Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Angry Christians

When I was a kid in the ’70s, a lot of Church of Christ people were freaked out by what was known as the charismatic movement that had begun during the previous decade. This movement focused on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and other things that made Church of Christ folks pretty nervous. In response to the charismatic movement, the Church of Christ began shunning any kind of emotional response when it came to God, worship, or church. Well, actually, the Church of Christ had always had this mentality, but now they added a shot of paranoia to it. When my dad, a youth minister in the early ’70s, conducted youth-group devotionals in which the teens sat in a circle in a dimly-lit room and sang songs, he was reprimanded by the elders (the guys in charge) for “encouraging emotionalism.” When someone got baptized, even though the angels might have been rejoicing (Luke 15:10), we sat stone-faced. A slight smile was OK, but no clapping, cheering, whistling, or anything that could be interpreted as exuberance. Because that would be, again, “emotionalism.” The men (and only the men) of the congregation could utter an “Amen,” but that was it.

So even though many, many Church of Christ people I grew up with were loving, faithful, and God-fearing people, you wouldn’t have known some of them were happy to be Christians by observing them. Showing emotion was just too much of a slippery slope for them. Clap after a baptism and next thing you know, we’ll be convulsing on the floor. And we can’t have that. So stone-faced we sat.

But there was one emotion that seemed to be OK. Anger. Some of these loving, faithful people could become quite angry when they believed their way of doing church was threatened. There were Church of Christ newspapers and newsletters in which some of these people raged against congregations that were daring to do something a little different. They believed it was their duty to “contend for the faith” (Jude 1:3) and they seemed to wear themselves out doing it. I remember some of these people from the congregations I grew up in. They were typically older men—some were elders; some were not—and they felt a strong sense of duty to prevent things from changing—not only in their own congregations, but in the Church of Christ in general. Even in their church directory photos, some of these men looked mad—as if allowing their faces to crack into slight smiles might let down enough guard to let something like instrumental music or infant baptism in, and before you knew it, we would be praying to the Pope.

I have no doubt that these angry Christians had nothing but the best intentions. But this anger was confusing for me as a kid. I would come across passages such as Philippians 4:4-9 and wonder why we didn’t have more rejoicing going on in our churches.

As an adult, my view of Christ’s church has expanded to include believers of all Christian faith groups, which has been refreshing and enlightening. But it’s also made me realize that angry Christians are not limited to the faith tradition in which I was raised. They are everywhere.

In fact, Christians seem to be getting angrier. If you don’t believe me, you weren’t on Facebook late on June 28 and in the early hours of June 29, when chaos regarding the abortion bill in Texas erupted in the state capitol. You also weren’t on Facebook when the Supreme Court overturned DOMA later on the morning of June 29. Regardless of where I stand on these issues, those two days made one thing clear: There are lots of angry, angry Christians out there.

What are we angry about? Here’s a list:

We are angry that prayer has been taken out of schools.
We are angry about gay people having rights.
We are angry about abortion.
We are angry because this country isn’t what we think the Founding Fathers envisioned.
We are angry that a Democrat is in the White House.
We are angry about evolution.
We are angry about feminism.
We are angry at Muslims.
We are angry that people have guns, and we are angry that someone might take guns away.
We are angry with people on government assistance.
We are angry about environmental issues.
We are angry at the Boy Scouts.
We are angry at the Girl Scouts.

We used to get angry about divorce, but we’ve kind of given up on that.

We are even angry about things that aren’t real, such as the Pledge of Allegiance being taken out of public schools. (Shared posts on Facebook keep alerting me that it has, but I have yet to learn of a school district anywhere in the nation in which the pledge has actually been banned.) We apparently enjoy being angry so much that we will invent things to get mad about.

This is not the way to be Jesus to the world.

At some point back in my Church of Christ years, I realized the anger I saw around me was a defense mechanism. The angry church people I knew had their convictions all lined up in neat little black-and-white rows. If they stopped being angry long enough to try to understand the changes going on around them, they might realize that some of the things they had always been against just might be OK after all. And that would mess up all those neat little rows. And the black and white might become a murky gray. And gray is unsettling. Terrifying, even. Gray can make us feel uncomfortable. It can make us hurt. It forces us to ask questions we never dreamed we would ask. And it makes us afraid of the answers we might get.

It’s easier to stay angry. It doesn’t require as much soul-searching on our part, and we don’t have to think as hard.

If we can stay angry with people of other religions, or people who have no religion at all, we don’t risk getting to know some of these people and realizing they are a lot more like us than we thought.

