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Posted: October 20, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Facing the fear factor

Arguably the greatest president of the 20th century was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who led America out of the Great Depression and through World War II. Critics contend his policies were socialist and anti-business, yet his New Deal programs propelled economic growth and job creation and contributed to his record four terms as president. In his first inaugural address FDR said, "First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
Let's use his working definition of fear as nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror that paralyzes our efforts for advancement. There are many reasons for Americans to be afraid: economic recession, energy dependence, job loss and the war on terror to name a few. What troubles me as a family man, pastor and community organizer is the election cycle tendency to manufacture even greater fear. This is a sin for which many national, state and local campaigns are guilty. The campaign slogans for the year 2008 might as well be, "be afraid, be very afraid." Oh how we have been all too willing to cooperate.
"Be afraid that Newton could become the next Clayton." "Be afraid that democrats have registered more new voters than republicans."
"Be afraid that Obama might be a foreign terrorist."
"Be afraid that McCain could die in office, leaving us with President Palin."
I hear it in town, in restaurants, at the golf courses, in the stadiums and even in the churches. My children hear it in school; it's the by-product of fear.
Fear is dangerous because it breeds desperation and violence. Republican candidates have recently staged rallies replete with audience outbursts of "terrorist," "kill ‘em," "off with his head" and racial epithets aimed at members of the media. While no one can control bigots, we do have complete control over our response to bigotry. Both candidates should have paused to denounce those comments while curving the campaign rhetoric that may have encouraged them.
By my count, the list of fear-based insults from candidates, campaigns, pundits and the community at large has grown to include the following: socialist, communist, radical Muslim, terrorist, racist, sexist, liar, uppity, elitist, un-American, adulterer, baby killer and anti-Christ. What's amazing is that the fear being exploited by this campaign cycle is the same emotion terrorists play on to paralyze our advancement. American presidential campaigns and terrorists should never evoke the same emotions.
Sadly, the church has willingly contributed to this propagation of fear. Whereas pastors should promote peace and prayer, fear mongering has been highlighted from the pulpit. The Alliance Defense Fund along with 35 pastors in 22 states declared Sept. 28 as Pulpit Freedom Day and many took that opportunity to rally their congregations to vote for McCain/Palin citing Biblical reasons.
"Nobody who follows the Bible can vote for Obama," said the Rev. Wiley S. Drake, pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Calif. The Rev. Jody Hice of the First Baptist Church of Bethlehem, agreed and argued McCain is "most in line with Biblical values."
Pulpit endorsements not only threaten a church's tax exempt status, but also they present a spiritual dilemma. What are parishioners to do should their pastors endorse the loser of the election? Pastors run the risk of using inspiration to generate anxiety rather than faith.
I have many beliefs and positions I could espouse in this column. I have definitive positions on the Bible, Christian duty, abortion, gay marriage, civil unions, capital punishment, tax hikes, elderly services, government regulation, health care as a right, relief for the poor, corporate bailouts, entitlements, war and many other issues of national, state and local importance. However, I decline to share them in the current climate because fear cripples communication; people don't care what I or anyone else think anymore. Fearful people are intolerant of divergent views and cannot recognize the role of fear as an obstacle to community advancement.
Xenophobia is the fear of the unknown, a hatred for things unlike you. This is a major threat to our advancement. I believe we have more xenophobes than racists.
One day, and I hope it's very soon, we will abandon the politics of fear to begin the search for common ground. Many in our community will be motivated by fear on Nov. 4, using their vote as a rock and the ballot as a sling shot aimed at the object of their reproach. Regardless of your selection in the ballot box, you will step out of that private space and be confronted with a more critical decision - embrace fear or exercise courage.
The Campaign for Nov. 5 is a call for everyone to do three critical things immediately following the election. First, remove all political signs from your yards and businesses, replacing them with American flags. Second, pray for our current and newly elected leaders as the Bible instructs us, and finally, do something constructive to advance our community. This is what is necessary to "convert retreat into advance." The American response to fear can only be courage! "All we have to fear is fear itself!" Remember, we're still the land of the free and the home of the BRAVE!

 Eric W. Lee, M.Div., is the Senior Pastor of the Springfield Baptist Church of Covington-Conyers.
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