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Embracing Faithful Anger

Shelley Denison

Scripture: Matthew 10:24-39

Anger is a complicated thing.

The Bible warns us about anger over and over again. James wrote that we should be slow to anger. The author of Ecclesiastes said that anger resides in the laps of fools. And the Book of Proverbs warns readers against associating with those who are easily angered.

So maybe that’s why I don’t really know what to do with Jesus’s anger.

When Jesus says, “do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword,” what are we to take that to mean? How do we negotiate with this text? How do we make sense of this person who is otherwise depicted throughout the Gospels as a pacifist, as a peacemaker, talking here about swords?

I like to read the Bible as an invitation. Throughout its pages, the Bible invites me to grow and transform into a version of myself that is wholly actualized by God’s love. And this lens leads me to ask two questions. First, “what is God inviting me to do with this text?” And second, “how does my acting on that invitation allow me to more fully experience God’s love?”

And here’s how I’ve answered those questions: This verse in Matthew invites me to acknowledge that the path to justice and transformation is not always comfortable or peaceful. Jesus, in His teachings, calls us to disrupt the status quo, challenging systems that perpetuate injustice. This disruption can be unsettling and can even create division. However, we must remember that Jesus did not use the sword to inflict harm, but as a metaphor for the sharpness of His message, cutting through the complacency and indifference that hinder the pursuit of justice.

Jesus is inviting me to be angry.

Anger can act as a catalyst for social change by awakening us to the urgency of addressing injustices. It pushes us to step out of our comfort zones, challenging us to question societal norms and advocate for the marginalized. The parable of the Good Samaritan in the book of Luke reminds us of the transformative power of anger. The Samaritan's anger at the injustice inflicted upon the wounded traveler compelled him to act, demonstrating compassion and solidarity despite societal divisions.

In our quest for justice, we must be willing to confront the injustices that plague our society, even if it means encountering resistance and discord. Just as Jesus' teachings often confronted societal norms and brought about radical change, we too are called to challenge oppressive structures and work towards a more equitable world.

This month, we celebrate the lives and histories of LGBTQIA communities. Pride Month specifically commemorates events that occurred on June 28, 1969, almost exactly 54 years ago today, at the Stonewall Inn in New York. Stonewall was a bar which provided a safe place to socialize for gay men, lesbian women, and gender minorities. And we need to remember the context of 1969: Up until the 1970’s, the medical community labeled homosexuality as a “mental disorder” and governments and institutions often led formal efforts to attempt to expel queer people from society. It was routine for New York City police to raid bars like Stonewall in order to intimidate, brutalize, and arrest patrons.

On that June night in 1969, police raided Stonewall. But the patrons of Stonewall fought back. Who exactly threw the first brick in defense of their identity and their freedom is a fact lost to history. But that action ignited further resistance from bar patrons marking that night as the first of the Stonewall Uprising.

“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

During the spring and summer of 2020, I attended the protests in Portland almost every night for five months. While much of the news coverage proclaiming that we were burning the city to the ground was rather exaggerated (to put it lightly), it is true that we were disruptive. We were loud, we were inconvenient, we stopped traffic, and we shut down the Burnside and St. Johns bridges more than once. We used being disruptive as a strategic tool in order to demand that attention be paid to the injustice of routine and disproportionate police brutality against Black people.

“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

We have seen throughout state legislative sessions this year a wave of bills designed to attack the dignity, safety, and identities of trans people, especially trans youth. With 558 anti-trans bills having been proposed in 49 states, 2023 is the fourth consecutive record-breaking year of anti-trans legislation in this country.

Zooey Zephyr is a 34-year old first term member of Minnesota’s House of Representatives. Herself a transgender woman, Representative Zephyr spoke candidly and frankly against proposed legislation that compromised the ability of other trans people to exist safely in Minnesota. Her exact words were, “I hope the next time there's an invocation when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.” And in response, she was institutionally silenced. The Minnesota House of Representatives voted to bar her from speaking on the House floor for the remainder of the legislative session.

And almost every day since, protesters have filled the Minnesota Statehouse demanding that Representative Zephyr be allowed to speak.

“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Complacency and indifference are our greatest adversaries when it comes to advancing justice. It is easy to turn a blind eye to the suffering and oppression that surround us, but Jesus calls us to a higher standard. He urges us to challenge systems that perpetuate inequality and to stand with those on the margins.

To effectively utilize righteous anger, we must nurture it with empathy, education, and humility. Engaging with the stories of those who have experienced injustice firsthand helps us cultivate empathy and fuels our anger at systemic oppression. By educating ourselves about the issues at hand, we equip ourselves with the knowledge necessary to advocate for change. Moreover, as followers of Christ, we must remain humble, recognizing that anger alone is not enough. We must continually seek guidance from G od, remaining open to their transformative power, and striving for justice in all aspects of our lives.

Let us not shy away from anger but embrace it as a catalyst for positive change. Let us commit ourselves to an anger, tempered with love and guided by Christ’s teachings, that seeks to dismantle systems of oppression and build a more just and inclusive society. May we stand in solidarity with the marginalized, the oppressed, and the voiceless, knowing that love, compassion, and justice are our ultimate goals. Let our anger be the fire that fuels a radical empathy, the sword that cuts through the barriers of injustice, and the catalyst that propels us toward the Kingdom of God on earth–on earth–as it is in heaven. Amen.

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