Saturday was my birthday. I turned 40. I woke up to the news that Christina Grimmie, a singer, had been murdered after her concert in Florida. Senseless. The next morning, I woke up to hear of the massacre of so many fellow Americans at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. My fabulous 40s are not off to a fabulous start. No sooner did I hear about the news on the CNN news crawler, then the pundits and politicians immediately seized upon the opportunity to cast blame. Is the problem easy access to military style guns capable of such rapid fire and accuracy? Is the problem militant jihadist Islam? Is the problem a person who is so self-loathing that he is attacking the manifestation of his own repressed sexuality? I don’t know. Honestly, I wish we could take 48 hours just to grieve the loss of our fellow citizens before we prescribed solutions and blame. But, I guess that is a pipe dream.
Immediately, my Facebook feed filled with articles from my conservative friends about Obama’s failure to name the culprit as “radical militant islam.” Predictably, my feed also filled with articles of how better gun laws could solve the problem. There’s a not-so-subtle undercurrent that the shooting is Obama’s fault or Trump’s fault or Dan Cathy’s fault or anyone who objected to gay marriage’s fault or our mental health system’s fault. Ultimately, no matter your politics, I think it’s safe to say that the problem is “hate.” These kind of attacks are all expressions of hatred; from a senseless murder of a pop star to the massacre of an LGBT nightclub.
At the end of the day, both incidents involved young men who so let hate consume their hearts that they killed and injured others. Perhaps the eagerness with which so many seek to find the specificity of the motivation, is because no one seems to be telling us how we can make a difference. We feel helpless. We are desperate for a leader who can guide us to a preferred future. Where is that leader? Politicians are so eager to cast blame that they fail to outline an attainable vision. Then, extremists jump into political action with simplified slogans, polarization and blame. Nothing changes. The cycle continues. Something has to change! How do you fight hate? I don’t think you can. By the time there is a manifestation of hate, it's too late. Hate is a symptom of something deeper.
WE NEED TO FIGHT THE SOURCE.
Throughout my life, my faith has been the cornerstone of my identity. As a teenager, I joined a Christian band called Third Day that exposed me to every flavor of Christianity imaginable; the good, the bad and the ugly. Perhaps, because of that exposure, I never really gravitated toward any particular denomination, but rather developed my faith identity as someone who tries to live a life modeled after the person and character of Jesus. I would not say I’ve been overwhelmingly successful in that endeavor. However, in the words of Max Lucado, “God isn’t finished with me yet.” (On a side-note, I’ve never met a good Christian who described himself as a good christian.)
One of the things I’ve learned from a lifetime of sermons is that faith and fear are opposites. The most oft-repeated command in the bible is to not be afraid. (The command appears 365 times in the bible; one for every day of the year!) Subsequently, one could argue that pursuing faith is daily fleeing fear. I know that many would take issue with my use of the word "faith" if they are not a “religious” person. (I’m not all that religious myself BTW.) However, when you look at the definition of faith given in the bible as “the certainty of things hoped for," perhaps there can be more agreement around this idea. Replace the word "faith" with certainty or security if you must, and I think you’ll find little objection. You don’t see a lot of people with stable home lives committing acts of terror. You don’t see a lot of people that are financially secure plotting suicide bombings. Fear, poverty, and hopelessness are the breeding grounds of terror, the breeding ground of hate.
When we are feeding our faith, we will bear fruit. That fruit will look like charity, joy, peace, and the apex of them all, love. As love and hate are opposites, and if we accept the notion that faith and fear are opposites, it is logical to say that hate is a fruit of fear. Fear can bear other fruit. It breeds racism, and self-loathing, but Hate is its apex, just as Love is the apex of faith.
Here is the theory bouncing in my head: In order to fight hate, we need to attack the source, and the source is fear. I think fear is the enemy, or as Franklin D. Roosevelt so eloquently stated, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It’s the fear that someone of a different religion is somehow a threat to my ability to freely exercise my own. It’s the fear that the illegal immigrant is going to take my job. It’s the fear that someone’s expression of sexuality is somehow a threat to my beliefs. It’s the fear that I’m not going to be able to find love, or a companion, or a career.
I’ll be honest. I used to fear homosexuals. They were "the other." I didn’t know any homosexuals (or so I thought), and every movie and television show I watched portrayed homosexuals as campy subhuman stereotypes. I remember my youth group leader telling me how homosexuals actively recruited and wanted to "turn people gay." Homophobic slurs were thrown around the playground as often as a baseball, even at a private school.
I no longer fear homosexuals. Why? Well, I’ve gotten to know many. I’ve broken bread with many a new friend of different sexual persuasion and realized that our expression of sexuality shouldn’t define us any more than the color of our skin, national origin, or political affiliation. Now, some of my best friends and people I admire most are homosexuals. Their homosexuality is a non-issue. They are my friends. Period.
Many a powerful leader, conservative and liberal, has preyed upon fear in what I call the “politics of the other.”
"Can’t find a job? ... It’s the fault of the super-rich. Join the Democrats and we'll give you some of their money."
"Can’t find a job? ... It’s because immigrants are stealing them. Join the GOP, and we’ll build a wall and kick them all out."
It’s a classic tactic. I hate when people jump to Nazi metaphors, but isn’t it how Hitler came to power? He preyed on the fear of war-torn Germany and cast the Jews as the cause of the problem. It’s the “politics of the other,” and I’m sick of it.
This goes beyond politics. It touches our very humanity. That is why I’m a firm believer in fighting poverty. I think it is our greatest weapon in the fight against terror, domestic and international. On Sunday night, I watched a Ted talk that talked about how even terrorist groups recognize this. It’s why terrorist groups such as Hamas and ISIS provide social services.
Terrorist groups, cults, politicians and other assorted predators recognize when people are lacking, they are afraid, and that fear can be nourished to manifest hate. Conversely, when people are afraid, they can be loved and pulled toward security and faith. Then, they too can bear the fruit of love. That is the game plan of authentic faith. It’s the very essence of authentic Christianity.
Great leaders acknowledge fear, but cast a vision of a different preferred future. They don’t feed the fears. They don’t justify the fears. They point you toward faith in your community, in your God, and your own ability to create change. They give you something bigger to be a part of that moves you toward faith, toward belief, toward security. False leaders, and false religion, instigate and nourish your fears inciting its subsequent fruit, hate.
So, how do we fight fear? On a global scale, we must address the basic needs of those in need, living in fear. Additionally, I believe there is tremendous potential to be had from millions of small conversations, one on one conversations, where we reach out to “the other.”
Before you blame an illegal immigrant for our country’s challenges, go to a Hispanic grocer and have a conversation. You might find it a lot more difficult to cast them as the enemy when you realize they want the same things for their children as you want for yours.
Before you make a racist joke, spend some time with a person of a different skin hue.
Before you tease a person who identifies as LGBTQ, go have a coffee with someone of a different sexual persuasion. I have. It’s changed me. They did not "turn me gay."
Before you cast someone who wants to carry a firearm as gun-toting slack jawed redneck, have a conversation with them.
If you’re gay and feel fear and animosity toward Christians, spend some time with a Christian the way that Shane Windmeyer did with Dan Cathy a few years ago. Or, give me a call. I'm always looking for a new friend.
I know I may be rambling. However, these thoughts have been heavy on my heart. I'll end where I began, with the words of Christina Grimmie. They contain more wisdom than anything I've heard on my television set or Facebook feed.