Wisconsin residents have experienced loads of controversy in the past weeks as our state government hashes out some radical budget changes. I’ve seen discussions on social networking sites get very heated. People are mad on both sides of the issues. Some of the signs carried by picketers are malicious and hateful because people don’t know what to do with their frustration. It’s impossible to escape the controversy because it affects us and so many of the people around us.
As I sorted through various messages about the budget issue in my e-mails and on my social networks, I noticed that some messages stood out from others. This wasn’t because they were especially nasty or outspoken, but because they were remarkably gracious. I noticed that some of the people most affected by the proposed changes were willing to speak kindly of their opponents and present their concerns in a gracious manner. They stood out like daisies in a patch of thistles.
It made me wonder, what should we do with our anger over social issues? How should we react as Christians if our rights are violated and our elected officials don’t handle things as we’d like? Or how should we respond if we’re on the opposite side of an issue from an angry neighbor or friend?
In the midst of a firestorm of angry posts on a social network, I posted a pledge that received more than twenty immediate positive responses as well as one or two negative ones. I said, “In the midst of our current crisis we will: 1) Not call names. 2) Not post derogatory or nasty remarks about either political party. 3) Treat those with opinions differing from our own with the grace that Jesus would give.”
It’s possible to stand up for our views without violating our Christian principles. We can disagree with political leaders and our opponents without calling names or making vicious remarks. Within the pews of my church every Sunday, we sit shoulder to shoulder as Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and members of the Tea Party. It’s obvious we’re going to have differences. But Ephesians 4:26-27 tells us not to sin by letting anger control us because it gives the devil a foothold.
The way we conduct ourselves when we are mad about social issues affects us spiritually more than it affects those who have angered us. When we allow anger to control our thoughts, it allows the devil to have a grip on our opinions and attitudes and opens the door for sinful actions. As believers in Christ, he commands us to get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander (Eph. 4:31). It’s so much easier said than done when an issue affects us deeply enough to flare anger.
However, it is possible to be angry without sinning. Jesus demonstrated it. Is it easy? No. Especially not when an issue affects our rights. We might try to convince ourselves that our anger is justified or righteous, but many of the issues that rile us most affect our wallets and bank accounts more than anything else. And our anger does nothing to further the kingdom of Christ.
When we examine what angered Jesus, it’s difficult to justify most of our own responses to social and political issues. In contrast, Ephesians 4:32 gives us instruction for how to conduct ourselves with others that contradicts our typical response to issues that raise our ire. “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (NLT).
God has shown us so much grace, yet it’s so tempting to disregard grace in the midst of a political debate. We’d rather be right than act righteously. It takes a lot of humility to set aside our desire to spew verbal venom and retaliatory insults. But remember how much God has forgiven us.
Wherever you stand on the current issues in Wisconsin, are you willing to pledge with me that you will make a habit of responding according to Jesus’ example of kindness and grace? We can make a humanitarian effort without becoming a bunch of hotheads.
Reprinted as it ran in Michelle's column in the March 2011 issue of Wisconsin Christian News.