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Serena Williams had a reason, a rationale, an excuse. She missed a shot in a tennis match last week–a match she went on to win–and promptly threw a hissy fit that resulted in the complete mangling of her tennis racket against the court surface. When asked about the outburst later, Serena said she was upset because she felt like she was letting down her fans.
I may or may not be a fan, Serena, but listen: you let people down not when you show you are human by hitting the ball into the net once in a while like everyone else. No, you let everyone down when you behave like an angry, petulant child. Anger is not pretty–not ever. It’s scary. Anger makes people lose control. Some years ago writing in the New York Times Book Review as part of a series of essays on the Seven Deadly Sins, an author wrote about the time she lost it in front of her children. She felt like she briefly transformed into some kind of really angry bird. Her children agreed. As her 6-year-old later told her, “I was afraid, Mommy, because I didn’t know who you were.”
We are increasingly a pretty angry society. Politics makes people angry. The mere mention of Barack Obama causes some people’s blood to boil (and to be fair, similar reactions were known to happen some years ago at the mention of George W. Bush, too). Post the wrong thing on Facebook and some of your so-called FB “friends” may turn on you with screeds of anger. And don’t even bother to look at the comment chains on CNN or any major newspaper.
Anger is a problem. It’s a deadly sin for a reason. Yet we excuse it. A lot.
Take the case of the megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll, who recently resigned from the sprawling Mars Hill Church near Seattle. Lots of things have been in the wind about Driscoll, including charges of artificially inflating the sales of his books and no small measure of pride and arrogance. Driscoll was also said to be a frequently hostile and angry person with church staff and was known for behavior that at least some termed as “bullying.” He finally resigned but when he did, the board at Mars Hill Church went out of its way to assure people that Driscoll was not guilty of any “heresy or immorality.”
By “immorality” they clearly meant anything sexual. But the moment I read that, I reflected on the fact that when the Apostle Paul listed things that ought have no place in the Christian community, he mixed in things like anger with lots of other behavior, including sexual stuff.
“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy” (Galatians 5:19-20).
It seems likely that if someone like Mark Driscoll had been caught in bed with someone–man, woman, or child–he would have been bounced years ago. But anger? Fits of rage? Bullying and arrogance? We can let that slide for years–some pastors and other Christian leaders get away with it across the span of their careers. Like many others no doubt, I have had my own episodes of anger (and could not get away every time by claiming it was righteous anger, either!). Like the author of the essay referenced above, it is not pleasant to feel like you have lost your very self through an outburst.
So being one who is NOT without sin, I cast no stones. But as a society we need to get serious about dealing with anger because it is eroding the last vestiges of public civility and has made more than a few inroads into the church, too, including in how we conduct ourselves at congregational meetings or council/board meetings. The angry shouting matches on cable news splitscreens and the mean-spirited screeds on Facebook posts and “Reader Comments” on the internet have a way of making us accustomed to something we ought not be accustomed to at all.
I join those who wish Mark Driscoll the best as he deals with besetting issues. Grace abounds to all us sinners, and new beginnings should be the name of the (resurrection) game in the Christian community.
But let’s not put anger outside of the circle of what counts as “immorality.” Anger is immoral.
It is, in fact, deadly. To suggest otherwise would probably also count as heresy.
Actually, anger is a feeling we all will have on occasion. Even God and Jesus got angry. There is nothing wrong with feeling angry, it happens just like all the other feelings we have. How you deal with your anger, how you express it is a totally different matter. This is where we all have a choice. The expression of anger can cause fear in others and do a lot of damage. But let's not confuse the two.