Replacing fear with love is best theory for humanity | McKibben

Role playing during Critical Incident Stress Management Team Training held at Good Shepherd Catholic Church May 12-13, 2022.
Role playing during Critical Incident Stress Management Team Training held at Good Shepherd Catholic Church May 12-13, 2022.

All day Thursday and Friday of last week, I was privileged to be among 20 employees and community members being trained to serve on a Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Team at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.

Our instructor was a woman from Edinboro, Pennsylvania, who has been involved for more than 30 years in the important work of helping staff and eye-witnesses process and heal from traumatic events they experience. She is a Marine Corps veteran, worked in public safety in fire, law enforcement, and EMS, and has served for years as a school social worker.

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She was a calm and even-keeled woman who had helped people through some horrendous situations ranging from one of the earliest school shootings in her own hometown in the 1980s, to the destruction of the twin towers by terrorists in New York City in 2001, to the inexplicable collapsing of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida.

She is a skilled storyteller and used her experiences to help us feel connected to the sorts of critical incidents we might face in our own community.

Role playing meets reality

Part of our training was to role play a number of different situations and enact what we imagine it might feel like to conduct the appropriate critical incident stress management event or events. Though the situations we enacted were not real in the moment, the feelings elicited felt real and it was both emotionally exhausting and deeply sad to consider what it was like for those who did live these situations with its lingering effects.

Which may be why learning Sunday morning that 10 people had been murdered and three injured in Buffalo, New York, in a racially motivated shooting at Tops Friendly Market the afternoon before, felt so surreal. I immediately wondered if Buffalo has a trained CISM team and how the persons impacted by the horror of the event are dealing with the many emotions and significant grief they are feeling.

Hours later, I learned of yet another deadly shooting at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in southern California that was motivated by hatred of the Taiwanese Community and fueled by political tensions between China and Taiwan.

The killer targeted his anger against the Taiwanese congregation who worshipped there and were enjoying a fellowship meal, killing a prominent doctor who tried to subdue him, and injuring five others.

Narrative of fear

Again, I thought of the CISM team training I experienced and how this life-altering event in a worship setting, where one would least expect it, has impacted the persons involved and the community that is rallying support around them.

Such deadly shootings have sadly become more commonplace in our nation. A mass shooting is defined as one that kills or injures four or more people, and thus far in 2022 our nation has experienced 201 such events, including one that occurred on May 17, 2022, in Palo Alto, California, killing one and injuring three.

That the two weekend shootings were inspired by racial hatred is deeply troubling. The narrative of fear of those who differ from us and the narrative of scarcity that promotes protection of me and mine, are finding a wider audience in our country.

The belief that America is a promised land for European white Christians is a view held by 52% of white evangelical Protestants and by more than one-third of white mainline Protestants and white Catholics, according to the Public Religion Research Institute Survey of 2021.

The fear that immigrants and people of color will lead to the extinction of the white race, the replacement theory, is believed in some version by one in three Americans according to a recent poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Changing demographics

It is certainly true that the demographic in our country is changing, but not because any powerful elites are orchestrating the change as the replacement theory espouses.

When I was a young employee at the Baptist Sunday School Board in Nashville, Tennessee, in the 1980s, I served on an Aging in America task force that predicted that whites would become a minority by 2050. The estimate based on the most recent census accelerates the pace to 2045.

The decline in whites is in part due to an older age structure, fewer births among white women, and more deaths among white people generally. The mostly white aging Baby Boomer culture is giving way to greater diversity, especially among our youth.

More than half of Americans say that racial and ethnic diversity is very good for the country according to Pew Research Center, and it is my prayer that we can find ways to increase that favor among those who fear the uncertainty that a changing demographic brings.

Expanding our hearts

I know that my own heart has been expanded by my involvement with the International Rescue Committee and their important work with refugees in our community.

While my initial work and the work of my congregation has been with Afghani refugees, that has expanded to Syrian and Guatemalan persons in this past week, and all have been gracious and appreciative despite the trauma they have endured in their lives, yet another reminder of the important CISM training I received last week.

My church has been studying about and praying for ways we can build beloved community, not by castigating our family, friends, and neighbors who may have been unduly influenced by narratives of fear and uncertainty that can lead to violence, but by practicing love and inviting others to join us.

It is my prayer that in caring deeply for those who are hurting or who are different from us, we all will feel an expansion in our hearts and a motivation of will to encourage others in our sphere of influence to respect and love each other.

The Rev. Candace McKibben
The Rev. Candace McKibben

The Rev. Candace McKibben is an ordained minister and pastor of Tallahassee Fellowship.

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Replacing fear with love is best hope for humanity