Friday, April 14, 2006

Be ye angry...

"...If you lessen your anger at the structures of power, you lower your love for the victims of power." William Sloan Coffin

I agree with this so very much. There are those Christian peacemakers who believe that nonviolence entails never getting angry. I think that’s a load of *&^%#@! and always have.

Jesus clearly got angry on several occasions. Paul tells us “in your anger, sin not.” And before anyone quotes Matt 5:21-26 at me, I remind you that Greek verb tense is a continual action so that a better translation would be, “[I]f you hold on to anger with your brother [or sister], you will be liable to judgment.” Nursing anger and resentment can lead to sin. That was God’s message to Cain—not that his anger was already sinful, but that it was an opportunity for sin, crouching like a lion, to have him. Cain failed to listen and murdered his brother, Abel. The sad story of the world continues on from there. The purpose of Matt. 5:21-26 is not to present a legalistic standard to which none can attain, refraining from all anger, but to present us with a working mechanism to keep this from becoming an opportunity for our own crouching lions—we go to the brother or sister and we talk—even interrupting worship to do so.

At the other end of the spectrum is the pop psychology popular in many churches that emotions are neutral, of no moral consequence. It is how we act on emotions that is moral or immoral. I think that’s just as bogus. As Fr. Simon Harak, S.J. (now on staff at War Resisters’ League) points out in his powerful book, Virtuous Passions, our moral character includes our passions, our emotions.

If I describe the torture of a child to you and the emotion you feel is glee or humor, something is seriously wrong with your moral character even if your actions are entirely appropriate. That’s where Bill Coffin, who passed yesterday evening, had it so very right. Anger and love, even nonviolent agape love, are not moral opposites. There is, in the words of a classic essay by Christian feminist ethicist Beverly Wildung Harrison, a role for “the power of anger in the work of love.” Our love for the victims of power, for the Abels of this world, SHOULD make us angry at the structures of power that victimized them.

The danger is real: Walter Wink constantly warns us of the danger of becoming that which we hate. But anger and hate are not the same thing. And we can (MUST!) love the perpetrators of evil (our enemies) even as we remain furious at their actions—and even more at the structures of injustice in which they are enmeshed. Redemption for oppressors cannot come with confronting their oppression and holding a mirror up to it. That, as folks like Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez and so many others knew, is the secret to active nonviolence.

People have told me that I am too angry about the lies which have mired us in a murderous war in Iraq, about the torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere; about the way the war machine is robbing the poor, robbing education, robbing the resources needed either to prevent a Katrina or rebuild afterward. I intend to stay angry because I dare not lessen my love for the victims.

I must remember to keep centered in prayer, including prayer for figureheads of the Powers and Authorities, and keep asking others to pray for me so that my anger does not lead to violence—of the spirit or otherwise. But to refuse to be angry is the way of apathy, the path to being co-opted.

Thank God for William Sloan Coffin who showed us how not to be complicit. May we enter the rest of this week of cross and resurrection by asking God to crucify our complacency and to resurrect in us and all the churches a spirit of nonviolent struggle for justice and peace. Following the Risen Lord, if that One be truly “this same Jesus” as the angels say in Acts 1 to the disciples, will involve close attention to the earthly Jesus—as far as the Gospels’ witness gives us that. So, we need to be angry at the things which made Jesus angry and to act on that anger in the same we he did—not in destructive patterns but in redemptive ones. But first we need to be saved from the false gospel of “niceness” that says that Christians never get angry. If war and torture and racism and the rape of the planet for oil companies and so much else doesn’t make us angry, are we even alive? Please God, bring us to live this Resurrection Sunday.


By Michael Westmoreland-White, who knows a bit about being angry


At 4/15/06, 10:51 AM, Blogger Larry Who said...

So, I gather that you believe Jesus is against all wars and always has a nonviolent solution for disagreements, right?

So, where did the first war take place? (Rev. 12) And why didn't Jesus negotiate a peaceful settlement with Satan?

And Who will lead the armies in the last war at Armageddon? Once again, why won't Jesus agree to a peaceful settlement with Satan?

Christian Peacemakers have a powerful revelation for the Body of Christ, but is it possible that the hurts and wounds suffered in bringing this revelation to the Church has caused your groups to be blinded to the total message of the gospel.

Hey, we Christians who disagree with your narrow views don't want war anymore than you do. But we also see the gospel as reconciling man with God, and not always man with man.

Brother, I'm not against you, I'm for you.

At 4/15/06, 10:07 PM, Blogger Dan Trabue said...

Larry, thanks for visiting.

I don't know if Michael is checking this or not. So, speaking for myself, you asked: "You believe Jesus is against all wars...?"

I believe that Jesus taught us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to overcome evil with good. Since this is all central to NT teaching, I would assume you believe it, too, yes?

And so, I acknowledge that wars have happened historically, but that my obligation is to Jesus' teaching, which seems antithetical to warmaking. To me.

Thanks for your support.


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