If we can stay angry about abortion, we don’t have to listen to women’s stories about why they have had abortions, like this particularly heart-wrenching one. We can just assume they did it out of self-centered convenience and go on our not-so-merry way. We can assume that banning abortion will solve the abortion problem, even though the facts show that it will take much, much more work than that, and that outlawing abortion could even make the problem worse.

If we can stay angry with gay people, we don’t risk finding out about the 86 percent of gay and lesbian teens who are harassed at school because of their sexual orientation. We also don’t risk learning that of the 22 percent of gay teens who are physically assaulted at school, 60 percent of them never report the incidents because they think no one will care. We don’t have to think about how much higher the homeless rate is for gay teens than straight teens, or the 62-percent LGBT homeless youth suicide rate.* It’s just so much easier to think of some aggressive gay agenda, instead of actual people.

Anger can be quite comfy.

The problem is that I can’t find anger as a Christian virtue in scripture. I can’t find a trace of it in the fruits of the spirit. Jesus did get angry with the moneychangers in the temple because they were turning his father’s house into a First-Century mall of sorts. But he didn’t get mad at the weak and the hurting. He didn’t get mad at the woman at the well, or Peter, or Judas, or the other people around him who he knew were sinful. He didn’t even get mad at the people who carried out his torture and execution.

In fact, he showed love to all of those people. A profound, not-of-this-world love.

James 1:19 tells us to be slow to become angry, and Proverbs offers a number of warnings against anger. And for good reason. Being angry at people does not minister to them, and it does not show them Christ. It pushes them far, far away from us until, instead of going out into the world as Jesus said, we become an isolated island of angry people.

Worst of all, anger stops us from listening to the people who need Jesus the most. And that’s what we Christians need to be doing. We need to listen to those people who make us mad. We need to strive to understand. We need to stop praying for God to change everyone else and pray for him to change our hearts instead. And we need to learn, once again, how to have joy in our faith that reaches others and tells the story of Jesus in a way that draws them to him instead of pushing them away.

*Sources: Safe Schools Coalition, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National Coalition for the Homeless, Human Rights Campaign.


  • At Wed Jul 10, 05:32:00 PM, Anonymous Dawn said…

    This is beautifully said, Deana, and so important.

  • At Wed Jul 10, 07:05:00 PM, Anonymous Cindy said…

    Deana, I don't know you but I want to thank you for your article. I, too, am an ACU alum -- a JMC major -- who grew up in the church of Christ and had some of the same wonderings about the lack of joy. As a lesbian, there isn't a place for me in the church I was raised in even if it were more joyous. Now I attend a church in which there is great joy every Sunday throughout the service. I hope many people will read what you have written and take your words to heart. I truly believe God loves each and everyone of us as we are, and rejoices in our happiness. Thank you again for your words.

  • At Wed Jul 10, 09:14:00 PM, Blogger ErinKCasey said…

    I feel like standing and applauding. Seriously. Thank you, Deana. I love your heart. I tend to think that anger stems from fear. And that when you're afraid and/or angry it's really hard to love. 1 John 4:18-19 says it so nicely: "There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear.... We love because He first loved us."

  • At Wed Jul 10, 09:14:00 PM, Blogger ErinKCasey said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At Thu Jul 11, 04:33:00 AM, OpenID vitaestbonus said…


    Wonderful article. (Found it through a friend's link on FB) Like Cindy, I was raised in the church--Assemblies of God, however. There was much emotionalism but little tolerance. After I came out six years ago, I stopped attending but in the past six months have returned (along with my wife) to be welcomed by some, shunned by some. The emotion that I feel from most is fear. They remember me as the worship leading, Sunday School teaching, Youth mentoring fanatic. My involvement with the church was a major part of my life. I'm glad to be back but it is at a price. I am no longer welcome to lead groups or mentor because of my "choice" to not follow scripture. It saddens me. I am hoping that my heart will eventually be evident to those who hold me at a distance. Who I love does not place me at odds or change who I am at my core. Thanks again for your insight and honesty.

  • At Thu Jul 11, 07:25:00 AM, Anonymous Lia said…

    I am really sad that your accurately spoken history at the beginning of your post about the Church of Christ somehow got politically involved. You definitely have an agenda and the point of this article is not to make a point about anger, but to make a political statement. I, too, agree that Jesus has open arms for all, and feel that your comments about gun control, etc. are biased and stem from, guess what? Your anger about people who stand on a different platform from you. I hope you have the courage to not delete this comment.

  • At Thu Jul 11, 07:28:00 AM, Blogger Deana Nall said…

    I have enough courage to go around, Lia. Thanks for your comment. :)

  • At Thu Jul 11, 08:51:00 AM, Anonymous carroll thornton said…

    I grew up in the fifties and was a part of the church you described. There were a lot of hurst, as well as sweet memories, but I realized reading your "Angry Christian" blog that I am still angry with the angry people....Guess I'd better let that go!

