“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.”
There is little benefit in denying it: it’s an election year. When faced with the promise of rants, rails, and generalized anxiety, there is a large portion of my being that longs for nothing but to go hide under a rather large rock until the storm passes.
Being United Methodist, it is also a tumultuous year, as 2016 marks the year of our quadrennial General Conference, a time every four years in which the entire, international body of United Methodists come together to worship, commune, and, perhaps the most arduous of all the tasks: work out the logistical details of our life together.
It is the only time when The Book of Discipline, the book that helps pastors and lay leadership alike order the life and theology of the church, can be altered. It is also the only time that the United Methodist church can “speak” as a whole body, whether it be on something as dry as paid medical leave policies or something as central as the divinity of Christ.
This year promises to be another tense one as both ends of the conservative and liberal divide come to clash heads once again concerning the LGBT community and the theological and pragmatic issues regarding marriage and ordination.
Neither side has behaved particularly well regarding this issue. Emotions and convictions run high, and with good reason as this is a hefty theological decision that has weight for people on both sides.
In fact, emotions ran so high that a group of protesters supporting full inclusion stormed the “chancel” at the 2004 General Conference and, among other chaos, picked up a communion chalice and smashed it to pieces.
Portions of the conservative end of things have not behaved well, either. People have chosen judgment over empathy to the detriment of communication. Blanket accusations and fear abound, which is in part what led to the broken chalice and multiple arrests at previous General Conferences for disorderly conduct.
How on earth did we get here? Wesley called us to “holy conferencing,” which has unfortunately turned into anything but holy, unless you count “holy war” as an option, which I do not.
Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians to “put away all malice” and to “be angry, but do not sin” is as much a letter to the people in Ephesus as it is to the people in America who are slaves to the hot, relentless fire of anger, United Methodist or otherwise.
Anger is very healthy. Paul asserts that we can, in fact, be angry and not sin. That is, we can be angry and not let our anger hurt others or take the place of legitimate action. Anger is a protective, primal emotion. It is an instigator meant to provoke us to act. It is the “fight” of “fight or flight.”
However, using anger as a substitute for discourse or action is where the line is drawn. Sinful anger is anger that breaks instead of anger that seeks to understand or solve. In a hot political climate, it looks like short, terse statements of absolute fact when really, what we are stating is opinion. Anger looks like proving that we are right without listening to the other side and balancing the options.
We would all fail debate class, I am afraid.
Healthy anger is civil. It disagrees, it might raise its voice, it is usually very opinionated, but it is never a weapon. Its ultimate goal is to find a path forward through the fear, pride, or whatever else is fueling the fire.
Healthy, holy anger does not externalize internal fears or anxieties and then project them on other people. Holy anger is a direct response to a direct situation. It does not drag anyone and everyone who looks like the problem into it. It does not try to “stack the deck” against a person or situation to make itself look better.
Holy anger looks for a way forward with the hopes of keeping all of its traveling companions together.
Sinful anger looks for its own way and cares more about its own interests than that of its traveling companions.
It’s time to put down the swords, stop throwing chalices at each other, and pick up the ploughs. It is time to get to work, finding a way to be in community with one another, even if we are on opposite ends of the political (or United Methodist) spectrum.