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Showing Grace in the Era of Outrage

Showing Grace in the Era of Outrage

In our current digital age, online users are quick to post their thoughts on social media, often hitting publish before they really reflect on the lasting implications of their opinion. Which means there’s a good chance that at this very moment, someone is posting something you will find outrageous. Whether the subject is Potato Head, Dr. Seuss books, the political subject de jour or even just some social media faux pas, there is no shortage of cultural topics that trigger outrage.

On any given day, a Hollywood celebrity can be caught on video saying something ignorant, a pastor can write something people will find controversial, a political development can incite caps-locked-laced online rants from people who see an issue differently, or an insensitive joke can rally social media mobs bent on collecting their pound of flesh.

This is part of a monthly series produced in partnership with He Gets Us.

Most days, it seems like we’ve become a culture addicted to outrage.

There are now bloggers, cable news personalities and authors who have made entire careers out of taking a wide variety of topics and finding new ways to be mad about them. And even though they fuel the problem, the reality is, they are merely symptoms of a deeper issue. The peddlers of media outrage are simply filling a demand: In an era of collective experiences and online communities, there are numerous factors that push collective outrage, and among those reasons is the desire to be united by shared emotion. And there’s no emotion that plays better online than anger.

Such a Thing as ‘Righteous Anger’?

Anger does have a purpose. It has value and allows people to see where boundaries should be drawn and keep themselves protected from hurt. Anger can be used to communicate the seriousness of an issue or acknowledging a line has been crossed. The Church has an opportunity and an obligation to listen and process anger in and out of the body. 

But historically, the Church has often been too slow to anger when it comes to issues that really matter: Ignoring gross injustice within its own walls, and discouraging victims from crying out for vindication. That is a damaging attitude, and it is time for the Church to be a safe place for the outraged. The problem is not that we can be outraged, it’s that we can be indiscriminately outraged. We’re as furious about a newscaster’s off-handed jab at Christians as we are at actual racial discrimination. And it all comes out as blind rage.

Maintaining a constant tone of “righteous anger” in the face of things we find offensive feels like the right thing to do. But human nature has a tendency to deceive us: In the Kingdom of God, living in righteousness close to God does not mix well with anger: “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20).

We live in an extremely broken world inhabited by a lot of extremely broken people: It’s easy to find stuff to be mad about. The thing is, if you are always looking for something to be angry about, you will always be angry — and no one wants to be around that kind of person. That can feed an ongoing cycle where you perceive others as “the enemy” and others perceive you in kind. So what do we do, when we’re explicitly called to love our enemies? (Luke 6:27) It’s hard to love others when you spend most of your energy being angry at them. Although it’s not easy, as Christians our calling is to maintain a posture of grace.

A Posture of Grace

Unlike outrage, grace isn’t glamorous. It usually isn’t loud. And most of the time, if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s not as emotionally satisfying. It initially feels a lot better to join the masses in vilifying someone in their lowest moment than it does to look the other way when someone says or does something that offends us..

There is a reason that James opens his letter to fellow Christians telling them to be “slow to speak and slow to become angry.” His sentiments are the exact opposite values of the Internet culture that demands quick reactions — and even quicker tempers — in light of someone’s high-visibility outburst of outrage. And in the age of the Internet, pictures, sound bites and Tweets enable those brief moments of impulse to live on forever.

But James understood that because we are all people, we are all subject to having impulse reactions that we later regret. And we will all want something afforded to us when we do something we may never live down: grace and compassion.

When Should We Be Angry?

In a world as devastatingly broken as ours, there are legitimate issues that should cause us, as Christians, to be angry and want to seek change and justice. Even Jesus got angry when He saw people being exploited (Matthew 21:12). But when we don’t reserve our outrage for genuine cases of injustice, violence and victimization, our anger loses its power — and worse, it can eat away at our wellbeing. If our voice of outrage is just as loud when a pastor makes a moral mistake or a CEO makes a dumb joke as it is in the face of the systematic oppression of a minority community or the persecution of people by radical militants, something is wrong.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). There is a culture war happening. There are things that demand our passion and our outrage. But, according to Scripture, those things aren’t made of flesh and blood. Because those things don’t command rage — they are in need of compassion. They command understanding, nuance and measured justice.

The culture war that is happening — the one between the Kingdom of God and “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” — probably won’t be won on an angry blog rant, a quickly escalated Facebook debate or sharply-worded tweet. No, we are told that the weapons of that war are different: They are the truth of God’s love, the righteousness we are to strive to live by and the salvation that was given to us through a characteristic God wants us to always embody: grace.

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