Righteous Anger?

There is a difference between anger which is a reaction to personal hurt, and anger which is a response to a wider injustice. There is a difference between anger which needs to be transformed into forgiveness, and anger which fuels the yearning for God’s kingdom. This was the thrust of a rather good homily I heard this week.

But it got me thinking: isn’t it a bit more complicated than that? Can these two types of anger be separated so easily? There are many, many times when a situation incites both kinds of anger. Situations which are both personally hurtful and unjust in a way which goes beyond the personal. And when that happens, when both these kinds of anger are at work, sometimes it’s hard to separate them out, in ourselves and in other people.

Very often when someone who is a member of a marginalised group objects to that marginalisation, it is seen as a personal matter, an angry reaction to the pain that person has experienced, and not as a wider issue of injustice. And because it’s ‘just’ a personal thing, it’s easier to sweep aside and ignore. It happens again and again to people who are already oppressed because of their race or gender or sexuality, and then when they point out this oppression are shouted down for being ‘too angry’.

A woman who points out the misogyny experienced by herself and others, who gets angry at the injustice which keeps women from living as free and equal human beings, is often accused of “taking it too personally” “being too emotional” “getting too angry”. It’s happened to me many times. I see it every day on Twitter and Facebook, overhear it in the street or on the bus. It’s one step away from “sit down and shut up, you silly little woman.”

But isn’t this worth getting angry about, the subjugation of half the human race? Isn’t this the sort of righteous anger that made Jesus turn over tables? And yes, there’s personal hurt mixed in, and probably that could do with being transformed into forgiveness. But that doesn’t invalidate the other kind of anger: the anger which keeps us fighting against the systemic injustices of the world.

I see something similar happening in the church’s struggles over homosexuality. If there was any doubt that the voices of gay people are being marginalised and ignored, this powerful blog from Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral Glasgow, should put an end to that: http://thurible.net/2014/06/13/synodical-discussion/ The reactions Kelvin describes to the frustration of being excluded from the process are, of course, deeply personal. But they are also manifestations of the righteous anger which comes from seeing and experiencing systematic oppression, and the deep desire to end that, to bring in the justice of God’s kingdom.

Too often the ‘personal’ element of our reactions to oppression and injustice is used as an excuse to dismiss the challenge to an unjust system. In a Christian context, too often the oppressed individual is expected to forgive, rather than the oppressive system being expected to change. That isn’t what redemption should look like.   


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