"We should not be ashamed of anger. It’s a very good and a very powerful thing that motivates us. But what we need to be ashamed of is the way we abuse it.” —Mahatma Gandhi
I grew up in a household and a society that was terrified of anger, but where anger was always present. For those who visited Northern Ireland during the 'Troubles', many were astonished at how nice, friendly and hospitable the locals were, despite the stories of violence that had filled their TV screens. They found it impossible to believe that a society could be at once so friendly and yet so hateful.
I now work in a Church that finds anger equally terrifying. Whilst calling on its members to hold their faith with deep conviction, it becomes nervous when those deep convictions result in passion or even anger. I remember when the Church was agreeing its core convictions in the 'Our Calling' process at the turn of the millennium, it initially only sought to 'question injustice'. Rightly, the Methodist Conference decided to strengthen this to 'challenge injustice' as a proper part of the mission of God.
For many Christians, anger is sin and therefore must be avoided. Not so, according to Ephesians:
Be angry but do not sin (Eph 4:26a)
Anger can lead us into sin, but then eating and drinking can lead to gluttony and greed, conversation to gossip. What disturbs us, I think, is the sheer power of the emotion, and how we do not seem to be in control of ourselves. So we refuse to allow room for any expression of anger.
I find myself angry at the Methodist Church's response to LGBTQI+ relationships and to Brexit. For the latter, despite the enormous changes this country will face in the coming Connexional year, we managed to get through a whole Conference barely mentioning it. It leads me to wonder whether the Conference of July 1939 even mentioned the possibility of war. Because Methodism has both remainers and leavers as members, we seem completely unable to engage in Brexit for fear of falling out. As we approach one of the biggest changes in the history of this country, the Methodist Church will struggle to say anything.
For the former, we are once again being forced to wait for the full recognition of same-sex relationships in the gift of marriage. Despite numerous consultations over three decades and more, we are told many in our congregations have not had 'the chance to discuss it properly'. When people express their emotions of disappointment and frustration at this delay, we are told we have no right to be angry, as if anger were an emotion we could choose to have.
Anger arises when people are afraid or hurt. It is a sign of injustice. But it is also the energy to resist that injustice. One writer argues that whilst we have minimal control over when we experience anger, we do have a choice over whether we are going to spend it or invest. The German reformer, Martin Luther, found that the energy of anger allowed him to work better:
Anger is not to be wasted.
Anger is not to be feared.
Anger is the energy to resist and overcome injustice.
Anger is the focus to achieve the vision of a better world.
Anger is the fuel for change.
Anger is a gift.