Let’s be honest, fear fuels much of the political activism in this country, on both sides. Sometimes it’s advocacy groups with their latest fundraising letter or email sharing how the other side is “this close” to destroying the America we know. Sometimes it’s cable news shows with their smartly designed graphics, ominous music, and breathless pundits. Sometimes it’s politicians who paint their opponents as against all that is good, as dangerous, as evil.
The reason leaders use fear is because fear works. It is the primal sense that we are in danger of losing what we cherish, that our way of life is about to be ripped from us. To be sure, sometimes fear is warranted. Not all ominous warnings are bogus. Some are legitimate. The unfortunate problem with our “hyper media” culture, however, is that we rarely know when a news story or warning is worth heeding or whether it is merely something to laugh off.
This is the way we often approach the sensitive subject of immigration. At the root of much of anti-immigrant angst is a sense of fear: they are overloading our hospitals, they are trampling our neighborhoods, and they are destroying our national identity… We must stop them!
To be fair, there are legitimate concerns with the current immigration system. But a discerning follower of Jesus must carefully distinguish the true from the hyperbole, the sensational from the sober. Careful, prudent, discerning judgment requires that our approach to issues like immigration be framed not by fear, but by justice steeped in love.
In one of his last letters before dying, Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy and cautioned him against living a life of irrational fear:
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7 ESV)
Paul spoke these words from a Roman dungeon, awaiting his imminent execution. He had every reason to live his life based on fear, and yet he refused, asserting instead that the Spirit of God offers a new way to live and think, a way of life rooted in confidence of God’s sovereignty.
Living apart from fear forces us to live unsafely, to move out of our comfort zones and into the mission of God. It allows us to mingle freely with people from other cultures and to welcome, rather than discourage, the increasing diversification of our country. Regardless of where you stand on the many complex issues surrounding immigration, I’d challenge you to heed Paul’s words and ground your advocacy not in fear, but in a spirit of love and self-control.
Daniel Darling is the Senior Pastor at Gages Lake Bible Church in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago. His writing has been featured by Christianity Today, Focus on the Family, and On Faith (Washington Post/Newsweek). He is a regular columnist for Crosswalk.com, Enrichment Journal, and Lake County Journals and is a blogger with patheos.com. He is also the author of several books, including, most recently, iFaith: Connecting with God in the 21st Century (New Hope Publishers, 2011).
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