For those of you who are upset about the ascendancy of Donald Trump, here’s a little quiz. Of the two items listed below, which is an imperative from the Bible and which is a demand from a Facebook comment stream?
A. "Be angry, and yet do not sin;"
B. “Get over it. Grow up. You lost fair and square.”
(For a brief exegesis of Ephesians 4:26 (NASB), including what it means to "not let the sun go down on your anger," see end notes)
On Wednesday, I grieved. I was sad. Thursday was an angry day. I drove out to Junction City—an hour round trip—to run an errand for my daughter which I had hoped would cheer her up. My new phone was not yet set up for iTunes and I didn’t want to listen to the radio news, so it was initially silent in the car, at least until I let loose. I then used the type of language that I can only trust God with. When I got back home, my daughter’s gratitude dissipated some of my anger, and the sadness again was waiting for me. My wife Robynn however, who had been sad when I left, was now listening, on repeat, to a 2006 hit single from the Dixie Chicks. She was in an angry phase.
If you have alternated between grief and anger, I bless you. I know how you are feeling. Return to this blessing please, as often as you need, especially when your family and friends or Christian leaders tell you to “Get over it. Grow up. Accept it. Move on.” Additionally, stay under this blessing if you are receiving cloying bouquets of platitudes about “God is on the throne,” or “we must pray for our leaders.” I know you know those things are true. What these people—even the most well-meaning among them—don’t realize is that you have had a death in your family—something has died for you, even in you. “Yeah, crooked Hillary has died. Good riddance. It’s called 290 electoral votes, and its happened to 57 other people in our nation’s history, so just get over it.” For those of you who genuinely supported Hillary Clinton in her own right, I am sorry and I bless your grief. For you and so many more of us, the death has only a little to do with Hillary Clinton, and we pray that our family and friends can finally fling away their anti-Hillary glasses through which they perceived so much of what Trump said, did, or stands for. We are grieving the death of an ideal for America, the death of our self-image as Americans and as American evangelicals, the death of a certain set of hopes for the future, the death of civility, etc. The list could go on, because all deaths in the family are personal. It could be something we had hoped for our daughters, our black or Latino friends, our Muslim friends, immigrants, or refugees. Many of my personal friends are grieving Dr. Trump’s diagnosis—Kevorkian-like—about climate change. I met with one young man on Friday who grieved that his parent’s support of Trump meant that his mom and dad—whom he loves dearly—don’t even seem to make an attempt to understand him and his siblings. That is a cruel death.
What is additionally infuriating about the insensitivity of exhortation, platitude, or abuse, is that it seems to be a continuation of one of the very things that we railed against during the campaign. Donald Trump was explicit in his appeal to Americans: “We are going to win so much. We are going to win so much that you may even get tired of winning.” He was explicit in his appeal to evangelicals: “You’ve lost power.“ He’s going to help evangelicals win again, but showed little to no interest in what should biblically constitute a victory for the Gospel, the euangelion. He treated the election like a game. Newt Gingrich, two days after the election, said of Trump’s promised wall: “He may not spend much time trying to get Mexico to pay for it. But it was a great campaign device." Gingrich is okay with empty game-winning campaign devices; are you? No, because an American election is not the Super Bowl. The American Experiment is not a Wimbledon match. Points on the scoreboard are tallied in lives lost, injustices perpetuated, and hopes crushed. In 1994, the Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup to the New York Rangers in Game 7, fair and square. Some fans broke out in rioting. In such a case, I would be saying, “Grow up. Get over it. It’s only a game.” But I wouldn’t say that to the protestors in Portland on Wednesday night. To the protestors who gave themselves over to violence as rioters, for sure, I would say: “. . . Do not sin.” But I nonetheless bless the “Be angry” portion of their protest. Proto-fascism is not a game.
For those who find themselves grieved and angry about the election of President-elect Trump, what do you believe about his victory? Depending on your answer to that question, I would hope that your emotions would correspond with your convictions. This morning, I was reading in a collection of Martin Luther King’s speeches that I found at a used book store in Canada last month. I read his first speech as the newly chosen leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association (Dec 5, 1955). Rosa Park had been arrested four days earlier and the blacks of Montgomery intended to strike something so small (?), something so ambiguous (?), something so legally sanctioned (?), something so historically accepted (?) as one black lady failing to move a few seats back. King called out:
And we are not wrong, we are not wrong in what we are doing. (Well) If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. (Yes sir) [Applause] If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. (Yes) [Applause] If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. (That’s right) [Applause] If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to earth. (Yes) [Applause] If we are wrong, justice is a lie. (Yes) Love has no meaning. [Applause] And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water (Yes) [Applause], and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Keep talking.) [Applause]
The audacity of Martin Luther King! What about you? Were you wrong in opposing Donald Trump’s election? Were you wrong in taking a stand against proto-fascism with its sexism, racism, xenophobia, it’s idolatry of Money, Sex, and Power? If you were, then, yes, grow up, get over it. If not, then “be angry and sin not.” This morning before I left to do this writing, I asked my wife, who is a trained spiritual director, “Tell me everything you know about anger.” Here are my notes from her wisdom: Anger, like all emotions, is morally neutral. And anger is just an emotion. It is not YOU. It is something that your essence—that which is created in God’s image—is experiencing, and which you can even choose to use, as I’ll describe shortly. What this means is that you can actually step out and look at your anger, and be curious about it as something separate from yourself. Anger is also considered a secondary emotion, meaning that there is often something hiding behind that emotion, likely fear, or loss, or fear of loss. All emotions act as invitations—to meet Jesus there and ask him, “Lord, what do you want to say to me HERE?” Because anger can be a secondary emotion, it is also an invitation to explore what might be hiding behind the anger. Jesus will meet you there too. Anger is also an emotion that can be used. Some people choose to use it in violent and destructive ways, directly or indirectly against others or against their own selves. This is called being angry and sinning. But you can also choose to use it to defend the defenseless, in the employ of justice. This is called being angry and sinning not. One final thing: anger is also classified as an “uncomfortable emotion,” unlike the emotions of peace or joy for example. For many, it is not enjoyable to be angry. The purveyors of shame know this, especially regarding women. So for every woman who has been scolded this week for being angry, who have been derided as one of those “nasty women,” I bless what you are feeling. Hold the shame at arms length. And while we are on the subject of shame, I feel we need to fortify ourselves because we are already, soon, and eventually will be the targets of millions of guilty consciences. (Indeed, King understood this reactionary response as the main hope of Nonviolent Resistance’s success.) Already I have heard people say that your anger is somehow “calling them names” or “accusing them of being racists” or that your anger is just another “misguided defense of Hillary,” when you mentioned nothing of the sort. (I’ve read your posts and will verify this.) Your anger is your anger. Their being implicated by it is their problem, not yours. Or rather, it’s their invitation to ask: “Jesus, what do you want to tell me about my being so angry about other people’s anger?”
