Fear is in the streets and in our local churches. It is causing some of our siblings of color to feel undervalued, unseen, and unprotected. Some of our siblings in the majority culture fear that what is familiar to them is changing too rapidly and they have no avenue to express this fear of erasure. There is fear from our clergy and other church leaders about saying the wrong thing about a myriad of hurts and causing more pain. James Baldwin is credited with saying, “Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Yes, there is fear and we must name this fear; face this fear. It must be confronted because we can ignore it no longer; we must not ignore it any longer.
Scripture teaches us, in 1 John 4:18-21 (NRSV), “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
It is said, “Nothing could be finer than being in North Carolina.” Last week the country turned her eyes to North Carolina and there was nothing fine about what they saw in Greenville, NC. They say a group of folks chanting, “Send her back; send her back!” in reference to a Somali-American Congresswoman. It was vile. It was sinful bigotry. And it was verbalized fear and "othering". We must name this hatred and fear where we find it. If we find it in the public square, it is on the Church to name it there. If we find it in our local church, there, too, we must name it. If we find this hatred, fear, and bigotry in our own lives and dripping like corroding acid, we must face it, name it, and then set about the work of allowing God and those impacted to eradicate this from our lives. Desmond Tutu exhorted, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality." Call it out. Name it.
Grievously, fear is alive in the Western North Carolina Conference. It is the fear of change that makes it possible for a confederate monument to stand on the campus of one of our local United Methodist churches even when this monument causes many of our members to feel unwelcome and unwanted. Injustice reigns when we have unjust and inequitable compensation for our female clergy and clergy of color. We must face this head-on and set about the hard and long-term work of vanquishing this sin from our beloved United Methodist Church.
I call on us all to do the hard work of looking inward and facing the sinful fear that exists within us. And once we have taken an introspective look, we implore local churches to begin discussions on how your local church will help its members cope and overcome this fear which harms both innocent people as well as ourselves.
Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 6:23-24, NRSV)