Growing up, the only Christian I saw consistently represented on TV was Ned Flanders.
The affable, happy, somewhat naive neighbor of Homer Simpson was always quick to mention his faith in the Lord, and many a laugh was made at the expense of his unflappable Christian kindness.
I am not Ned Flanders.
For one thing, I’m three-dimensional and human. I also know I’m not Ned Flanders because I’ve had some people complain to me recently that I can come across, “too angry.”
“You just seem so pissed off all the time,” a family member said to me over dinner.
“I’m not always pissed off,” I said, smiling.
“Yeah you are,” this family member and another said in unison.
Some days later I got a message from a friend. They saw a post of mine about how disappointed I was in a theologian I respected who had made some ignorant and disturbing remarks about transgender kids. My friend who messaged me said, among other things, that my digital reputation was one of, “cynicism tinged with bitterness.” Ouch.
This was strange for me to hear, because, if I were to describe myself, I’d say I’m a fairly happy person. I might have a bit of resting bitch face, but on the inside I’m usually thinking happy thoughts. My life is so (hashtag) blessed, that it’s hard for me to be angry or bitter. 90% of the time I’m feeling incredibly content.
That’s when I realized that there are two “me’s” people see – the real me, and the social media me.
Social media is where I talk about the issues, events, and problems in the world that are important to me. To explain why so often this might come across as “cynical” I’m going to attempt to walk through what a normal social media experience of mine is like:
Facebook – checks private group of LGBT Christian friends and allies, sees post from friend whose mother just told him that, because of how much she loves Jesus, she can’t ever acknowledge the “devil inside her son” or her son’s partner. Sees other post from friend whose sister wasn’t allowed to marry her husband in her church because the person performing the ceremony was my friend, her (lesbian) sister. Scrolls through feed, sees posts from feminist friends regarding op-ed written by old white guy proclaiming that women in college see being raped as a “coveted status of privilege” and lie about sexual assault. Checks comments on a recent article I wrote, reads through multiple strangers saying disparaging things about me.
Before closing Facebook checks messages, sees one from trans friend who tell me how happy they were at a recent doctor appointment when the techs actually acknowledged their true gender, and didn’t disgustingly misgender them.
Twitter – Sees a half a dozen notifications from people who have found my page from various articles I wrote, thanking me for writing them. Reads through feed, sees posts from the LGBT Christians, feminist Christians, non-religious friends and media I follow. Lots of tweets regarding whatever school shooting was most recent, whichever white male politician said something offensive about women, and the most current religious figure who felt the need to send out a post to thousands of followers, saying negative things about a marginalized group. Clicks on links to news articles about political topics I follow (sexism, gun control, racism, etc.) Tweets replies and comments about some of the things seen.
Instagram – cats and dogs and smiling babies!!
Aside from Instagram, when I log onto social media and connect to those around me, I am flooded with the reality of the sinful, often shitty world we live in. There is pain, there is injustice, there is violence. I know that not everyone gets this “bad news” from their Facebook and Twitter and what-not, but part of being an activist is following other activists and a lot of what that entails is being bogged down in the terrible things people do to each other. I don’t open myself up to this for the fun of it of course, but because part of who God made me is a person who deeply seeks change. I have always had a heart that longs for justice.
“Well Emily,” I can hear someone saying, “maybe your problem is that you’re just on Facebook and Twitter too much.”
This I considered. But the thing is, social media is both a blessing and a curse. I might see things that upset me the more I’m on, but I also get more encouragement and feedback there than anywhere else. I’m a writer after all. Twitter and Facebook is how I connect to readers. The more I write, the more readers have found me, and shared with me how my writing has positively affected them – not everyone who reads my posts finds them bitter and cynical. I would say (based on the responses I get) that the majority of people find them encouraging.
The people who do have a problem with my posts though say that it’s not what I’m posting (stories or articles that upset me) but my reaction – I don’t hide my anger at the church, the religious conservatives, or the people I feel are responsible. It’s this they find upsetting. They think that Christians shouldn’t be so angry at the church.
Like any “good” Christian, when thinking of how to respond to this, my mind went immediately to the Bible. Specifically to Luke 6:27- 29,
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.”
