By Jessica Connor
Fear is a powerful motivator. It can be used for good purposes by kicking in survival mechanisms (a healthy fear of lightning might keep you safely inside during dangerous storms, while a fear of getting burned keeps your hand out of the flame).
But fear can also be used in negative, harmful ways, resulting in the oppression, alienation and victimization of other human beings usually because they are different.
Recently, outcry over possible new laws restricting the presence of homeless people in Columbia prompted much dialogue about fear and our reaction to it. Some admitted they feared interacting with the homeless because they seemed scary and asked for money, imploring the city council to ban homeless people from certain areas in the city. In essence: they re afraid of the Other, so the Other must go.
Who are we to demand such things?
Fear of the Other causes otherwise rational and kind human beings to behave in atrocious ways. Think Romans feeding Christians to the lions. Think the Holocaust, where 6 million Jewish men, women and children were slaughtered in death camps and gas chambers.
In the U.S., Fear and its dirty twin brother, Hate, are responsible for lynching African Americans, raping women for having the audacity to use their voice, burning crosses and engaging in other strong-arm tactics to drive people from neighborhoods and towns, painting swastikas on synagogues, bullying and beating up gays and lesbians “ the list goes on and on and on.
Fear also plays a role in certain political battles: not only laws governing the homeless but also issues like immigration reform. Time and again, I hear people say we need to crack down on border patrol because what will we do if all ˜those people from over there come and take our jobs away? They genuinely fear for their own well-being, and they think they will be protected by passing harsher laws to keep others out of this nation.
I say it s time we stopped looking at our differences and started seeing our similarities.
Consider it from God s perspective. To Him, how am I worth any more or less than any other sinner on this planet? Aren t I just skin and bones walking on this earth, trying my best to get by and do God s will and spread His word, just like everybody else? At my core, how am I any different to Him from someone born half a world away? What difference does it make that I just happened to be born female with light skin? What difference does it make that I speak English?
Does any of this even matter in the final analysis?
We hold so tightly to our identity as Americans, as women (or men), as a member of this race or that political party, and we spend so much of our precious energy wrapped up in protecting that identity. Consequently, we forget sometimes that our neighbor is the homeless woman on the street corner, or the prostitute, or the addict, or the orphan, or the poor widow, or the just-off-the-bus immigrant who doesn t know a smidge of English “ just as much as the person who looks and behaves just like me. He or she is every bit as much a child of God as I am, and has every bit as much right to walk around on God s earth in this state and in this nation as I do.
So as the City of Columbia takes a look at its homeless regulations and considers restrictions such as where a person can or cannot loiter, I hope we as Christians can stand in solidarity with our homeless brothers and sisters and remind our elected officials that we are all people, all children of God.
It s time to get rid of fear of difference and start embracing our similarities, in the name of God.