I am angry about the state of our union. And I’m not alone. But anger isn’t the core problem.
In January, the Esquire/NBC News “American Rage Survey” reported that half of Americans are angrier than they were a year ago. In February, BBC.com reported that 69 percent of Americans are either “very angry” or “somewhat angry” about “the way things are going” in the United States. As I write this, the day after the Orlando nightclub shooting, I’m sure the numbers are even higher.
We are angry about climate change, about those who deny climate change exists, about those who insist it does. We’re angry that not enough people believe black lives matter, that Target’s not policing its bathrooms, that the two houses of Congress behave like dysfunctional co-parents, that with seven dollars in library fines I can’t check out a book but with my name on a watchlist I can buy an automatic rifle.
We’re angry that Donald Trump somehow captivated so many millions with his own raging rhetoric, that Hillary Clinton continues to dodge jail, that in a country of 319 million people, these are our two options for leadership.
But anger is not our problem. Anger is not even a primary emotion. In fact, it is almost always a front for something else.
In his wonderful book The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, Thomas Lynch remarks that “the poor cousin of fear is anger.” We do not post rants on Facebook, campaign for and against political leaders, and sarcastically demean total strangers in online forums because we are angry. We do it because we are afraid.
Being scared makes us feel powerless, but anger gives us the illusion of action. We want to wring our hands, but it feels better to ball them into fists.
Hear me: there is plenty of injustice, unfairness, and general idiocy to keep all of us angry for a long time, and some of our rage may also be a cousin of hurt, or resentment, or despair. Fear is not the whole story, but for much of Christendom right now it’s much of the problem.
After all, it’s normal to look at our world and be afraid of what the future might bring. We see aborted babies being sold for parts and wake up each day wondering which airport ISIS will bomb next. We see schools failing and parents divorcing. We’re afraid of churches and church leaders losing their rights, their tax breaks, their nonprofit status, and their political influence. We are afraid of being disliked, of being a punch line in the national conversation. We are afraid that a time of great suffering is coming for Christians, and we argue and debate and vote so we can delay it.
But when we live in fear we are forgetting who we are. We are a people who endured slavery, exile, foreign occupation, and Roman persecution. From fiery furnaces to prison cells, over and over throughout scripture God allowed his people to suffer, sometimes because they disobeyed him and sometimes because they didn’t. God, apparently, does not see hardship, tests, or persecution as negatively as we do; in fact, over and over he uses suffering to strengthen our faith and accomplish his plans.
However, our suffering is never the end of the story. We are also a people who saw seas parted, lands conquered, giants killed, lions subdued, and kings overthrown. We are a people led and loved by the great I AM, and when we worry about presidents and policies, we are disobeying the One who has overcome the world and told us not to fear.
It is likely that, culturally and politically, it will become more difficult to live as American Christians in the decades to come. But as Esquire, NBC News, and the BBC tell us, it’s becoming more difficult to live as Americans at all, and our country has never needed Jesus more.
We are not going to make America great again no matter whom we elect president this November; but as Christ followers, we can slowly transform our country if we will confess our fear, repent from our anger, and learn to suffer well. Our greatest fear should not be losing our rights. It should be missing this opportunity to show God’s peace to an angry and anxious nation.
Originally published in the October 2016 issue of Christian Standard.