Eric Garner, Michael Brown & The Culture of Fear That is Killing Us All

I wrote back in August that the whole Ferguson things is being misunderstood. It’s not a black/white issue, a cop/thug issue, or even a poor/rich issue. It’s a Kingdom of Heaven vs. kingdom of this world issue, I theorized. And I don’t think I was wrong.

But as I’ve learned more and thought more and observed more, I’ve come to a complimentary (yet slightly different) conclusion:

What is really wrong is that everyone is afraid.

We live in a fear-based culture, and it’s scaring the good sense out of us. Do you sense the fear that rises in you when you read about current events? We live in a culture that values personal autonomy and the ability to control all things. We’re inventing devices to learn our preferences so we don’t experience an instant of discomfort. But watching the news makes us uncomfortable. We fear that which we cannot control.

We’re terrified of all that we can’t understand.

We fear Ebola. Democrats fear Republicans. Republicans fear Democrats. We all fear the state and surveillance. We “fear for this country.” We are afraid to go to certain neighborhoods.  Many talk show hosts and authors and bloggers make their living selling fear, not information.

Some are asking, “Why can’t we all just love each other!?”

But fear and love cannot co-exist. So many struggle in a response to a tragedy like the one with Michael Brown or Eric Garner to articulate how they feel, but the reality is that there is much fear that exists in our world. It’s scared the good sense out of us, leaving young men charging at cops and cops cramming a man’s head into the sidewalk while he’s choked to death.

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PHOTO CREDIT: AP

Let me restate so it’s clear what I’m saying. I wish not to be misunderstood. The foundation of our race problem is actually a fear problem. We have allowed ourselves to fear each other instead of knowing and understanding one another.

We are all being scared to death.

John was a follower of Christ. The Bible calls him the disciple who Jesus loved. He stood at the foot of the cross as Jesus died. He was called upon to care for Jesus’ mother after his death, resurrection, and ascension. He preached the Gospel in a hostile environment, when preaching the Gospel was not permitted. The Jews were after him. The Romans were after him. He was jailed multiple times. He was exiled to an island. He was dipped in boiling oil. He knew what it meant to be hated. He had every right to hate in return. He did not.

He instructs us not only to not hate, but also to not fear. In 1 John 4:18, the guy who had every right to don a mask and chuck a molotov cocktail at his closest enemy instead writes:

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…”

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PHOTO CREDIT: AP

We’re scared because we don’t love each other. We don’t know each other. We don’t understand each other. How can we? Sadly, we rarely even attempt to. We just avoid people who aren’t like us because it’s easier. And so the fear marches on, hastening tragedy after tragedy. Misunderstanding, political grandstanding, and opportunistic rebellion fans the flames of fear and stereotypes, leaving us more divided than ever before.

In the wake of recent tragic events, one of the most common ways to start a sentence has been, “I just don’t understand how…” But do we even seek to understand a dissenting view?

We won’t fix our fear problem over night. Indeed, we cannot even fix it on our own. We need the perfect love of God to change our eyesight. That love can then cast out all our fears, little by little, as we learn one another’s names, stories, and history. We don’t have to be afraid. We can love instead. We can know each other. We can trust one another. It’s our choice.

One day this past August, a cop who was scared out of his mind encountered a teenage boy who was just as scared. The events of that altercation have been called into question ever since, and rightly so. The only explanation for things to go down the way they did is the mutual fear the two men felt toward one another from the start. The dude with the gun is still alive and the kid who didn’t have one is dead.

The reverse scenario has happened many times, but the cause was the same: fear.

It’s more than a tragic event. It’s a metaphor for our time.

If we don’t let love drive out that fear, if we don’t get to know each other and learn to trust one another again, our society will be lying in a pool of our own blood–and fear will have pulled the trigger.

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