I find myself drawn to Donald Trump’s Twitter feed like a moth to a fire. As he pours scorn and judgement and accusations on others, if I’m honest, I look for opportunities to do the same to him. It’s so easy to build up in myself a bank of anger against the injustice I see, and for that to control my character.
I’ve thought a lot recently about how we rage against inequality without allowing hate to eat us. American-born actor, playwright and activist Athena Stevens, gave me three pieces of advice. Firstly we must recognise that we are no “better” than the other party – we all very much need grace. Secondly we should refuse to put our identity in being known as a “good” person. Finally, we should refuse to allow our contempt to shut down the other party.
As an antidote to Trump’s tweets I recently finished Naomi Klein’s book on defeating shock politics “No Is Not Enough”. In it she issues the unexpected challenge to “kill our inner Trump”. We all need to acknowledge our own Trump-like tendencies: defensiveness in the face of criticism, joining a mob in piling scorn on an individual, or what about seeing ourselves as commodities, not community members? This idea of killing this inner-Trump is a delightfully Christian one: we are reminded throughout the Bible to work on our own character before we work on our carefully thought through criticisms of others. I was struck again by the story of the woman who is accused of being an adulterer. In John 8 we read that the woman is brought to Jesus to be condemned. Jesus bends down to write in the sand. A simple act of solidarity that took the attention away from the woman. “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” Jesus says. One by one, they leave, until only this woman is left. “Go and sin no more,” Jesus says. Each person left that day with some work to do on their heart. Isn’t it the same for us?
So I return again to my old conviction, to spend more time with God, before I act, and when I do act, to act in hope, not in judgement. To ask those important questions: am I becoming self-centred and virtue signalling, or am I putting the way of Jesus first? Do I acknowledge that God’s redemption work isn’t finished in me yet, just as it isn’t finished in the world? Is my rage a righteous one or a judgemental one?
We must resist injustice, and we must be transformed, and with God’s help we can do them both at the same time.
For more on rage as a spiritual virtue, check out our podcast interview with Dante Stewart a few weeks ago.