This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

The way to cast out fear

It is said that peace is more than the absence of war. Real peace goes far beyond avoiding large-scale armed conflict. What, then, is peace the absence of? Perhaps it is the absence of fear. Or the shrinking of fear so that it does not rule our lives.

We live in a time of fear. Fear of terrorists, fear of immigrants, fear of Muslims, fear of financial loss, fear of Democrats, fear of Republicans, fear of gun violence, fear of guns being taken away. Americans may not agree on what to be afraid of, but they can agree to be afraid.

The presidential campaign magnifies the anxiety. Candidates pander to voters’ fears, pushing the buttons that exploit suspicion of the other and the unknown. Appeals to fear have sunk to new lows of falsehood, exaggeration, prejudice and hostility.

When fear prevails, violence multiplies. Fearing a burglary, a homeowner buys a gun, which is more likely to be used in a suicide, domestic-violence murder or negligent death of a family member than to stop a criminal. Fear of a terrorist attack prompts drone strikes and bombing campaigns that kill civilians and add to the ranks of terrorist recruits. The rejection of refugees fleeing the Islamic State becomes a propaganda victory for the terrorists.

Fear distorts our perception of real threats. Americans fear that Syrian refugees might want to harm them, though none of the 785,000 refugees admitted to the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, has been convicted of killing a person in a terrorist act in America, according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, 92 people die from firearms every day in the United States, but fear of the gun lobby prevents legislative action, or adequate program funding, to reduce gun deaths.

Fear leads voters to believe politicians who claim the U.S. military is weak, though military spending totaled nearly $600 billion in 2015. Fear causes a nation to squander its wealth and its soldiers’ lives in a “war on terror.” Fear leads a presidential candidate to say the Islamic State is trying to destroy Western civilization, which is exactly what the members of that death cult would like to be thought of as having the power to do. Successfully inspiring a fearful overreaction, they get the status and the fight that they want. Fear diminishes those who are afraid and builds up those who cause fear.

Fear reveals a lack of trust in God. Christians cannot allow fear to cloud our thoughts and distort our view of the world. We should rather pray, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you” (Psalm 56:3). When fear tempts us to support violence, or to spurn a certain group of people, we can remember the promise that “perfect love drives out fear” and that the love of God is “made complete in us” (1 John 4:12, 18).

In many places around the world, fear has not destroyed this love. The people of Paris refused to bow to fear after the November attacks on their city. Mennonites are among those in Germany opening their doors to Syrian refugees. U.S. Mennonites and other Christians are interacting respectfully with Muslims. These acts of peace are signs of hope that love, not fear, will prevail.

Paul Schrag

Paul Schrag is editor of Anabaptist World. He lives in Newton, Kan., attends First Mennonite Church of Newton and is Read More

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