Vantage Points

The Politics of Fear

Feb. 24, 2016

by Nathan Warf

A recent poll suggests that nearly half of Americans are angrier now than they were a year ago. Whites and Republicans are reportedly angrier than their counterparts. Perhaps surprising to some, women are reportedly angrier than men.

Make of the survey results what you will, but it is hard to deny that anger seems to be a theme in this campaign season. In discussions about politics—in conversation with others, on television, and certainly in social media—you will find a lot of anger. You’ll see angry signs, angry hand gestures, and angry red faces.  You’ll hear a lot of angry words and angry voices. 

I want to be clear that anger, in itself, is not wrong. The Bible teaches that we can be angry in the right way, at the right time, and for the right reasons. The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry and do not sin.” He recognizes that it is possible to have anger without sin. However, we must be on guard. When emotions run high, it’s easy to say and do things that we might not otherwise say and do. The same verse teaches that we shouldn’t let the sun go down on our wrath. We shouldn’t cherish feelings of anger. We shouldn’t hold onto them and let them simmer. The Bible connects holding onto anger with giving opportunity to the devil (Eph. 4:26-27). 

Thus, while there is nothing wrong with anger in itself, I believe it worth considering why we’re angry. I think much of our anger is the product of fear. Many people fear change and uncertainty and react with anger. They fear the President will take their guns, that immigrants will take their jobs, and the Court will take their religious freedom. They fear that they’re losing their country. 

This fearful attitude makes us vulnerable to political manipulation. Politicians have long capitalized on the public’s fear to gain political advantage. This campaign season proves no different as candidates are vying with one another to appear “tough” and so pacify our insecurities. One candidate promises to carpet bomb terrorists into oblivion. Another argues that the United States should not accept any refugees from Syria, not even orphans under age five. A third candidate contends that America should spend billions of dollars to deport illegal immigrants—including their American-born children—and then build a wall across our southern border that stretches 35-40 feet in the air. This same individual has also floated the idea of requiring all Muslim Americans to register in a database

Examples abound of candidates playing to the worst sentiments of the electorate with populist nativism, belligerent nationalism, and blind prejudice.  While there are serious issues worth serious discussion—immigration, foreign policy, healthcare, etc.—the conversation should not begin with a politics of fear. The best decisions are not made from fear, but more importantly, we do not represent Christ when we’re fearful. Paul asks in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” John makes a similar point in I John 4:4, when he reminds us that “He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.” 

We have no reason to be afraid. Jesus connects fear to a lack of faith.  In John 8 we read about Jesus crossing the sea with his disciples. A great storm arose. The disciples were terrified, and they went to Jesus, crying, “Lord save us, for we are perishing!” Do you remember Jesus’ response? He asked, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” 

As part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught in Luke 12, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.” We could add to this list. Don’t be anxious about Supreme Court nominees, about “ObamaCare,” about unrest in the Middle East, etc. Don’t be anxious about the upcoming election. God remains in control, and regardless of what happens—Hilary, Bernie, Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, or Carson—our responsibility remains the same: loving obedience to a loving God.

I wish to emphasize that I find nothing wrong with participating in the political process. There’s nothing wrong in attending political meetings, donating funds, or voting. In our country, we have the great privilege of voicing our opinions. Nonetheless, as Christians we must be careful to demonstrate love and grace rather than anger rooted in fear.