I write this as though it’s a rare occurrence when it’s really anything but occasional.
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.
Much like a Catholic parishioner at confession, I admit that I’ve been handling my outrage in perhaps an incorrect manner. Times are tough. It’s so hard for me to know what the correct response is in the face of what I see as gross negligence or willful ignorance at the cost of others’ lives and well-being, but I know the right response isn’t what I’ve engaged in.
I’m supposed to love people without reservation, and it used to be something I thought I was good at. Now, “love” doesn’t mean “enable” or “let go without correcting,” but it does mean going about things in a certain way and trying to see the best in others. For a while now, a section of the Bible has been on my heart, and even though I’ve been quite outspoken on social media, it’s stopped me from posting on numerous occasions during which, yes, it’s probably best I held my tongue. Matthew 18:15-17 reads:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. *ESV
Issues within the Church itself aside (for there are many), I get from that reading that we’re supposed to do these things in private first, and–from a psychological standpoint–calling people out over social media (even generally rather than attacking anyone specifically) really entrenches others in their views more than it convinces them of folly. At the same time, even our Lord and Savior engaged in righteous indignation:
15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.Mark 11:15-18 ESV
I know my outrage when it comes to racism, covid response, income inequality, etc. isn’t wrong in and of itself, because it stems from a love of people. I do love people, even now, even as we’re sinful beings who make constant mistakes and even as my faith in humanity is tested over and over again. The truth is, I don’t need faith in humanity to love it; I just need faith in God.
But this leaves me at an impasse, because I feel powerless in so many ways. I cannot go to each man and woman (especially now!) with evidence of how their choices are impacting others and hope they see reason. I cannot go back with witnesses to each person I see committing great folly at the cost of others’ lives. I cannot bring the matter before the Church–both because I do not trust my Church to condemn it (and that’s a problem, too) and because not all people are of the Church. Yet, I feel very strongly that I should not stay silent. Social problems often require a social response, and those responses are shaped by a collective people. When I ask myself, “What would Jesus do?” the answer isn’t, “Let people fend for themselves and on your own part do the same.”
So, what am I to do?
In Biblical times, I think Jesus may have been regarded much like a hippie of the 70s. He didn’t do religion and forgiveness “the established way,” and he stood up for what was right with–for the most part–peace and love. While I still don’t know exactly what that means for me, I know that I need to do some thinking on the subject.
I think that “peace and love” is what I’ve been missing for a while now. I am a sinful person, and that optimism and love I almost always effortlessly felt for the world is now frequently overtaken by negativity and sorrow. I think that, moving forward, I need to keep the sentiment LOVE emblazoned at the front of my mind any time I engage with the public on these issues that mean very much to me; that means love for victims and love for perpetrators, love for myself and for my ideological enemies. If I can do that, I think that both I and the small bubble of the world around me will be much better off for the restraint against my baser, less forgiving nature.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been all about justice. Things that were not right or fair have bothered me more than I can say, usually on the behalf of others. Processing these intense feelings as a teenager led me to writing worlds of fiction that sometimes explored the themes of justice, pain, and forgiveness. Even then, however, things were simpler. I was still a child, and as I became an adult seeing greater truthfulness about the world, accepting gray morality became easier. A lot of life is gray because the world isn’t perfect. We’re just asked to do the best we can. But some basic wrongs–those that hurt others without any justification (ex: collectively calling asylum seekers criminals and rapists or refusing to wear a mask on shaky principles)–are not gray, and I don’t expect they ever will be.
Having a strong sense of justice is not a sin, but it can lead to sin just as much as injustice can. Realizing this, it is once again through writing and quiet introspection with God that I find peace.
My Lord isn’t one who turns His back on sinful people. As a sinner myself, I should know. In fact, He celebrates each return to His grace with great joy. I cannot stress enough that I mess up constantly, but I am renewed each day to try again by the goodness of His forgiveness. In that spirit, I need to extend that same forgiveness to each person without justifying their stances. I need to speak with love and hold that love close to me. I need to pray that God moves mountains and brings people to His will. In the end, only God changes hearts. He may choose to use me if it fits His plans, but I cannot do it alone. Lashing out in anger gains me and those for whom I wish to speak nothing.
When faced with someone who’s mocking public health, my Christian heart needs to say, “I want to remind you that Jesus loves you more than you can comprehend. He will never abandon you, and he asks you to love your neighbor as yourself. Likewise, I also want to ask you to share a Christ-like love with your neighbors by wearing masks and practicing social distance, to really do your research academically and thoroughly, and not reject the expertise of the scientific and medical communities who have been tasked by God to protect people’s lives through their specific and unique gifts. I will try and do the same.”
When faced with someone who’s denying the reality of racism, my Christian heart needs to say, “Jesus is always there to listen to your cries. He holds every tear in His hand. Like Jesus, let us truly listen to the cries of others. In loving others, let us hear with open hearts before we make judgments, love all others as equal people, and recognize others’ lived experiences rather than lashing out in fear or misunderstanding. Let us remember that others’ experiences are not invalidated by our own. Let us focus on equability for the purposes of solidarity and love.”
When faced with the realities of our sinful world, my Christian heart needs to hold to Jesus rather than rage and stand up for others in love. I need to act for others and speak for others, but I need to do it with more affection than a human heart alone knows how to hold. I need to correct others in the same way that I wish to be corrected.
In the end, we must all remember:
7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.1 Peter 4:7-8 ESV
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:34-35
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Philippians 2:3-8 ESV
7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.1 Peter 5:7 NIV
*There is a lot to unpack with the “gentile and tax collector” part, but for the sake of coherency and staying on topic, I’m not going to do that in my writing today.