The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is fear. And fear was on full display this past weekend as white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville to make their hate-filled witness.
Fear can easily morph into hate. Hate is fear being acted out. Hate is almost always accompanied by violence, which was the tragic case on Saturday when Heather Heyer was literally run over and a score of others were seriously injured.
Fear can also cause people to run for cover, and try and seal themselves off from the whole horrible business.
We Christians are not people of fear. We are people of faith, which is the antidote to fear. Yet faith can be hard to come by in the face of overt racism, an escalating nuclear standoff, not to mention preachers who align themselves with the President's fire and fury threats – which may not be made in fear, but certainly stoke it.
We are people of faith, which means we follow Jesus' example of standing up to fear. And we stand up to fear with the power of love, which builds as we join in that love with one another. I am grateful that my colleagues in the Diocese of Virginia, Diocesan Bishop Shannon Johnston, Suffragan Bishop Susan Goff and Assisting Bishop Ted Gulick joined with other people of faith in Charlottesville to witness against fear.
We need to join them. By engaging our faith – in private prayer, in corporate worship and especially in public witness. In our neighborhoods, in our churches, in our communities – wherever and however fear shows up. I am asking the liturgy and music commission to offer worship resources for congregations. I am asking the Namaste commission in the diocese (which has continued to design and implement anti-racism dialogues) to provide resources as well.
When I was in Massachusetts, Archbishop Desmond Tutu came to preach at the church I served on the occasion of his granddaughter's baptism. He began his sermon by thanking us, which seemed a bit odd because we felt so grateful for his commitment, his witness and his joy. He thanked us for our prayers, which he said ended apartheid, which was a policy of fear in South Africa. He told a story about a nun who lived alone in a hut on a mountain in Northern California. She wrote Bishop Tutu to tell him that she got up every morning at 3 AM to pray for an hour for the end of apartheid.
"They didn't stand a chance," he said, "against a woman praying every morning before dawn for the end of apartheid."
Our faith can no longer be private. The world needs our witness. Our prayer needs to be done in private – and in public. We need to join God in God's work, as God continues to offer hope and healing to a broken world. Faith will never be able to vanquish fear, because fear will never go away. Fear is real, and it is debilitating. But faith in God's love, power and mercy can expose fear for the destructive force that it is. Faith has the capacity to contain fear, and if our faith in God's power can be joined effectively with the faith of others, we can put fear on the run.
Faith is power. Engage it and use it.