Evangelical Outrage

By Jim Tune

There seems to be a lot of anger in our culture. People are seething about something . . . or everything! The economy, politics, the culture war—the list goes on. The “rant” has become a contemporary art form.

And the church seems to have followed right along. We’re angry too. We’re mad at liberals, Democrats, Muslims, Hollywood, and homosexuals.

New York Times op-ed writer Tim Kreider calls this modern epidemic “outrage porn”:

So many letters to the editors and comments on the Internet have this . . . tone of thrilled vindication: these are people who have been vigilantly on the lookout for something to be offended by, and found it. . . . Outrage is like a lot of other things that feel good but, over time, devour us from the inside out. Except it’s even more insidious than most vices because we don’t even consciously acknowledge that it’s a pleasure. We prefer to think of it as a disagreeable but fundamentally healthy reaction to negative stimuli, like pain or nausea, rather than admit that it’s a shameful kick we eagerly indulge again and again.

Popular preachers have learned to mimic the style of conservative talk-radio hosts. This seems to go over well in many churches. We fan the flames of anger and add to the cacophony of raging voices.

Scolded the old womanOf course, with the church it’s acceptable because our anger is just righteous indignation. It’s OK to spew, indulge, and wallow in our rage because we are, well, right. Right? When you have God on your side, your anger just shows how right you are. We know who should be president. We know we are always on the right side of the culture war (without even truly thinking about whether it’s a war we are called to fight). We know America is tumbling off a moral precipice, so what can we do but protest? And protest we do!

I get it. I really do. If you want to be mad, there’s no shortage of things to be mad about. Voicing outrage may provide some temporary relief. It makes us feel like we are doing something. We’ve learned to be loud, and we love to be heard. I just wonder if it’s the most effective way of going about the business of making disciples of Jesus Christ.

There’s an edge to our anger, a meanness even. And that feels to me incompatible with the spirit of Jesus. Sure, Jesus got angry. But his anger was directed toward religious abuse and hypocrisy, toward those within the religious movement of the day. Jesus was a friend of sinners.

The times have made us harder. In days like these we need a faith that makes us softer. This softness is not the opposite of conviction or the absence of principle, but a gentler, more Christlike way of being.

What if we tried something different? What if the next spiritual movement is quiet instead of loud? The world is becoming deaf to our harshness. Do we really want to come across like the loud used-car salesman or the raging talk-show host? The world has had enough of loud religious people claiming they come in love while hurling stones.

Brian Zahnd put it this way in an online post: “What if we were just as passionate but a little quieter? There are times when a whisper can be louder than a shout.”

See Zahnd’s take on this subject at http://brianzahnd.com/2007/09/methinks/#more-189.

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