Lesson 8: Love Casts Out Fear

perfect love casts out fear Let’s end this look at “Fratelli Tutti” by acknowledging the importance of Pope Francis’ contention that kind, gentle love is the way to social friendship. His critics recognize, rightly I think, that he is rejecting their picture of Christianity battling against forces of evil out to destroy the Church. He does not see his task as calling Jesus’ followers into warfare that pits love against hate. Instead, he chooses to trust John’s claim that love casts out fear (I John 4:18) and its underlying assumption that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear.

When I recently told one of my friends that I increasingly think this distinction is significant, he was not very impressed. He asked, “What‘s the difference if they both end up damaging people?” His response forced me to ponder what is consequential in this contrast.

I think it has to do with the approach you take to change the damaging behavior. If I want to change someone’s destructive actions, it makes a big difference if I try to overcome his fear, rather than his hatred. If I think someone hates me, I have to either set up defenses to protect myself or go into battle to defeat him. If I think the person is afraid of me, I have all sorts of options to show he has nothing to fear in befriending me.

This approach begins with understanding people executed Jesus, not because they hated him, but because they were afraid to follow his teachings. It continues seeing that people resist doing God’s will, not because they are hateful, but rather because they are afraid to risk the change it entails.

It makes a lot of difference during the pandemic if we think those who refuse to wear masks do not care about other people or are instead, simply trying to prove to themselves and others that they are not afraid of the virus. We proceed quite differently if we understand people build walls, not because they hate immigrants, but because they are afraid that they endanger us. We are better able to converse with nationalists if we see they do not hate foreigners but are afraid they might take away our economic control in the world.

Those who oppose the Black Lives Matter movement claim they are not racists. Any sort of creative dialogue depends on taking them at their word and ceasing accusations that they hate other ethnic groups. Better we recognize they are afraid these groups will become dominant and take away privileges. And of course, that goes for those who oppose certain sexual preferences, political opinions, and moral choices as well.

As I read the encyclical, my mind kept returning to a conversation that I had several years ago. I had asked a friend why he carried a gun. When he replied that he wanted to be ready when they came down his street, I sensed the problem had to do more with his fear than who “they” were.

Pope Francis speaks for Jesus when he counsels not to be afraid in this situation. His approach offers hope for our deeply divided society by recognizing violence in words and actions only begets more violence. Healing comes from overcoming fear and that begins with sharing our lives in the solidarity he describes as social friendship.

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2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Kerry says:

    Absolutely one of your best reflections. I’ve never thought of the difference in response to perceived fear as opposed to perceived hatred. What an eye-opener! Thanks!

  2. Pastor Fritz Foltz says:

    I received an unusual number of comments on this lesson via personal e-mail I People seemed to appreciate looking our our situation from the perspective of fear. That surprised me as I find myself doing that quite naturally. I also got some letters simply reporting they find Pope Francis refreshing. “Refreshing” captures it, because the writers referred to finding previous popes dreary and uninteresting. I wonder if this still holds after last week’s verdict win gay marriages. I find that to be counter to the social friendship described in the encyclical.

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