I was marching in formation when someone came screaming onto the field. With all the commotion, we stopped to hear what he had to say. As he ran closer we heard him screaming, “Oh my God! Someone hit the World Trade buildings!” We finished our marching band practice quickly, ran inside to the closest television and spent the rest of the day with our eyes glued to the television.
I can tell you where I was, at what time, what I was doing, and who I was with.
Like the rest of the country, the moments of September 11, 2001 are seared into my personal conscience. More than that, they are seared into our national conscience with phrases like “Never Forget!” All sorts of patriotic hymns, choruses, and country songs have been written in a hopes to unify a nation on the quest to vanquish evil.
It’s a terrible tragedy. It was horrific and gut-wrenching to watch. There were stories of bravery and heroism, but never offset the pain of missed loved ones and the brutality of the event.
In reflecting on this moment with my wife, we were talking about why we remember this moment so clearly. What is it about September 11 that keeps us from forgetting just exactly what we were wearing and what we were doing when we heard the news?
In her infinite beauty and wisdom, she responded with: “Fear.”
I’ve thought about it, and I think she’s right. You were told to be afraid. You were told that your life, this country, and in some sense the godly values guiding us were somehow in danger. If we don’t respond, nobody will, and before you know it we’re all either dead or living in an occupied country. The only logical conclusion for any red blooded American was to fight.
Patriotism was equated with bravery and action. Anybody else was a scared coward. One country star even penned the following words:
You were told you had two options: find a gun and fight to defend the impeding death of the American Way or die a depressed coward.
The act of terrorism itself was meant to induce fear and panic. The response of the American government and media continued forward that message: “Be afraid, be very afraid.”
When we paint the “war on sin” like we have the “war on terror” we assume that the only inevitable event is that evil is going to win. But the Gospel counters this claim.
Fear is a powerful motivator. We remember fear much more easily than we do other emotions like joy or happiness. If I were to ask a similar question like that asked on September 11, “Where were you when you found out?” very few could respond with similar detail.
Where were you at 8:37 a.m. on 9/11 can be met with, “I was wearing these clothes, at this time, in this location, with these people.”
But on a joyous occasion like your wedding, is often not met with the same detail. “Oh, I was probably getting my hair done with my bridesmaids…was Julie a bridesmaid or not?”
Fear becomes a powerful motivator on many fronts, but none of them are good.
And it’s why I refuse to use it in evangelism.
Within the church, we’ve developed fear based tactics to evangelize:
It’s an appalling message, but one I hear often in Christian circles, each one of these questions I’ve had posed to me at various points.
Evangelism, a sharing of the Good News about Jesus, must be, as Rick Warren has said, received as both “Good” and “News.”
But when we resort to fear as our only evangelistic tool, or even our primary one, we admit that evil has won and the only option is to someday escape this world.
I want to believe something different. I want to believe that love wins, that Jesus wins, that grace wins, that hope wins, and that goodness wins. I want to believe this because I want the resurrection to mean something for my life here and now.
When we paint the “war on sin” like we have the “war on terror” we assume that the only inevitable event is that evil is going to win. But the Gospel counters this claim: the fact that the grave is empty means that death, fear, hatred, bigotry, racism, sexism, and sin in all shapes and forms does not win. Jesus in fact wins, but even better than that Jesus has already won.
Quite honestly, I think fear based evangelism is shallow and cheap, and has played a large part in the consumer culture we find in our churches today. It’s taught people to come and listen to all the badness from the pastor acting as media journalist and to hope for a better world (the end of evil someday after we die).
Any talk of evangelism, the sharing of “Good News” should be received as such. If the best we can do is to paint a slightly less bad version of the world, it is neither Good, nor Jesus centered.
When our primary mode of living is fear based, we limit any chance and potential the Gospel has to advance in the world. When we live more out of fear than faith, we perpetuate the myth that we continuously are unsafe, and our only natural response is violence.
Thirteen years after the horrific tragedy in our country, we are still fighting a war on terror, and by all accounts, and given the President’s words last night, things have actually gotten worse.
So as it turns out, violence hasn’t solved the problem, it’s made it worse.
Living in fear hasn’t freed or saved anybody, only kept them in bondage to the gods of this world.
So today, I pray that we find another way forward. A way, as the people of God to rid ourselves of violence (because those who live by the sword will also die by it), a way forward out of fear, captivity and slavery and into the joyous resurrected freedom that comes with the hope that Jesus has won and conquered all.