Is it Right to Be Angry About Injustice?
It’s fair if you are presently thinking, Wait! Are we not supposed to be angry at injustice? Are you crazy?
We’re not. But this does not make me crazy. The fact that I enjoy puppetry when no one else is looking? That makes me
crazy. My daily habit of eating an entire loaf of burnt toast every morning for ten years? Yes, that qualifies me. Sure. You got me.
But this? No. It’s not as insane sounding as you think.
Yes, it’s unnatural, completely against our instincts, exceedingly radical, certainly unfashionable, counterintuitive, and in violation of conventional wisdom. Yes to all that.
But so is “Love your enemy.”
Let’s dispense with one idea at the very start: that anger and action are synonymous. Often, we confuse the two, thinking that if we’re not angry about an unjust situation, we’re simply accepting it. That’s completely false.
And it’s telling, I think, that the two are so frequently conflated. We’ve so justified anger that we can’t imagine doing the right thing without it.
Anger and action are two very different things, and confusing the two actually hurts our efforts to set things right.
Social Media Justice
Check out Twitter sometime. You can see anger all over the place. People upset about this, and “taking a stand” on that. This isn’t surprising.
Of course, we’re all thankful for the right to speak our minds. But here’s what’s odd about this confusion when it comes to injustice, anger, and action: A recent study found that people who join causes online are not more apt to actually do something—they’re less likely to take action.
According to research from the University of British Columbia, if you click “Like” on “Help the Poor Children of Wherever,” you’re actually less likely to give actual money to help the actual poor children of Wherever. It’s “slacktivism” in action. (“Inaction” is more accurate.)
Let’s face it: We’re positively in love with “taking stands” that cost us absolutely nothing. We even get to be fashionable in the process.
What About “Righteous Anger?”
We get to think we’re involved, doing something, and if we’re angry, we get to say, “My anger is righteous anger.” And since it’s “righteous” anger, it stands to reason that we’re actually more righteous than the people who aren’t angry like us!
The myth of “righteous anger” actually impedes the taking of action, because it lets us congratulate ourselves for a feeling, rather than for doing something. Meanwhile, someone else, someone who didn’t tweet about it, didn’t get the bumper sticker, and didn’t click “Like” on the cause, is actually sacrificing his or her time and treasure to genuinely benefit the poor children of Wherever.
There’s a book called Who Really Cares that’s about this very thing. It turns out that the people who are often the most indignant voices in protest of injustice are the least likely to part with their own resources to do anything about it.2
So often it’s true: one person is angry—but it’s someone else who takes action.
Another unfortunate result, in my experience, of the confusion of anger and action is this: Men, in particular, learn to see anger as masculine. They tend to think being angry, and acting out angrily, is very much part of what it means to be a man. (I could cite a million academic sources on this, but I’m just going to assume you agree with me. Plus, if I get back on the Internet right now, I’m going to wind up looking at cat memes again, and I really need to focus.)
When talking about this with people, this idea that the Bible doesn’t ever endorse human anger as a solution for injustice, I get this reaction, particularly from men: “But we’ve got to do something!”
Yes, agreed: Do something. Take action.
“But if we don’t get angry, we won’t do anything.”
So you can’t just do the right thing, because it’s the right thing? The Bible gives us ample commands to act, and never, ever, says to do it out of anger. Instead, we’re to be motivated by something very different: love, and obedience born of love.
A World That Looks More Like Christ
In fact, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, it’s the defining motivation. If we do something good, even, without love, we’re just a bunch of noise (13:1).
Acting out of love, to show mercy, to correct injustices, to set things right . . . is beautiful. Love should be motivation enough to do the right thing. And not “love” as a fuzzy abstraction, but love as a gutsy, willful decision to seek the best for others.
What the world needs, I think you’ll agree, is not a group of people patting themselves on the back for being angry. We need people who actually act to set things right…
Choosing to be unoffendable, or relinquishing my right to anger, does not mean accepting injustice. It means actively seeking justice, and loving mercy, while walking humbly with God.
⇒ Excerpted from Unoffendable: How just one change can make all of life better, by permission of author Brant Hansen. Copyright © Brant Hansen, 2015.
(Photo by mac ivan)
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