Righteous Anger

by

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written,

 

        ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’;
            but you are making it a den of robbers.”

 

The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

 

        ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?”

 

He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

~Matthew 21:12-17

 

Throughout the gospel readings we see the story of Jesus play out; and, while he often seems to be vexed or frustrated at the disciples and other followers who don’t seem to understand his message, we only see him incandescently angry once, and that is in today’s reading where he confronts the money changers in the temple.

 

As a Christian, I frequently got the message, both explicitly and implicitly that I wasn’t allowed to be angry and that I was supposed to love everyone and not be confrontational.

 

I don’t think my experience was unique, but I do think it was amplified by my being female. There was additional societal baggage that said that girls should be quiet and well behaved and never, ever angry.  So even if I was angry, I should never show it and I should, in particular, never confront someone* with my anger.

 

Due to the two-fold message, from the church and from the world, that it was wrong for me to feel anger, I spent much of my teens and early adulthood mistaking anger for sadness. I didn’t even really know how to identify anger as separate feeling. Over time I went from identifying anger in myself, to realizing that anger was just a feeling. It was not good or bad in itself, it was what I did with it that mattered.

 

Eventually I learned that there was a place for expressing anger and for confronting others. That place is in standing up to oppression and injustice.

 

When Jesus confronts the money changers, it is with the righteous anger of one correcting an injustice. He overturns the tables of the money lenders and drives them away using anger and fierce confrontation; but that is not the end of the story.

 

The confrontation, in driving out the money lenders, has made space for the blind and the lame to come to the temple. Jesus welcomes them and heals them. They can come to him freely without the need to change money to buy a sacrifice. Jesus has removed a barrier between an oppressed and disadvantaged group by using his anger to confront an injustice.

 

Like comedy and workplace gifts, anger should always flow upward. If I’m going to use my anger as fuel to confront a person or an institution, they should be more powerful than me or the group I am trying to get justice for.

 

I see this in the reading. Jesus directing his anger at those who have monetized worship and who are profiting, in particular, off of the poor and disadvantaged. He then directs his service and compassion to the blind and the lame who come to him for help. Jesus does not spread his anger about or explode in a rage at the person nearest to him. He channels his rage at a specific target, and to effect a specific result.

 

Anger, when used as a motivating force to act for justice is not bad– any more than pain motivating one to go to the doctor is bad. Anger is a sign. Anger can be prophetic.  Anger, when used a tool, can be a powerful force for positive change.

 

——

*Just to be clear:  the ‘someones’ I shouldn’t confront were usually white, male, and authority figures.

 

Bible citations are from Bible Gateway using the NRSV text.

 

Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.

© 2019 Kristin Fontaine

 

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Christopher Dawes
Guest

Thank you for a very thought provoking essay, Kristin.

I wonder, what would be an appropriate course of action if that injustice came from within church leadership, came from within a church run entirely by four female authority figures, and if I happened to be a white male? The truth is often stranger than fiction. That was my exact experience only two years ago, with an interim rector, an assistant rector, a senior warden of the vestry, and a junior warden of the vestry, all women, who concocted, conspired and committed several acts of blatantly unchristian injustice during their so-called leadership, perhaps culminating in an act reminiscent of Andrew McCabe, former director of the FBI, who was fired without cause on the eve of his retirement by the then acting attorney general.

Hours of research on my part have not produced any guidance on how one goes about impeaching a vestry. I would welcome any advice on how I should proceed.

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Eric Bonetti
Guest

Hi Christopher. There are, I think, two answers to your question. The first is the “official,” answer, which is that the ecclesiastical authority or bishop responsible for helping parishes in this situation.

The second, unofficial answer, is that in my experience most bishops and dioceses are about as useful as a three-legged bull on wet ice when it comes to these issues. I’d say you either have to go public with these issues, and hope that the court of public opinion rules in your favor, or cut and run. (In fact, going to the bishop likely will only make things worse.)

My other observation is that conduct like what you describe rarely happens in healthy systems. My bet is that, if we peeled the onion, we’d find there are lots of other, larger issues in the parish in question. Indeed, it may be that issues extend throughout the diocese—a healthy diocese will tend to keep issues of this sort in check.

Sorry I can’t be more optimistic.

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Christopher Dawes
Guest

Hi Eric,

Thank you so much for listening and for your advice (the first concrete advice I've ever gotten). Wish I'd spoken to you sooner.

Sadly, despite the female four having been publicly shamed into reversing themselves, they never did admit any wrongdoing, were never held accountable for their actions, and have since gone on to bigger and better things, practically being rewarded for their behavior. The assistant rector is now the rector of her own parish, the junior warden is now the senior warden, etc.

I can't stomach setting foot in that church now, it having been my spiritual home for nearly 20 years and where I served 2 terms on the vestry. I've since removed the church from my estate and bequeathed it to a secular organization with more moral integrity and have reduced my annual pledge to $1 in unnoticed protest, but that parish will remain forever damaged, torn in two from top to bottom, as was the temple veil in Matthew and Mark, a sad microcosm of our country.

Chris

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Eric Bonetti
Guest

Hi Chris. It’s no consolation, but my experience was very similar, and resulted in me leaving the Christian faith altogether. It doesn’t reduce my love for God, but I just need to be in a healthier environment. It’s interesting, too — I’ve been criticized by diocesan officials for objecting to misconduct, as if somehow that’s wrong, while the underlying misconduct has been even publicly supported by the diocese. Go figure. And yes, I removed my former parish from my will.

Much of the issue, I believe, centers on a faulty theology of forgiveness. The church preaches forgiveness, but too often believes this obligates the victim to do something. In reality, forgiveness typically arises when there’s been accountability, reparation, and a sincere apology. Not the stage-managed, “I’m so, so sorry,” routine but genuine remorse. Once those happen, it may be in the victim’s best interest to forgive and move towards healing, but it’s not for any of us to decide when.

So very sorry.

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