  • At Thu Jul 11, 08:54:00 AM, Anonymous Cliff Jackson said…

    Deana, I applaud your perception and admire your insights. There is, perhaps, no more rigid fundamentalist sect in America than "THE Church" or "The One TRUE Church".

    I wrote a Facebook post about a cousin, a Ph.D. no less, who moved from being an ardent atheist to becoming a totally convinced member of the Churches of Christ.

    Fundamentalist atheists and Churches of Christ have the same mentality: it is certitude, the need for it, and (as you point out) the fear of uncertainty leading to change.

    Here is the FB Note:

  • At Thu Jul 11, 08:57:00 AM, Anonymous Tammy D said…

    Thank you for this wonderfully written message and for reminding Christians that we are to love and minister the least of these and show them the love of Christ. Too many "Christians" shun those they consider sinners. We all, everyone of us, need to look in a mirror for we all fall short of the grace of God daily. Before we condemn others and become angry, think of how others may view us. Only the Lord is to judge. We are His vessels on Earth to teach others.

  • At Thu Jul 11, 09:11:00 AM, Anonymous carroll said…

    excuse the typo: hurts not hurst (may have been some of those too)...I do appreciate this blog and your "courage".

  • At Thu Jul 11, 12:09:00 PM, Anonymous Keith Brenton said…

    I hate it when Blogger becomes Flogger and WordPress becomes WordPunch - especially when transformed by believers.

    And I have to confess it's all I can do sometimes to stifle the anger that gurgles up like lava when I encounter on those platforms (and others) the "righteous" rage directed at somebody else's sin and therefore somebody else.

    I don't want to become another angry Christian. There are too many of them already, and not all their anger is prophetic. Too much of it is personal, and it comes across that way, and it alienates those who don't believe, and no wonder.

    An agenda? You bet I have an agenda.

    Listening. Not judging. Being kind. Being loving. Being forgiving. Being more like Christ and less like the accuser.

    Not becoming again that which I'm trying so hard to leave behind.

    There aren't any of us that Christ DIDN'T love or live or die for. No matter what we've done, what we believe, how right or how wrong we are.

    So I guess the people I'm trying not to be mad at can go ahead and miss that point, too.

  • At Fri Jul 12, 09:37:00 AM, Blogger Snowed In said…

    @Cliff Jackson: there are many, many C-of-C members who do not believe that ours is the "one true church". There are many who still do, from what I've seen, but we do not all march in lockstep. I certainly do not believe I have insight as to whom God will save, so I am simply trying to be Christ-like (with mixed success).

    @Deana: (we've met, but I doubt you'd remember me, nom de plume or not) I hope I'm wrong, but it appears you are saying only side of these types of hot-button issues gets angry. I know Christians on both sides of these issues. I've seen angry Christians on both sides of these issues. Heck, I've seen Christians question other Christian's Christianity (and, logically, also their salvation) because they disagreed on issues. The simple fact is that a lot more love is needed, on both sides. And I don't think there's a chance of that happening anytime soon, sadly.

  • At Fri Jul 12, 10:42:00 AM, Blogger David Dominguez said…

    Thank you for this post, Deana! I grew up in the same fellowship you did, and am grateful for the many blessings that came with it, but I struggle with anger at the folks who passed on to me a feeling of obligation to maintain that same sectarian mindset. I have recently let the mindset go, but the anger needs to go as well. This post made a real difference for me. Thanks again!

  • At Fri Jul 12, 12:43:00 PM, Blogger just me said…

    As a theologian I'm astonished with this blog. There is absolutely nothing Christian about this post. You have used Christianity to justify hate. From womb to tomb we our bound to others. Every crime and every act of kindness maps others future. There is nothing wrong with being angry as a Christian; however, your blog doesn't demonstrate anger: It elucidates your hate to people seemingly different than yourself. I encourage you to pray and look for the face of Christ in everyone, even the people that you believe are sinners.

  • At Fri Jul 12, 01:22:00 PM, Anonymous Keith Brenton said…

    As an amateur theologian, I'm astonished that "just me" can find hate where there is none and a lack of Christianity where love and concern for others is spoken about and the reason for gentle and kind reproof.

    I urge "just me" to reread the post.

    And have the courage to sign his or her name rather than conducting anonymous hit-and-run.

  • At Fri Jul 12, 01:56:00 PM, Blogger Deana Nall said…

    justme, my point exactly. And we can all use more prayer. Thanks for your comment.

  • At Mon Jul 15, 10:32:00 AM, Blogger Terry Buckner said…

    Right on Deana


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