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Perfect Love Drives Out Fear

With Carol away at camp meeting, I was scheduled to write a newsletter article about the awesome week we had at mission camp, and I would love to write that article. But I’m a deacon, and part of the deacon’s call is to say the hard things and write the tough articles that connect our faith to the dirty parts of the world in which we live it…so here goes nothing.

I’m thinking, of course, about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case and the uproar regarding the “not guilty” verdict. I’m not going to get involved in whether a particular jury (of which I was not a part) should have produced a certain verdict in a specific trial (that I did not attend), but if anything speaks about the brokenness of our world, it’s this story of fear turned to tragedy. I just can’t find anything un-broken about this situation.

There’s a lot of talk in the media about whether or not this case was (and is) about race. We will never know what was in George Zimmerman’s mind when he followed, confronted and shot Trayvon Martin. At this point, Zimmerman probably doesn’t even know what was in his mind. But we know that Zimmerman was unsettled by Trayvon’s presence in the neighborhood that night. Was it because Martin was black? Probably not entirely. But the victim’s race certainly played a part in Zimmerman’s assessment of the situation. I don’t know this because I know George Zimmerman; I know this because I know human nature, and it’s our nature to judge by appearances.

Zimmerman’s not alone in this. You and I do it, too. Consciously or unconsciously, we make assessments and assumptions based on what we perceive to be true, rather than what we know (or don’t know) to be true. And that includes assumptions about people based on the color of their skin. Think about it.  Have you ever:

¨ Started a sentence with, “I’m not racist, but…”?

¨ Thought, “Are we talking about racism AGAIN? Aren’t we over that?”

¨ Said, “It’s just a joke! Lighten up!”?

¨ Been in a mandatory diversity training and breathed a sigh of relief when everyone seated at your table looked a lot like you?

¨ Automatically looked for the exit or grabbed your purse when a group of young, dark-skinned men entered a store?

I’m not saying that saying yes to these statements makes you a racist – but we all probably have some level of racist tendencies in us. It is nearly impossible to live in our culture of stereotypes and caricatures, not to mention our troubled history, and not have some underlying assumptions about race. At the root of these assumptions is what’s at the root of much of our sinful nature: fear. Fear of difference, fear of judgment, fear for safety, fear of competition…

George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin because he was afraid. Something in Trayvon Martin’s appearance on the road that night triggered fear. But 1 John 4:18 tells us that “perfect love drives out fear.” So what’s the answer? The same as always, of course…love. Love in spite of difference, love because of difference.

Perhaps providentially, the lectionary passage for this past Sunday was the story of the good Samaritan from Luke 10. Jesus instructs a lawyer that to inherit eternal life, one must, “Love the Lord your God…and your neighbor as yourself.” A colleague paraphrases the rest of the conversation this way: “But wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A child was going out one evening to buy some Skittles…’”

Love, my friends.  Perfect love drives out fear.

Nancy