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Theologically engage public issues today

Karen L Bloomquist

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Anger that polarizes or connects?

We live in alarmingly uncivil times of mounting anger, rage, nasty personal attacks, and violent outbursts.  Anger is effective in rallying people, so that some political candidates stir up people's anger –- against other candidates, “the system” or irrational targets – in order to gain their support.  

This anger can easily be manipulated –- with untruths or vague promises rather than with policy proposals that effectively address the situations about which people are angry. Rather than political discourse that connects with others,  this anger instead results in intensified polarization that cuts off possibilities for political discussion across differences.

Anger has traditionally been associated with sin, and many passages of Scripture caution against anger ( e.g., Matthew 5:22; Ephesians 4:26; James 1:20), because of its destructive effect on persons and communities. Yet in many passages in Scripture an angry God lashes out against injustices, such as Jesus' angry actions against those who were making profit in the temple ( Mark 11:15).    

More recently, theological ethicists have reclaimed the positive value and moral power of anger.  In her groundbreaking essay, “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love,” Beverly Wildung Harrison wrote over 35 years ago that  “Anger is ... a feeling-signal that all is not well in our relation to other persons or groups or to the world around us. Anger is a mode of connectedness to others.” Anger energies us to act –- in order to transform unjust relations.   It rallies together those with similar feelings about how they are affected by injustices so that they can collaboratively act to change such.  

However, in 2016, what has become evident is that “while righteous anger can provoke positive social movements, bringing greater equality and helping to lift people out of poverty, anger can also serve as a conduit for racism and xenophobia.”  (Tamar Wilner,  Media Mind, 1/4/2016)

Anger directed against systemic injustices can open up possibilities for connecting with others to change injustices.  This is rooted in the righteous anger of God, but raging anger that is destructive of persons and relationships clearly is not.