Outrage is not a virtue.
“Anyone who supports this candidate will be judged for their ignorance.”
“Wow, strong words from a pastor! Weak-kneed, supposed Christians like you are why the church is falling apart. We’ll see who God judges!”
I sat back from my computer, stunned after witnessing the above exchange. There was more to the conversation (forty-seven replies more, to be exact), but I had gotten the gist of things. It was nearly election day in 2016, and outrage was the order of the day. I tried to rationalize things, tried to tell myself that people were just worked up in what had become a difficult election for both sides. People would come to their senses a week after the election, I reasoned. Maybe two weeks, tops.
Now, almost two years later to the day, very little has changed. When we look at how many Christians in the American church interact with culture, we see a reaction characterized by one thing: outrage. This is a problem.
Outrage is not a virtue.
Certainly there are times that call for strong action. Jesus himself demonstrated anger at times during his ministry, such as when he saw Pharisees abusing their power or greedy merchants disrupting the worship at the temple. But Jesus’ ministry was not a political ministry (John 6:15), nor did Jesus attempt to win a “culture war” by raging against the evils of Roman society (of which there were many). Jesus did not try to change the culture by sermons in the public square against Roman foreign policy (which was immoral). Instead, he built relationships with individuals. He healed the sick. He fed the hungry. His ministry was not defined by his outrage. His ministry was known/ for His love.
What about us? Jesus tells us in John 13:35 “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Can this be said of us in the American church? Are we known by those around us for our love? Is that what characterizes our interactions with one another on social media? At work? At school? At home?
Outrage is not a virtue.
What is a virtue? A virtue is a moral habit. Virtues are the good things that make up character. Patience, peace, love, self-control, these are all virtues. Virtues are the sorts of things that should characterize our lives, the sorts of things we should be known for.
But, one may claim, don’t we live in a time that calls for outrage? Doesn’t (abortion, or Trump, or immigration, or government corruption, or gun violence, the removal of God from the public square, etc) call for a response of outrage? Isn’t outrage a virtue because of the time we live in?
That’s a valid question. Certainly, there are difficult issues facing us as American Christians, and the Bible does speak directly into some of these issues (and indirectly into many others). However, I stand firmly by my claim that outrage is not a virtue. We do not live in a uniquely wicked time. Even a cursory reading of the history of the Roman world during Jesus’ time would indicate that their culture world was far more violent and unjust than ours. And yet, what did Jesus say that the lives of his followers should be known by? Love.
So what is the answer then? Is the answer to bury our heads in the sand and never speak about injustices? To never have discussions with those that disagree with us?
No, that is not the answer. Perhaps there is not one answer to this question, but there are a few principles we can draw from the Bible.
- Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
This is fairly simple principle that comes directly from James 1:9. Yet how many people only listen during conversations so they respond? How many look forward to discussions mainly so that they can here themselves talk and show off their (supposed) intelligence?
Not taking the time to humbly listen to others, even others we disagree with, is wrong. It’s wrong because it’s prideful, and inconsiderate. How would we like to be treated? We would like to be listened to and treated with respect in a conversation. We should treat others in that way.
- Give others the benefit of the doubt regarding their motives.
For some reason, we’ve shifted from disagreeing with people over issues like gun control, abortion, taxes, and immigration, to hating people over them. Many have convinced themselves that only an evil person could disagree with them on certain issues, therefore, anyone who is on the opposite side of that issue is evil. Nowhere has this been more evident than on social media the past couple years. “Liberals aren’t just wrong, they’re evil and hate God”, claim some. “Trump supporters aren’t just wrong, they’re stupid (and Nazis!)”, claim others.
There are many reasons why we got to this point (those of us who work in advertising bear much of the blame), but we need to stop. C.S. Lewis, while writing about politics in England during his time, pointed out that virtually everyone wants the same thing. They want to live in peace and freedom. They want people to have the ability to make a certain amount of money. They want a society where good can be done. We disagree how to get there, but we all generally, want the same outcome. Therefore, we should treat those who disagree with us humbly and with the respect that these motives deserve.
- Keep things in perspective.
Finally, we need to remember that, at the end of the day, we are called to love God and love other people. Our primary calling is not to win elections, culture wars, or arguments on social media. Yes, sometimes our calling will mean that we engage in these things, but they are not the primary goal of our faith.