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April 14, 2021

By The Rev. Kathryn A. Kleinhans, Ph.D., Dean of Trinity Lutheran Seminary

Fear and Safety

“Do not be afraid.”

I haven’t provided a scriptural citation for this verse because there are too many to list. A quick search reveals that the sentence “Do not be afraid” appears 59 times in the Scriptures. People are afraid, and the response of God – and God’s messengers – is one of comfort: Do not be afraid. It’s not a command. It’s an invitation. You can lay down your fear. You are safe with me.

This week’s news has brought a very different narrative to our attention. Army Lieutenant Caron Nazario was pulled over by police in Windsor, Virginia, in December because the officers said they did not see the temporary license displayed on Nazario’s new car. Although Lieutenant Nazario was wearing his military uniform, the officers approached him with their weapons drawn.

As a Black and Latino man, aware of the growing list of Black men who have died in what should have been minor encounters with police, when Lieutenant Nazario was ordered to get out of his vehicle, he said, “I’m honestly afraid to get out.” One of the police officers (recorded on his own body camera) responded, “Yeah, you should be.”

My purpose in this column is not to adjudicate the legal case but to invite us to reflect on the police officer’s words, “Yeah, you should be [afraid]” in contrast with the frequently spoken words of Scripture, “Do not be afraid.”

I do not know anything about the faith of Lieutenant Nazario or the two police officers involved in this encounter. I do know something about our faith as Christians. The same Jesus who says to his disciples, “Do not be afraid,” the same God who sends angelic messengers with the word, “Do not be afraid,” invites us to be participants in this work of dispelling fear. We who are invited to lay aside our fears because we are safe in God’s loving hands are encouraged to make safe space for others so that they can lay aside their fears. Saying the words is not enough. Where people have good reason to be afraid, our work is to disarm whatever it is that threatens God’s people.

The apostle James writes, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” (James 2:15-16). When others are afraid, how will we work to make them safe – not just to make them feel safe, but to help them be safe?