Freedom from fear
Readings: John 6:15-21, John 14:27, John 20:19-23
Years ago, when I was at home from seminary for a few days, at about 2:00 A.M., I was suddenly startled awake by an ear shattering noise. A huge wall mirror in my bedroom fell onto a tall lamp, shattering it, and then hit the tile hearth in front of a fireplace that broke up the mirror. The unexpected crashing sound scared me bolt upright in the bed. I lost my sense of where I was and was as terrified as I can ever remember being in my life. I ran into my parents, bedroom, who by then were also awake, and jumped into bed with them. For several nights, I could not sleep with the light off. When I went back to seminary, several weeks went by before I could sleep all night without waking up scared in the middle of the night. I finally got over it, but it taught me how fear can capture and paralyze our minds.
Fear is a terrible enemy. Anxiety and fear can distract us from our daily routine and can destroy our joy of living. Fear keeps many homosexuals away from all supportive gay groups and from any participation in encouraging activities, such as MCC. Many people have told me when I was an MCC pastor that they drove to the church and sat in the parking lot for several Sundays before they got courage to come inside and risk being seen by somebody they knew. Fear saps our energy and distorts our perception of reality. I have found, however, that most of the things that I feared never happened. Fear makes us vulnerable. Fear is never our friend. Fear causes pain and torment. When “perfect love casts out fear,” therefore, freedom and release are overwhelming.
Jesus frequently greeted his friends with the salutation, “Don’t be afraid.” See 1 John 4:1-21 for a wonderful expression of God’s love overcoming fear. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear causes pain and torment. The one who is afraid is not yet fully complete in love. We love because God first loved us.” (4:18-19) 1 John 4 is the Bible chapter that twice says: “God is love.”
How Jesus Liberates Us from Fear
When you know that people really love you, you are not afraid of them or what they will do to you. Perfect love really does cast out fear. The term “casts out” in 1 John 4:18 is a word that means “to throw out” with great force. It was used for casting out unclean spirits. Fear is an unclean spirit that can control us and make us self-destructive.
The inclusive love and teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke demonstrate also the theme of freedom from fear. See the “don’t be afraid” announcements by angels to Joseph (Luke 1:13 and in Matthew 1:20), to Mary (Luke 1:30), to the shepherds (2:10: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all of the people.”), and to the women at the empty tomb (Matthew 28:5). Jesus called Peter to become a fisher of people and said, “Don’t be afraid ” (Luke 5:10). When parents were told that their child was dead, Jesus said “Don’t be afraid anymore,” and raised the child from the dead (Luke 8:50). When Jesus announced the equal value of all people, he said, “Fear not, for you are of great value.” (Luke 12:7).
The Calming Effect of Jesus
Read John 6:15-21 about Jesus coming to the disciples during a storm in the middle of the night. They were rowing hard in the storm and getting nowhere. Jesus appeared and said, “Don’t be afraid. I am here.” They were immediately at land. Jesus came not only to calm their fears but also to bring them successfully to their goal of safety from the storm. When everything seems hopeless, Jesus is there to calm our fears and give us courage.
Jesus said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you is not like the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or be afraid.” The term “afraid” here is a word that means “timid” or “cowardly” and was used for fear of wild beasts in the arena. Jesus makes you brave. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared in John 20:19-23 with the familiar greeting: “Peace be with you.” The Holy Spirit was given to the disciples to continue the mission of Jesus. Fear was replaced with a mission from God.
The Awesome Power of Fear
Fear does not always paralyze. Sometimes fear energizes people to do things that they never thought they could do. Maybe you heard of the man walking through a cemetery late at night. He fell into a large open grave. He jumped and jumped but the grave was too deep and he gave up and decided to wait until morning and fell asleep. Along came another man who also feel into the grave. He jumped and jumped and couldn’t get out. The first man woke up and said, “You can’t get out that way.” But he did!
Fear produces extra adrenaline, which gives your body a boost to help you run away from danger. Fear can produce noticeable physical problems, like uneasiness or a “knot in your stomach”. Fear of being bashed can equip you to run and escape. Fear of failure and fear of what others will think or do to you produces fear in the form of anxiety. The long-term pain of anxiety can limit and distract us and reduce our ability to enjoy life. Paul said in Philippians 4:11 that in Christ he had “learned to be content” in all circumstances. “Content” means “self-rule” or “self control.” Paul was at peace within himself no matter how he was treated. He had learned to resist letting other people determine and control his peace of mind. Even in prison, Paul had learned how to feel good about himself under pressure. Read all of Philippians 4.
Fear has been used to stir whole nations to war. Hitler used fear of the communists and fear of the Jewish people and others to galvanize the German people into a destructive war machine that left a path of devastation and horror that humanity can never forget. Fear of homosexuality and homosexuals is being used today in America to feed the religious and political ambitions of unscrupulous leaders. One of the main reasons for this book is to give accurate information that will help dispel the fear of homosexuality (“homophobia”) that hurts all people, not just homosexuals.