My first thought when re-reading this was, “But I’m mostly getting angry for my friends who are being slapped and mistreated – I’m not really the one being cursed. Are defenders of those being slapped supposed to turn the other cheek as well? If it’s the church – who should be opening it’s arms, not reaching them out to strike – that I’m angry at, should my reaction still be the same?”
My second thought was related to something I never noticed in the Bible before (guess you’re right Mom, I can find new things after all this time.) I noticed that the passage that immediately follows the commandment to “turn the other cheek” is the one exhorting Jesus’ followers not to judge others. Right after telling people not to retaliate in anger, Jesus tells them not to judge the speck in their brothers eye, yet ignore the log in their own.
If there’s anything I want to publicly confess to, it would be perhaps not stating clearly enough that I don’t think my own eyes are free from timber. I judge “bad” Christians probably as much as they judge my friends who are gay, lesbian, bi, or trans. Too often I lob rocks at these Christians instead of asking God to help me forgive them. I’m not perfect, or without sin. I apologize for being eager to gather up the rocks the Pharisees were threatening to hurl at sinners, so I could throw them in their faces instead.
But what I’m not apologizing for is the anger itself.
I feel angry over the injustices being carried out in Jesus name. I do not believe that it is sinful to feel anger at church leaders who are willingly and enthusiastically encouraging their 16 million members to reject a part of the body. Nor do I think it’s always inappropriate to express anger at people who are wrong. I’m not parsing words here – I don’t simply disagree with what a lot of the church has done today, I see it as what it is – a completely inexcusable injustice.
Should the people carrying this injustice out be forgiven? Yes, if they seek forgiveness, they absolutely should. But do I have to treat what they’ve done with kid gloves? I don’t think so. To be clear – I’m not name calling, cursing, or posting long tirades and rants filled with personal attacks aimed at the religious leaders I disagree with. Instead, I’m often just simply posting links to articles with a short sentence or two expressing why I’m sad or angered over the actions spoken about within. This doesn’t makes me cynical or bitter. It makes me critical of actions that I wish more Christians were upset over.
I don’t think that “most” Christians are bad people. I apologize if it’s come across that way, because I don’t. Most of the Christians I know personally are good, kind-hearted people who earnestly love the Lord and want to serve him. This is true even of the ones who still hold views on sexuality and gender that I find troubling. But it’s frustrating to see how defensive some of these Christians get when religious injustice is called out. What I don’t understand is why some of these Christians seem to be more upset at me for being angry, than they are at the people doing the terrible things I’m upset over.
Anger – the kind motivated by a desire to see wrongs righted – has accomplished much good in the history of the church. I was not there at the time, but it is hard for me to imagine Martin Luther whistling away while he pounded the nails into the door of the Catholic church. That theses was driven and hung with resolve, determination, and righteous anger. He was pissed off – and rightly so – because of the injustice he saw the Catholic church carrying out. Anger beget good. Anger over evil isn’t evil.
Now, I’m not Martin Luther. Hardly. But I am someone who shares the same (or similar) faith. This faith has shaped me into who I am today, a person who reads the Bible and sees story after story of sinners who Christ loved and forgave – and the religious leaders who He repeatedly criticized for not acting lovingly. I am surely not Jesus. But when I’m reacting with anger towards the religious leaders and people of today who are attacking my friends, I’m doing so because I love them, feel compassion for them, and want them to be welcomed into the church that’s been my home for almost three decades.
What’s motivating me is not anger – anger is the symptom – what’s motivating me is love for the marginalized people who are my friends. Love for my oppressed friends, and anger at their oppressors, goes hand in hand.
Yes, I’m angry. But what I wish more people saw was the good that’s come out of this anger. The friendships made with people in the margins. The doors God’s opened for my writing. An ever-widening audience of people who are just as angry as I am and want to do something about it. I don’t want to be angry forever, but I’d rather be angry at the church and want to change it, than apathetic and walking away. As long as the church can still hurt me, it means I still care enough about it to want to change it. And as long as there are other Christians working along-side me, I know that the anger I’m feeling isn’t destructive, but geared for good.
No, I’m not going to apologize for being angry. That’s the season I’m in. I do hope though, with all of my heart, that it’s a season that will end once wrongs are righted. I look forward to feeling at peace. But peace doesn’t usually come without a struggle.