Our grief and our anger, as all emotions do, will pass over time, and will pass when God no longer wants to use them in their current manifestation in our lives. In the meantime, we all need safe places to grieve. In other words, if you are one of those people who have donned a safety pin to communicate to the oppressed or fearful that you are a safe person for them, reserve a portion of that safety pin to communicate to yourself. Find a safe place. I found a safe place in the command of Scripture to “be angry and sin not.” I found a safe place in my conversations with trustworthy friends like Robynn or Tim or John or John. I found a safe place in my soundproof car. And I have found a safe place in art. If you’ve seen me on Facebook in the aftermath of this very wrong election, I was sad when I turned to Mahalia Jackson’s rendition of “Take My Hand, Precious Jesus,” the hymn that Martin Luther King used to request of her whenever he was discouraged. I was then angry and so I turned to the poetry of Langston Hughes, “Make America Again.” The next time I was sad, additionally by the death of Leonard Cohen on that same day, I listened repeatedly to his secular lament, “Everybody Knows.” And when again angry, I joined Robynn and we pushed play on the Dixie Chicks great anthem, “Not Ready to Make Nice.” The title of this post “Shut Up and Evangelize” is our take on what Robynn and I are hearing as evangelical Christians and as missionaries. It is a play on the title of the documentary about the Dixie Chicks called “Shut Up and Sing,” which itself is a reference to what was repeatedly yelled at them outside their concerts or over the airwaves of country music stations.
In 2003, the Dixie Chicks were the country band at the top of the charts, including with their suitably-patriotic hit single “Travelin’ Soldier.” Meanwhile, President George W. Bush was taking the world back into war on the questionable evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Protests were underway in Europe where the Dixie Chicks were touring. “No blood for oil,” people were yelling. The lead singer Natalie Maines leaned into the mic at a concert in London and said, “Just so you know, we're on the good side with y'all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” The comment got reported back to the press in the United States, and future Trump supporters went ballistic. Natalie Maines, Martie Erwin Maguire, and Emily Erwin Robinson paid the price for their exercise of free speech. Bill O’Reilly chose to use his freedom of the press to say on his show, “These are callow, foolish women who deserve to be slapped around." (You want to know where the seeds of the proto-fascist Alt-Right were first sown, begin your investigation here.) Finally, before a show in Dallas, the Dixie Chicks received a death threat serious enough to mobilize the FBI and the Texas Rangers.
Three years is a long time. By the end of 2005, the trio was back in the studio looking at an uncertain future. A sympathetic male songwriter had approached Maines with a conciliatory tune, a possible track on their new album. Hmm. “Forgive, sounds good,” Maines would admit in the first line of the song that she would eventually write for herself, but, “Forget, I'm not sure I could/They say time heals everything/But I'm still waiting.” Robynn and I are also still waiting—and still occasionally listening to “Not Ready to Make Nice.” It may be a mark of Robynn’s progress through anger and grief that she prefers the Dixie Chicks’ performance at the Grammys over their video, which she finds too dark, but if you like the video instead. . . God bless you. We look forward to greeting each other on the far side of grief and anger.
Endnote: Exegesis of Ephesians 4:26
The English phrase "Be angry" is an imperative, but translators question whether it might be better interpreted as a conditional, concessive or permissive imperative, such as "If you are angry. . ." Either interpretation supports the argument of this article. In the one case, Scripture affirms that there are some things worth getting angry over; in the other, it allows that "anger happens," and that in both cases, the important thing is not to sin. The second half of the verse reads "do not let the sun go down on your anger" and seems to indicate that a temporal limitation is appropriate for anger, but at least gives that responsibility to the person, and not to Facebook commentators to impose. Some interpret this phrase literally. Think of the poor young married couple who add sleeplessness to trying to resolve their latest spat. Since the phrase is stated proverbially, some interpret it as wisdom, as good advice. Anger is a risky place to linger if, as per the next verse, your conversation with Jesus isn't drowning out the devil's opportunistic voice. The word "anger" in 26B, parogismos (Strong #3950), is different than the noun form of "angry" of 26A, orge (Strong #3790). It seems to be an exhortation to quickly deal with "the cause of your provocation," particularly if, as hinted at in context, a chance presents to reconcile with a brother or sister in Christ. All in all, it's a grammatically challenging verse for interpreters. Be suspicious of it in the mouths of known purveyors of shame.