Bridget Phetasy, a podcaster who self-identifies as “politically homeless” is quoted in the Dispatch Weekly as saying, “If Trump wins, I reckon America will burn. If Trump loses, America will burn. Either way, I’m preparing for America to burn.”
Confirming these feelings, President Trump says that he “is the only thing standing between the American dream and total anarchy, madness and chaos.” He says that if he loses, “America is gone forever.” Not to be outdone, Democrats are fearful of losing our democracy if Trump wins. They also fear right-wing militias that threaten “we’re a trigger-pull away” from resisting government controls like mask mandates.
Looking at the election itself, President Trump stokes fears by claiming that millions of mail-in ballots will be fraudulent while Democrats fear that millions of mail-in ballots will be disqualified because of Republican interference.
Politicians, commentators, and Americans across the political spectrum are increasingly fearful for our country. It is a fear not only of the consequences of our presidential election but tragically it is also a fear of one another. We have become a tribalized society of identity politics. Some of us fear those who use their racial or sexual identity for political power while we don’t understand the inherent power of centuries of white and male privilege. Some of us fear the political influence of those who aren’t Christians while others fear the influence of those who are.
On top of all of these political fears are the continuing fears of the pandemic and our economic crisis. We have a low-grade fever of uncertainty and of fear that spikes with every new death projection from COVID 19 or when there is another police shooting of a black man with subsequent protests. If we are black, we fear constantly for our lives and if we are a small business owner we fear for our livelihood. And after months of COVID trauma and drama, we’ve come to fear even our fears.
Coping with Fears
It is tempting to dismiss these fears as just temporary or pre-election hype that will somehow go away like the virus is supposed to according to the president. But in our heart of hearts, we know that like the virus, our deep fears are real and will have lasting consequences.
We could deal with our fears by trying to be impervious to them, channeling the extreme confidence of those like Franklin Roosevelt who famously said, “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Courage and fortitude are great characteristics in the face of danger and fear, but they in themselves do not eliminate the reasons for fear. Without action, positive thinking can quickly become denial with debilitating results.
There is also the temptation to spiritualize our fears and “just trust God,” but that is likely the right answer to a different question. The different question is “Who do we trust?” as if there is any doubt of whether we should put our trust in God or in politicians. There is no contest! The Psalmist says, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.” (see Psalm 118:9). Our faith in God is our ultimate security and should not be second to any earthly competition.
A right question in this situation, though, is, “How do we trust God?” in a democracy where we have the freedom not only to vote but to use our votes and political involvement to be “salt and light” in the world. Do we trust God by dismissing our responsibilities as citizens and not voting because there isn’t a perfect candidate? Do we trust God by avoiding biblical issues of justice? Or, do we trust God to give us spiritual discernment to make political choices that would best reflect Christian values and most benefit the common good?
It is commonplace to say that this election is a great inflection point in American history. In a highly polarized electorate, it is also true that Christians are right at that inflection point of influencing which way the country goes. Many evangelicals lean toward reelecting a deeply flawed president in order to maintain their cultural influence on issues like abortion, human sexuality, and religious freedom. Their fear of losing power is greater than their fear of compromising their moral convictions.
Many other Christians lean toward choosing Biden as a compassionate leader who seeks to bring people together. They see him as someone who cares deeply about biblical issues like immigration, racial and economic justice, and environmental stewardship. They are willing to take the risk that the number of abortions and matters of religious liberty would not change much, if at all, with a change of administrations.
In the next eight weeks before the election, it is vitally important that Christians wrestle with these competing convictions in a thoughtful and humble way. Someone who does this well is Ron Sider, who is a pro-life theological conservative. Ron recently posted “Why I Will Vote for Joe Biden,” which sets a high bar for careful reasoning and spiritual discernment that is worth reading and considering. You can read his post here.
But how does thoughtful reasoning like Sider’s help us deal with our fears for our country? It doesn’t take away the reasons for our fears but it does provide careful and knowledgeable insights into the issues we are facing. We often are more afraid of what we don’t know than what we do. We like doctors to give us an accurate diagnosis. We want to know the risks associated with certain occupations or travel decisions. Naming our fears helps us cope with them and Sider helps us to articulate the issues at stake. I highly encourage you to read his words as you wrestle with your own fears and decisions for the upcoming election.
An Antidote to Fear
Finally, I want to point to the words of the Apostle John, who says that “perfect love casts out fear” (see 1 John 4:18). Unfortunately, a biblical love that is “patient and kind, not boastful and not proud, that doesn’t dishonor others or is self-seeking, or easily angered…but rejoices with the truth” (see 1 Corinthians 13) is a rare commodity in contemporary political discussions. Anger, deceit, and ridicule are more often the weapons of political debate.
However, if we as Christians would speak and vote out of love for others rather than out of fear of others or fear of losing what we consider to be power, we would be a winsome witness to a very fearful nation and world. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Because we love something else more than this world, we love even this world better than those who know no other.”