The Angry Christian Syndrome


When did Christians become so angry?

Seriously, I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately.

I’m a Christian blogger. I read a lot of Christian blogs and news sites. And it seems no matter what the topic or perspective, if you read through the comment sections you will inevitably land on a few responses that are just really angry. Sometimes they’re downright vitriolic.

The conservatives are mad at the liberals, the progressives are mad at the fundamentalists, the Calvinists are ticked off at the Wesleyans, the Baptists are angry with the Catholics, the young-earthers are mad at the secular humanists…you get the point.

Now, before I go to far, I have to admit that I have certainly been guilty of these types of knee-jerk reactions myself when I read something that comes from a perspective with which I disagree. There is an element of human nature involved here that’s hard to overcome.

I’ve also been on the other end of it. Once a leader in a church where I was scheduled to speak tried to get the pastor to un-invite me because of an article I had written in support of gay rights. In this person’s mind, my position on one issue with which they disagreed disqualified me to teach the gospel at all.

Never mind that that particular issue had nothing even remotely to do with what I was speaking about. If I was wrong about that, I couldn’t be trusted to talk about anything. I had made someone I didn’t even know angry because I had a different perspective about one very specific idea. For all I know, we could have agreed on every other single point of doctrine. But it didn’t matter. In this person’s view, I was simply…wrong.

Here’s the thing. Most of us stumble around in this world under the delusion that the things we believe are right and true, which of course makes every other point of view, by default, wrong and false. And we become very emotional and defensive when our views are challenged.

Because what we hold to be “right” and “true” is very deeply connected to our sense of identity. Especially when it comes to our religion. What we believe comes to define who we are.

Perhaps the reason we’re so threatened by dissenting opinions when it comes to our faith is that the stakes seem so high. After all, we’re talking about the eternal disposition of our souls here, right?

Because if what I believe about God and Jesus and faith and Christianity isn’t true, I’m screwed.

And so, in a way, it’s no wonder that we get so defensive. We shouldn’t be surprised that emotions run so high.

And yet, that response is far from the model of Jesus.

If you read the Bible—and I mean really read it, study it, attempt to understand it on its own terms—you will be hard-pressed to find Jesus to be anything other than inclusive, compassionate and gracious.

Yes, Jesus had disagreements with others in his time…almost always with the religious elite who were anything but inclusive, compassionate and gracious. The ones who were most certain they were right.

But even in those disagreements, you see Jesus attempting to draw them into his way of seeing the world. He gives them every opportunity for reconciliation and redemption.

If he became impatient, it was certainly because they of all people should have known better. But their self-serving agendas had gotten the better of them. They couldn’t afford to be wrong. They had staked everything on being right.

I love the way Mark Burnett and Roma Downey portrayed this scene of Jesus cleansing the temple in their mini-series The Bible which aired earlier this year. It’s a compelling alternative to the way Jesus is usually visualized in this critical moment in his ministry:

Rather than showing Jesus in a fit of rage, they showed him just sort of matter-of-factly walking through the the temple courts, disrupting what he obviously found offensive but what in all likelihood saddened, more than angered him.

Clearly this is just one possible interpretation, but to me it really resonates with who the scriptures portray Jesus to be.

We’re always going to have disagreements in this world. We all see life from different points of view. We all have unique experiences that shape reality and our perspective of truth.

While what we believe is certainly integral to our identity, what really defines us is how we treat others, especially those with whom we disagree. We can respond with anger and indignation, or we can respond with charity and grace.

One response does little more than maintain the status quo.

The other can change the world.

One thought on “The Angry Christian Syndrome

  1. I think you’re actually making two points, related specifically to the internet and then more generally to Christian culture and the church.

    I think some of the anger here on the internet, comment sections and the blogs also come from the anonymity people enjoy here. For all the talk of community on the internet, there’s so very little real community, because if people felt genuinely connected to others, they’d probably take more care in their words.

    A helpful question for me is. . . “What would my friends/daughters/wife say if they read this comment?” I think this question helps place my comments in the context of community.

    Another helpful question for me is. . .”Where does my anger come from?” I’ve come to understand that it often comes from insecurity and fear. It’s my way of showing control over a situation.

    Christians often excuse themselves by claiming righteous anger, or saying “didn’t Jesus show righteous anger?” It’s interesting that Christians are much more willing to err on the side of anger than on the side of love. From my own personal perspective, I would much rather err on the side of love. As you point out this would be more consistent with the way Jesus handled conflict.

    Jesus didn’t say, get angry with those people who persecute you or who strike you, he said, “bless them” and “turn the other cheek.” It’s a very different ethos, than the one we see today.

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