Fear Not

By Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
Published This Week At Plymouth, November 5, 2021

“The profound love for America’s ideals should unite all who call it home, of every color—and yet America has lied to her white children for centuries, offering them songs about freedom instead of the liberation of truth” ― Heather McGhee, The Sum of Us

Another general election is in the books. The parties, pundits, and politicians are immersed in their customary post-election analysis, trying to draw wisdom from lessons learned and to discern new wisdom for better election strategies in the future. While strategists will use much of this analysis to predict what will happen in the national mid-term elections next year and to decide on which voters to target their messages, elections of 2021 confirmed the effectiveness of an old electoral strategy: stoking fears about race, schools, and crime.

Scholars maintain that the phrase “fear not” appears in the Bible 365 times. When the angels, prophets, and Jesus preface divine presence and prophecy with “fear not,” they recognize that humanity is prewired to exhibit fear and anxiety about unknown, potentially dangerous situations. But they also know that unwarranted or misapplied fear may interfere with one’s ability to hear, see, or experience something new, good, or transformative. As a Black queer man, I am not immune to seeing the world through the prism of “I am in danger.” It can be the almost ambient voice and noise stiffening my body or closing parts of myself off from the world out of fear. But, “fear not” echoes in my soul. It is the part of my faith journey that also leads me to sing, “I will trust in the Lord.” I don’t want to live in nor act out of fear.

And yet, fear works. The media reported countless stories about campaigns and citizens using demonstrably false messages about teaching critical race theory and a dystopian crime-infested world without police to frighten voters. We saw several interviews with people expressing fear of things they had not directly experienced. We are hard-pressed to discount the power of fear in the election results. I am not making a case for a particular party, candidate, or policy prescription. I am, however, inviting us to discern the difference between messages designed to stoke our fear and those that offer us the truth, good or bad, that can be the source of freedom and progress.

After the election, the journalist Dan Rather tweeted his belief that “most Americans would prefer if we were united.” I don’t know if they prefer it, but I suspect we would be more united if we were not so afraid. If we were not so afraid, perhaps we could hear about the darker periods of our past to liberate ourselves from its consequences. If we were not so afraid, maybe we could find a way to ensure public safety is an expression of the common good for all people rather than a wedge issue for powerful interests. So, fear not, and hear the good news.

DeWayne L. Davis