We are living in a time of panic in America. How best can we respond to it as Christians? There is a racial panic, a church panic and a moral panic. These forms of panic are causing our nation to react in fear and follow paths fearful actions often take.
There has been a racial panic growing since we elected our first Black president, Barack Obama. This panic helped put Donald Trump in the White House.
In her extraordinary work, Caste, Isabel Wilkerson makes this case compellingly. The killing of George Floyd has opened a window of racial reckoning in our nation, but many are trying to close that window as quickly as possible. The new Florida laws about forbidding certain books in schools that deal with white racism are a case in point.
There is even a date attached, 2042, when it is projected that America will be a majority minority nation with more non-white Americans than white Americans. Hawked by politicians and TV personalities like Tucker Carlson, a white racist ideology called the Great Replacement Theory drives up fears about people of color taking over our nation and destroying our white European culture. There has been a surge of white supremacist groups in our nation over the past decade, and there is a determined political movement to ensure white minority rule.
What about Christian panic, or church panic?
There is a date attached here too, 2070. That is the projected date when there will be more non-Christians than Christians in our nation. Almost all churches and Christian denominations are bleeding losses in membership.
The fastest growing group in religion surveys are the “nones,” those who claim no religious affiliation. Young people are leaving or staying away from church in droves.
The panic has stirred up a white Christian nationalism and a Christian supremacy movement that seeks to encode one set of Christian values into the law of the land. Having lost faith in the power of moral suasion, many are intent on turning our nation’s pluralistic democracy into a theocracy, something that would have been anathema to our nation’s founders.
Then there is the moral panic in the land — in the particular area of morality of sexuality and gender.
Here are some dates: 1973, 2015, 2022. The first date is 1973 when the Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court legalized most abortions in our nation. This gave women the control over their own bodies in the most personal dimensions of their personhood. With the advances in science, women now could have children without a man involved. A single woman or lesbian couple could start a family. Patriarchy was beginning to show cracks in its foundation.
Which leads to the second date, 2015, when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.
The result of these decisions has been a high anxiety about traditional marriage with husband in charge, about new sexual freedom with contraception and legal abortion available, and about the increasing cultural acceptance of LGBTQ persons.
“Gay and trans young people and their families are suffering public condemnation and have become political pawns.”
Today, transgender persons are being specifically targeted by political bullying for political gain. Gay and trans young people and their families are suffering public condemnation and have become political pawns. Laws are being passed where school teachers are told what they must not teach in their classrooms about human sexuality. Homosexuality, puberty and menstruation are forbidden topics.
Now to 2022.The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade has demonstrated the political effectiveness of moral panic in people along the issues of sexuality and gender. The issues of abortion and homosexuality have driven politics for 50 years and changed the composition of the Supreme Court.
In these three areas of cultural panic, magnified by the political uses of panic, American lives are in danger, Black lives, women’s lives, LGBTQ lives. Drag shows are being singled out as an especially corrupting influence on our young, but 390,000 school children have been exposed to gun violence in the 378 school shootings since Columbine, and the gun lobby goes rolling along.
It would be easy to be discouraged. Yet biblical hope keeps us going, seeking to be faithful to our reading of Scripture as we apply it to the world.
“Throughout the Bible, God seems to work especially well with minorities.”
Throughout the Bible, God seems to work especially well with minorities. In a lesser-known passage of the Gospels, Jesus said the kingdom “comes not by observation.” We cannot always see it at work. At times it is a seed growing secretly.
After the Hebrew prophet Elijah won his dramatic contest on Mount Carmel, he heard that Queen Jezebel, a devotee of Baal, was out to capture him and have his head. Frightened, he ran to Mount Horeb, or Sinai, hoping for some reassurance from God. When the Lord asked him why he was there, he let out an anguished torrent of words describing his predicament: “Your people are forsaking your covenant, pulling down your altars, killing your prophets! I alone am left! And now they are after me, to kill me!”
In the silence of God, God revealed God’s presence, then gave these words to Elijah: “There are 7,000 in Israel who have not bowed their knees to Baal nor kissed his lips.”
I smile at those words, especially because of those times I’m tempted to give God Elijah’s “I alone” speech. But we are not alone. God’s people are all around, even those who wouldn’t claim the sponsorship of God.
Panic is not easy to confront. It comes from a deep-seated place of anxiety and fear. But we can be steadfast with our commitments to justice, mercy and peace. The most oft-repeated command of God in Scripture, 365 times someone has counted, one for each day of the year, is God saying to us, “Be not afraid.” It is not only a command, it is a gift.
Stephen Shoemaker serves as pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Statesville, N.C. He served previously as pastor of Myers Park Baptist in Charlotte, N.C.; Broadway Baptist in Fort Worth, Texas, and Crescent Hill Baptist in Louisville, Ky.