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Showing Grace in the Era of Cultural Outrage

There’s a good chance that at this very moment, someone is saying something you will find outrageous. There’s also a good chance someone else is experiencing a moment they wish they could have back, and are doing or saying something that will haunt them for the rest of their life. 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 outrage.

On any given day in our ever-connected culture, a Hollywood celebrity can be caught on video saying something ignorant, a pastor can write something some believers 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.

We’ve become a culture addicted to outrage.

There are now bloggers, cable news personalities and authors who have made entire careers out of finding new stuff to be mad about. And even though they’re helping to 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, we want to be united by shared emotion. And there’s no emotion that plays better online than anger.

Such a Thing as ‘Righteous Anger’?

Historically, the Church has frequently been too slow to anger when it comes to things 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, righteousness and anger often do not mix: “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20).

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. 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.

It’s hard to love your enemies when you spend most of your energy being angry at them. As Christians in the digital age, it seems like too often, our default disposition is outrage, even though 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 in the masses vilifying someone in their lowest moment than it does to look the other way when someone says or does something stupid they now regret.

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-profile mistake. And in the age of the Internet, pictures, sound bites and Tweets can allow mistakes to live forever.

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But James understood that because we are all people, we are all subject to making terrible mistakes. And we will want the same thing afforded to us when we do something we may never live down: grace.

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. But when we don’t reserve our outrage for genuine cases of injustice, violence and victimization, our anger loses its power. If our voice of outrage is just as loud when a pastor makes a moral mistake, a CEO makes a dumb joke or a leader salutes with a latte in his hand 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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