Jesus Turned Over The Tables. How Angry Are Christians Allowed To Get?
We live in a time of rage and fury.
Donald Trump is the shouter-in-chief, drowning out questions from those he finds awkward and seething on Twitter at a litany of perceived injustices.
As well as being the cause of much fury, the president is a symptom of an angry society too. Like the driving winds caused by storm Doris which are whipping around the United Kingdom today, we live in a society which seems to be in a permanent state of rage.
Last week a piece I wrote was posted on Facebook and I was accused of purveying fake news, told it was a 'stupid, incoherent' article and that I was 'an embarrassment.' This is pretty mild stuff for 2017. This week, Member of Parliament Dianne Abbott revealed some of the horrific racist abuse, death and rape threats she has recently received. I watched in horror as tweets reporting this were then responded to with further abuse and comments that she had brought it upon herself.
We're angry. Maybe not angrier than ever, but certainly with more platforms on which to express our anger.
In the midst of this angry atmosphere comes an interesting comment piece at The Guardian. The headline sums it up well: 'The left needs to take a leaf out of Jesus' book – and get angry'. Writer Steven W Thrasher channels Martin Luther King, and President Obama in his support for anger being the only correct response to the current socio-politico-economic mess that we're in.
'For too long, a misinterpretation of Martin Luther King as never angry (when his speeches, marches and actions against poverty, racist labour exploitation and war were full of fury), and the too-polite Barack Obama, have lulled the left into avoiding anger and its useful productiveness in demanding change,' Thrasher argues. Ultimately he bases his thesis on Jesus cleansing of the Temple. 'He is seen with a whip in his hand,' the piece says, 'flipping over tables in a rage and driving merchants from the temple. This is the Christ who speaks to me when I look at the mess that is contemporary America.'
Is Thrasher right? Is now the time for Christians and others on the left to get angry? I think the answer has to be yes... and no.
In one sense, Thrasher is absolutely right to locate Jesus' righteous anger as the inspiration for his spectacular Temple protest. But was he really trying to put, 'the fear of God into capitalists, putting them on the run with a whip'? I'm not so sure. The cleansing of the Temple was an act in which Jesus railed against the merchants who had filled the outer courts – the part of the temple which was accessible to people from every country and culture. In other words, this wasn't a first century Occupy Wall Street. It was something far more profound – Jesus was railing against the commercial interests which prevent all people from having access to the House of God.
Having said that, there is certainly something in Thrasher's argument. Anger, in its right place, is an essential part of the Christian life. That anger must be directed against injustice. The examples he gives, of Dr King, is a good one. King was angry, along with millions of African Americans who had been systematically dehumanised by racism for generations. Anger is the correct response in that situation – and remains so when the ugly stain of racism remains in American life.
If anger is a spur to action and if it inspires us to join in God's fight against injustice then its valid and even necessary. Jesus was angry when he turned over the tables. So long as the anger is righteous and not vindictive, it is a good emotion to have.
Bruce Springsteen, in a song written amid the fury over the economic devastation wrought on Middle America by the financial crisis of 2008, covers this well. In 'Wrecking Ball' he sings, 'Hold tight to your anger, and don't fall to your fears.' That's the balance we need to strike – and one which will help us to cut through much of the narcissistic fury we see around us.