Chapter 2 of “Jesus & the Disinherited”: “Fear”

The resources of the environment are made into instruments to enforce the artificial position. Most of the accepted social behavior-patterns assume [injustice] to be normal–if normal, then correct; if correct, then moral; if moral, then religious. Religion is thus made a defender and guarantor of the presumptions. Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, pg 43

The Beloved Disciple John said that there is no fear in love, rather, perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Fear then, is the antithesis of love; and if God is love, fear is inimical to the very nature of God. In the 2nd chapter of Disinherited, Thurman takes up the issue of fear. In his 1940’s context, he is speaking about Jim Crow segregation. He argues that segregation is a form of organized violence against the soul of the disinherited. It engenders fear of:

  • Never attaining to one’s potential due to the artificial barriers erected against him;
  • Unintentionally breaking the social mores that bind her, and suffering retaliation from the power brokers;
  • Their children growing up under the same conditions, and the harm it would do to their psyche.

By the grace of God and true Christian witness, we overcame so many of these and disorganized the power of segregation. Reading it today, I can only praise God that I found it hard to connect with that feeling of organized violence against me, as I did not have to grow up under the same conditions as so many before me. Nevertheless, we have not yet entered the Promised Land.

People have always lived under the culture of fear, and it characterizes our American culture today. Left fears Right; the rich fear the poor; neighbor fears neighbor–the mainstream media, whether Fox News or MSNBC, profits richly from our organized fear of one another. Fear turns to hate, and we start to dehumanize each other. We are no longer persons who hold liberal or conservative views, we are “liberals” or “conservatives”–words spewed with a pejorative vitriol. We create policies designed to inoculate ourselves against the other, from Stand Your Ground Laws to voter suppression and gerrymandering. America has a segregationist soul: we choose to turn on one another, separate and divide, and allow hate to run rampant until it turns to hatred.

Someone has to turn the tide to love’s favor.

Thurman argues in Disinherited that Jesus’ solution to man’s fear of man is simple:

A man’s conviction that he is God’s child automatically tends to shift the basis of his relationship with all his fellows. He recognizes at once that to fear a man, whatever may be that man’s power over him, is a basic denial of the integrity of his very life.  Thurman, Disinherited, pg 51

The powers that be are not simply temporal, they are also spiritual. The god of this age, satan (he doesn’t deserve capitalization), organizes hatred of man against man in order to suppress the truth of God revealed in Jesus: that to each person is given a right to be a child of God through faith in Christ. After this adoption is made, hatred of another is no longer an option, because you are either brother and sister to someone, or soon to be their relative. In a family, only love rules, so there is no fear in the family of God.

In the Civil Rights Movement, the people marching were taught–in churches–to resist violent means because the goal was to secure their own dignity and the dignity of their oppressors. The same holds true today.

As we engage one other in the public square, we Christians, at the least, ought to hold fast to the truth in love, without fear or condemnation, without pejorative vitriol. The goal is to win everyone over with the love of Christ, and to be won over also by His love. Only by fighting the good fight of faith in love, without fear, can we hope, as a people, to enter the Promised Land.


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