As I was working through some files on my webpage “Zebraview,” I came upon a sermon I preached in October 2004. I was reflecting on Paul’s comment in 2 Timothy 4:16, where he says, “At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them!” I compared him with the situation in our nation during that presidential campaign. This is what I said:
“It’s precisely because Paul is fearless that he can be a bigger man than those wishing him harm. And he can forgive those who’ve let him down. How badly we need people like that today in our country, with its politics of fear and its spirituality of fear.
“I watched all three of the debates between President Bush and Senator Kerry. (And I apologize in advance to those of you who thought they were very enlightening exercises!) Amid the dodged questions and repeated slogans, I thought there was one especially telling moment. In the second debate, the one in St. Louis, in which the candidates fielded questions from the audience, it was the final question that I found really revealing. There was a woman who asked the president if he could name three mistakes he had made…and (I’m paraphrasing) what he had learned from them.
“He couldn’t even think of one, besides regrets about appointing a few people to certain positions. But when it was Kerry’s turn, he didn’t do any better. He simply started listing mistakes that Bush had made.
“Neither man took this opportunity to admit that, of course, I have made mistakes. This woman’s question gave each of them a chance to show a little bit of maturity. They could have acknowledged, ‘Yes, I am human. I haven’t always gotten stuff right, and I’ve learned from it. Let me share some wisdom I’ve gained!’ But apparently, the fear of being labeled a ‘flip flopper’ prevents our political leaders from respecting our intelligence.
“The politics of fear is about much more than politicians afraid of being honest. Fundamentally, it’s a way of controlling the population. A certain level of anxiety must be maintained for it to work. In the 1950s, there was the Red Scare, in which a communist was behind every tree. After 9-11, there’s a terrorist behind every tree.
“Those who’ve read the book 1984 by George Orwell will remember how the government maintains a never-ending state of war. The enemies shift for no apparent reason. Those who ask questions are considered traitors. I wonder, can we learn to ask questions other than what the major political parties and the mass media spoon feed us?
“Fear causes the reptilian part of our brain to take over. That part of the brain is noted less for intelligence than it is for instinct. That’s no way to approach an election, and it’s definitely no way to approach our relationship with God.”
I’m hoping that we can ask more of ourselves—and our candidates for public office—stuff that really matters, not whether or not we’re wearing an American flag lapel pin.