Today’s question comes from Stevie. She writes: “I believe that fear is the most paralyzingly of the emotions. What do you think is the biggest fear among people, and how does it affect them?”
There are certainly many things that people fear. Surveys show that one of the greatest fears many people have is public speaking. Others fear death. Still others fear things that are more specific – say clowns or birds (says this pastor who fears clowns and birds).
There is one fear that I have seen play out more than any other over the years, however: the fear of being left out.
This fear gets played out in many different areas.
Many political campaigns are built upon this fear. They tell individuals, “If so-and-so is elected [or such-and-such party wins the majority], there won’t be room for people like you!” Voters hear that message and respond – casting millions of votes and donating millions of dollars in a desperate attempt not to get left behind.
Individuals often present social issues in ways that prey upon this fear. Some stoke dislike of immigrants by telling folks, “Keep them out of the country. Otherwise, they will sneak in and take your jobs!” This fear is often used to stoke hatred of religious minorities as well. Some have suggested that if Muslims gain power in the country they will advocate for the institution of sharia law – thereby threatening Judeo-Christian ways of being. And who can forget the common claim that the legalization of gay marriage would be a threat to the institution of marriage itself!
Sadly, it’s not just in the political or social realms where the fear of being left out rages its ugly head. The same fear often takes hold of churches as well. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, for instance, a battle raged between traditionalists (who advocated for the use of traditional, male pronouns to refer to God) and proponents of inclusive language (who advocated for either gender neutral or feminine pronouns in referring to God). Individuals would often get VERY angry, VERY fast if they either heard (or failed to hear) a particular word spoken worship that suggested the worship leaders were on “the other side.”
So how does this fear affect individuals?
My experience has shown this fear causes people to go to great lengths to try to exclude those they perceive as a threat.
They do this in many ways. When it comes to social/political issues like immigration or gay marriage, individuals try to pass laws that keep certain people out (or keep particular groups in their place). Churches have their own way of acting out their fears. A church might call a pastor – or elect leadership – that agrees with their take on things. The assumption, then, is that it is the spiritual leaders’ job to keep out THOSE who are different.
Before I leave your question, I would like to add a third dimension to this issue: how can we help people overcome this fear and act in ways that are motivated by love – NOT fear.
Here’s where I believe my denomination – The United Church of Christ – provides a helpful model for the world. Unlike most Christian communities that are creedal (meaning one particular theological camp has won and established their view as the “right,” or “orthodox”, position), The United Church of Christ is a non-creedal community. This means folks in our churches are not thrown into theological camps marked “winner” or “loser.” Every person has the opportunity to find and claim their belief. They are then expected to give others the same space.
By living in such radically inclusive theological communities, we help individuals learn to let go of their fear of being pushed out and embrace a graciousness and generosity to others.
Those are a few of the ideas Stevie’s question sparked for me. What about you? What fear do you think is the greatest – and how does it affect the lives of others?