Ed Stetzer on How Christians Can Stay on Mission in the Age of Outrage

Image: Pixabay/WenPhotos

Welcome to the age of outrage, my friend. Who knew that technology would empower some of our worst attributes instead of our best?

Twenty years ago, we didn’t Google things on our smartphones. Now, it’s instinctual. We search the web almost without thinking, accessing literal libraries of information on virtually any topic faster than we can type the keywords. I searched the web dozens of times writing this one piece.

With today’s technology, we can communicate instantly and continuously, whether we’re facing a life-or-death crisis or just want to satisfy a curiosity. In the 1980s, American Express warned card users, “Don’t leave home without it.” Today, it seems we can’t leave home without our phones. Most days, I would more readily return home to get my phone than my wallet. We can — and feel we must — remain constantly connected with friends, family, co-workers and, well, the world.

Yet the devices that allow us to communicate with everyone anytime we want oftentimes drive us further apart. Technology has created interpersonal opportunity, but also depersonalized communication and conflict, dividing many of us from our neighbors.

The comments sections on YouTube are a greater testament to human depravity than all the reformers’ doctrines combined. Arguments, bullying, conspiracy theories, vitriol and irrational cesspools of misinformation and misdirection abound in our digital communication and marketplace. There is outrage everywhere — sometimes targeting Christians, but, unfortunately, often coming from Christians.

We live in a world where our beliefs are increasingly odd and even offensive. But, as Christians, we must allow the Holy Spirit to guide our response. You see, Christians are indeed on the receiving end of this outrage machine. However, I also see churchgoers contributing to and participating in much of the online hostility and misinformation. Our digital outrage damages our witness to the world daily. It seems like people who claim to be Christians are often the worst at spreading false or inaccurate information.

There is indeed much to be concerned about in our world, and some issues deserve our indignation, even anger. Christ followers should grieve and mourn over suffering and injustice, even as we advocate and strive for change in the world.

But when is Christian anger warranted? And when does outrage defame the name of Jesus and undermine our witness? When are we righteously overturning the tables of the money changers, and when are we just wreaking havoc concerning our pet peeves? These questions do not have easy answers, but they deserve our consideration if we want to be faithful disciples of Christ.

Much of our world seems awash in division and hostility. Outrage surrounds us, and we must decide how to navigate these new and often-dangerous waters. We don’t get to pick the time we are born or the issues we face in our day. While conflict is universal to all generations, we live and minister in a unique time. Outrage spreads like a disease across our digital platforms, and Christians are not immune. How do we respond in a way that honors Jesus? We can begin by acknowledging three realities.

Drawn to Outrage

First, people have a natural inclination toward outrage. Christians are no exception; in fact, we often contribute to it.

In Christians in the Age of Outrage, I highlight the story of Caleb Kaltenbach, who in 2013 tweeted a picture of a Bible displayed at a Costco store. He found it funny and ironic that the Bible was apparently mistakenly displayed in the store’s fiction section. After the photo received hundreds of retweets, major news sources picked up the story. As I explain in the book:

Leading with the headline ‘Costco — The Bible Is Fiction,’ Fox News promoted the idea that Kaltenbach had uncovered a conspiracy against Christians and the Bible. Kaltenbach was even quoted as characterizing the store’s decision to group the Bible with fiction as “bizarre.”

In minutes, The Drudge Report picked up the story and Christians worked themselves into an outrage over the perception of this insult with cries of boycott in the air. Suddenly a labeling error that listed Bibles as fiction had become a covert theological statement on the very nature of Scripture. What likely happens hundreds of times in bookstores every day had become an insidious spark that unleashed Christian outrage against Costco.

Kaltenbach was not outraged. He believed, and Costco confirmed, it was a shelving error. But his story — caught up in an outrage cycle — is much more complex. You see, Kaltenbach was raised by a same-sex couple. He became a Christian, changed his views, was eventually disowned, and years later saw his biological father and mother eventually come to Christ. I’ve had Kaltenbach in my home, and found him far from being an outraged Christian. He is generous, caring and kind. His book, Messy Grace: How a Pastor With Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction, is filled with wisdom and — you guessed it — grace!

Nevertheless, Kaltenbach’s conversion and family did not make the news. His Costco tweet did, because people are drawn to outrage. It was primarily Christians who drove that outrage — outrage based on misinformation. But who cares about facts when you can have outrage? We like the fire.

It seems someone is always fanning the flames of outrage somewhere. Why? Because offense attracts our interest. It’s human nature. We like to think of ourselves as the offended party in need of receiving forgiveness or the party able to exact an apology on behalf of someone else.

A Better Way

Second, most outrage is not righteous anger. Many people harbor outrage they think is righteous anger, because our culture often confuses the two. This is harmful for Christians and the world alike.

My wife and daughter recently became stranded in an airport parking garage at 2 A.M. when a car rental staff refused to acknowledge their reservation or offer even a modicum of accommodation. My anxiety rose as I tried, from hundreds of miles away, to get someone to help my family. I wanted to blast my outrage across the web to my quarter of a million Twitter followers.

But the Holy Spirit helped me focus on what would be productive rather than instantly gratifying. The car rental agency’s poor customer service was frustrating, rude and inexplicable. Yet I had to admit that it didn’t warrant righteous anger. So, I politely reached out online, and the folks at their Twitter account helped — perhaps in part because I did so rationally.

Righteous anger is directing our emotions and our passion of angst toward the things that make God angry. God is completely perfect, holy and separate from sin and brokenness. In short, God is righteous by his very nature and character. Whoever God is, and whatever God does, is right. What goes against the nature and character of God is unrighteous. And anger over those things that violate the nature and character of God is righteous, because it longs for the things God longs for in His righteousness.

While remaining perfectly in control, Jesus addressed brokenness, suffering and injustice with boldness, always with a righteous indignation and anger against sin. Being the perfect Son of God, he hates anything that goes against his character and the character of his Father. This is the same Jesus who cleansed the temple: “He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts” (John 2:14).

Click here to read more.
Source: Christianity Today