Explosions of Fear or Love

by Terry Maples, CBFVA Field Coordinator

Rachel Platten was going through a tough time in her life when she penned the words to her big hit “Fight Song.” Apparently, this song was never intended to be heard by anyone else but the writer as a way to encourage her to believe in herself and never give up. Now, the world has heard the lyrics. The words of the first stanza strike a chord with me:

Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
Into motion
Like how a single word
Can make a heart open
I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion

Every time I hear these words I’m reminded of three truths:

  • Something very small can have tremendous impact (small boat, big waves).
  • A single word can open (or close) a heart.
  • All of us have one match—one life to live—and we choose whether we invest in explosions of hate/fear or love.

2017 was a difficult year for our country. Reports of governmental intrigue dominated the headlines. Stories about political parties each seemingly intent upon “striking a match” to destroy the other or gain advantage took center stage in news journals. Explosions of incivility have become commonplace. Many now believe the end justifies the means. May Republicans, Democrats, and Independents thoughtfully consider Rachel Platten’s words because:

  • Political rhetoric can unite or further fracture us,
  • What candidates do in order to “win” sends big waves into motion (for good or evil),
  • The match you strike determines the kind of explosion you make (fear constricts; love expands),
  • You can’t blow up some else and not harm yourself (and your country), and
  • Without serious reflection about our words and actions, we end up writing our own “fight song” to demonize the other.

Yes, the political divide in this country is disconcerting and threatening to our democracy and to common decency. Further, we must acknowledge the devastating impact of “uncivil discourse” on faith communities. As vitriolic rhetoric flows into and over the pews, folks called to love and build beloved community together instead focus on ideas upon which they disagree, even though individuals on each side believe they are motivated and guided by their “Christian” convictions. This politicization of church distracts from God’s mission to redeem and reform the world. Christian witness is damaged.

Christ-followers are obliged to engage in public discourse but our churches must remain “endorsement-free zones” to maintain or even enhance our unity under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Believers certainly view everything through spiritual lenses and apply Christ’s ethic to all of life, including our political decision-making, but blatant and uncensored political endorsements from our pulpits must not be allowed. We encourage soul freedom and personal priesthood by refusing to endorse specific political candidates from our pulpits. Teach Jesus then trust seekers of truth to discern with Holy Spirit guidance and conviction. Embrace Beloved Community by engaging the discernment process without fear and animosity. Fellowship Baptists have chosen to partner with the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty to resist efforts to weaken the Johnson Amendment. The Johnson Amendment is a provision of the tax code to prohibit non-profits from endorsing or opposing political candidates.

We invite explosions of love in all corners of our world to counter daily reports of skirmishes on the news. The church, designed to be a school of love, needs to hear and appropriate Rachel’s words. Now is the time to heed the words of the Apostle Paul,

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you (Romans 12:1-2 The Message).

Congregations across the Commonwealth of Virginia, I urge you to intentionally develop spiritual practices to foster well-formed and well-informed maturity. Provide opportunities to engage in active dialogue with folks who hold differing perspectives. Resist “us vs. them” thinking that deepens the divide between people and even polarizes faith communities. Lift up the ethical demands of Jesus as laid out in the Sermon on the Mount. Explosions of love, peace, compassion, patience, humility, gratitude, and forgiveness can heal our broken world (Colossians 3:12-17)!