One of my right wing friends, and I do have a few, recently posted an op-ed piece from someone in the Las Vegas area recommending impenetrable border walls, gated communities, and armed guards as preventatives to keep us safe. It was a sad commentary on American life from someone who has the means to live behind guarded gates. He was trying to call out the hypocrisy of gun regulation advocates who also live behind guarded gates, but that’s not what he ended up revealing. For him, it appears that everyone outside the gates is a potential threat, and I might guess it’s especially true if they are not white, speak Spanish, or look homeless. People like that have been around a long time. They marched in white hooded robes, burned crosses, and cheered the nascent fascism of the early 1940s America First movement. Their influence was felt among the rank and file of good people who were disgusted by what they did, but open to bits and pieces of what they said while tolerating the rest.
Years ago our daughter and her family lived in Jakarta, in a gated neighborhood protected by armed guards. Her office was downtown, its walls pockmarked by bullets from recent riots, so the precaution made some sense. Our small city in the rural West has one gated neighborhood. As far as I know, no one has ever paid any attention to the gate, but it’s a very nice one. Nevertheless, there is a strong current of agreement with the man from Las Vegas, and fear that the boundary is thin indeed between our small city and Jakarta of the late 1990s. In many different ways it expresses one message: You, me and our friends are all good people, but everyone else is suspect, maybe armed and dangerous, the possibility of attack is ever present and highly probable. The despised federal government that should stay out of our lives, should not stay out of their lives. If it can’t deport them, it should harass them into submission. But it should stay out of our lives.
Living in that frightening world, it’s no wonder that many of my conservative friends are well armed, fearful their guns might be taken away, and certain that mortal danger is always nearby. It doesn’t help that there was a daylight house burglary not far away a few days ago. The burglars were caught, all is well, but that didn’t stop brave talk from armchair quarterbacks threatening to shoot first, as if, somehow, shooting and killing are not related. Of course, if you’re only killing an “animal,” does it matter?
It’s a strange time. Violent crime is declining while fear of violent crime is escalating, and it’s all mixed up with immigration, racism, economic dislocation, and libertarian fantasies. People who earnestly proclaim their belief in old time moral values continue to give unquestioning support to policies and politicians that are blatant offenses against them. Several times I’ve asked one friend to explain how he does it. His instant answer is “What about Hillary?,” which is such a non sequitur that I’ve struggled to find anything to say. I guess it’s what happens when you live in a frighteningly dangerous world that, to me, is more illusion than reality.
Into it stepped Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the American Episcopal Church, preaching to the entire world while at a wedding attended by the social and economic elite of the English speaking part of it. His proclamation of God’s power expressed in love nailed to the chapel’s door an indictment of the world’s failure to hear and heed, and the whole world listened. Love, God’s love, casts out fear (of the other). It is said that perfect love casts out all fear, but we don’t experience perfect love, or perfection in anything else. We can, however, see it lived out imperfectly in the lives of those who follow in Christ’s footsteps as best they can. If imperfect love can’t cast out all fear, it can shove it into the closet where it can’t dominate us, and it can transform the choices we make in private and in public.
I wonder if Bishop Curry’s message of God’s power expressed in love can penetrate the lives of people who believe they live in a dangerous world, surrounded by dangerous others who are not like them? I wonder if those whose hearts were easily warmed by his inspiring words will forfeit the opportunity to make changes by forgetting all about in a few days? I wonder if those who take it seriously will use it like a bludgeon to beat the opposition about their heads and shoulders? I wonder if those who love Jesus but decline to follow in his ways will try to undermine it? I wonder all that and more. Wonder as I might, I am convicted without doubt of God’s promise that “[His] word that goes out from [His] mouth shall not return to [Him] empty, but shall accomplish that which [He] purposes, and succeed in the thing for which [He] sent it.” (Isa. 55)
Note: ‘He’ is used for need of a personal pronoun because the intimacy that only a personal pronoun can give is fundamental to the relationship God has with us. ‘She’ is equally acceptable, and neither is accurate.