19:3ff). If we are to reduce the number of abortions, it must be primarily from the bottom up, though coupled with helpful laws that make it difficult to get an abortion ignorantly and privately. Here is where the rhetoric of love can greatly offset the rhetoric of fear.

According to the research of Marvin Olasky, an editor with WORLD magazine, abortions per capita were higher in the mid-1800s than they are today. Mainly due to prostitution, abortions abounded in eastern cities. The numbers were ultimately reduced not by laws, for they were already on the books, but by benevolence. Christians provided care for young ladies caught in a web of sin and need, and by and large this action reduced the occurrences of abortion.

The same kind of reduction has occurred in our generation. We have needed laws, and they have helped. God bless the politicians who out of fear of God and love of man have stood firm for our preborn neighbors, for it is the duty of rulers to speak out and to decide in favor of the oppressed! But that is not the whole story. A whole network of benevolence has arisen, taking advantage of technology and charity in order to provide an alternative way.

Given the fact that most of us have limited access to political power, what should we do regarding abortion? We should support our local crisis pregnancy centers, and befriend the troubled teenager who lives next door. We should affirm the goodness of children, and speak well of families raising many children responsibly. We should be willing to adopt, provide foster care, or even take in young ladies in distress, caring for them full-term, as Christ cared for us and bore our sorrows to the cross. We should also discuss politics with one eye on the salvation of our neighbor, remembering that the enemy is never flesh and blood, and that souls are more valuable than votes. In doing these things, ignorant men will be silenced; and as the stories are told, God will be glorified (cf. Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12ff). In today’s climate of fear, we need desperately to hear the stories of quiet love. Who will tell these stories?

The room yesterday lacked such stories, and sadly, that occurred in a state that may lead the nation in the number of abortion reductions. Surely there are stories here that need to be told.

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