Fear of Sex
In our culture, people have been conditioned for generations to fear sex. When I became a pastor in 1952 and began to guide couples in preparation for marriage, one of my religion teachers suggested that I should give engaged couples a little book called “Sex Without Fear,” which gave biological and psychological facts about sex. The book was needed because most people had learned a lot of incorrect information about sex and had been conditioned to dread and fear sex as something that was wrong but that they were expected to do anyway when they got married. This was before the so-called “sexual revolution” that flooded young people with all they wanted to know and a lot more.
The fear of sex has been fine tuned and greatly exaggerated in homophobia. A new edition of George Weinberg’s, Society and the Healthy Homosexual, brings up to date the original definition of “homophobia,” which Dr. Weinberg invented and first described in 1972. Homophobia is the fear of homosexuality in yourself or in other people. Many of the most homophobic people are closeted gay men. Fear of sex, especially homosexual orientation, has grown into a formidable destructive force when combined with fear of God. (See Don’t Be Afraid Anymore: The Story of Reverend Troy Perry and the Metropolitan Community Churches by Thomas L. P. Swicegood and Troy Perry.)
Fear of God
The Greek word for fear is “phobos”. The many phobias in medicine and psychiatry are built on this word. Weinberg considered homophobia to be a treatable mental disorder. He did not consider homosexual orientation to be a disorder. “Fear God” in the Bible means to “respect or honor” God. Proverbs 1:7: “The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge (wisdom).” Psalm 23:4 used the same word to say “I will fear no evil.” What does it mean to fear God? Does it mean to be afraid of God as we fear snakes, death, etc.? The idea of the holiness of God is back of the meaning of fearing God. The entire Temple system was based on the holiness of the unapproachable God, who dwelt in splendid isolation behind a curtain that was several inches thick. The Gospels say that when Jesus died, the Temple curtain was ripped in two. Jesus taught God,s unconditional love and transformed fear into love, telling us to love God, ourselves, and one another.
When fear of God is coupled with fear that homosexual orientation is the abomination of God, it is not surprising that even loving parents learn with horror that their children lesbian or gay. Parents must deny their own “natural love” for their children in order to abuse and reject them for being gay. (Romans 1:31 “without natural affection” refers to abandoning the natural love that parents have for their children and not to homosexuality!) Distortions of biblical material to condemn homosexuals as evil has set up an incredible situation where parents and others have been so afraid that they have treated homosexual children as if they were possessed by Satan.
When people truly are convinced that someone is under the control of evil or demonic forces, even the most terrible and destructive actions are justified, even in the minds of the people who think that they are possessed. Fear can blur the distinction between fact and fantasy. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, homosexuals, and other movie monsters are destroyed with dramatic violence “for their own good!” People have been burned alive as witches, and multitudes of gay men and lesbians have been subjected to electric shock therapy. As I write this, the murder trial is in progress for the two men who tortured and killed a Matthew Shepard, simply because he was gay. The extreme horror of the crime sent shock waves and sparked outrage and hate crime legislation throughout the nation. But it did not change the conviction of homophobic religious fundamentalists, who remain sternly convinced that God hates homosexuality as a sin.
Religion has been enlisted as a powerful weapon against homosexuals in the “Ex-Gay” movement to judge, condemn, and then attempt to cure them in the name of God. (See special study on “The Ex-Gay Fraud” at the end of the book.) The American Psychiatric Association in October, 1998, condemned the ex-gay therapy as a dangerous distortion of medical practice that resulted in depression, despair, and suicide for many people. Yet the “ex-gay” industry continues to grow and thrive with the help and support of an army of preachers and churches.
Even the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous have been perverted into a misguided program for the “recovery” of homosexuals from their sexual orientation in “Homosexuals Anonymous.” This organization has added 3 additional steps to the 12 steps of AA. These extra steps bring fundamentalist religious beliefs into the program and muddy the water for many people who honestly seek help in facing life more effectively as gay and lesbian people of many faiths.
Jesus came to set us free from fear. Freedom from fear of sexual orientation is long overdue. Sexuality is a gift from God to be celebrated and enjoyed. “You have not received a spirit of slavery and fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption as children; for the whole creation will be set free from its bondage to destruction into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:15, 21) Fear and anger are the two most negative forces working against us. Jesus gives us victory over both of them.
Questions for Study and Discussion
1. What have you feared most that never happened to you? What is the worst thing done to you because you are gay? Why? What help in dealing with fear have you found in the Bible?
2. How have your fears changed as you have grown older? Make a list of things you fear and ask God to set you free.
The author of Invitation To Freedom and Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse, Rev. Rembert S. Truluck served in Metropolitan Community Churches in Atlanta, San Francisco and Nashville from 1988 to 1996. He earned a doctorate in sacred theology from Furman University, serving from 1953 to 1973 as a Southern Baptist preacher. He resigned as a professor at Baptist College at Charleston (now Charleston Southern University) and became an MCC pastor after being outed to the college’s board of trustees.