Charity and Outrage Culture
When I was a teenager in a dispensational evangelical church, I had a guilty secret: I didn’t really want the Rapture to happen. Definitely not before I had been kissed by a boy, and preferably not before I’d had sex. I always felt guilty about my lack of enthusiasm for the return of Christ. I did love Jesus; I just didn’t see much appeal in his return, the destruction of the earth, and a blissful but marriage-less existence in heaven.
Both age and moving away from dispensationalism changed this for me. Simply having more life experience, more awareness of the sin and brokenness in the world, made me more aware of our need for Christ’s return. And N.T. Wright’s vision of the kingdom of God, a place in which justice and mercy abound and all wrongs are made right, gave me a more profound and attractive picture of what happens when Jesus brings about his kingdom.
In my new understanding of the kingdom, I also see God’s kingdom as something I’m working towards, not simply waiting for. Not in the sense that I have to earn it, but in the sense that my efforts towards peace, justice, reconciliation, mercy, and love — no matter how imperfect — bring a foretaste of God’s kingdom and will, somehow, remain part of the kingdom when it arrives in fullness.
But at this point, I image that my readers are wondering if I’ve put the wrong title on this blog post: what does this kingdom of Christ have to do with outrage culture and charity?
For those of us in the United States, we’ve seen the rise of outrage culture over the last several years, exacerbated by last year’s presidential election. The 24-hour news cycle and the immediacy of social media fuel outrage on both the left and the right about any number of events or ideas. The outrage is often manufactured, although the injustices and evils are often real. And for those of us who long for Christ’s kingdom and who want to work towards the peace, justice and reconciliation of that kingdom, it can be hard not to get caught up in the outrage.
And outrage and anger aren’t always wrong responses to injustice in the world. Anger can alert us that something is not right, that injustice or oppression or violence is occurring; anger is a natural response to the wrongness of evil in the world. But anger is also exhausting and unsustainable. This exhaustion is exacerbated by the cycle in which we’re distracted from our anger by something new to be angry about. We end up jaded and cynical, caught in the outrage cycle without an exit.
And so we stew in anger that grows into bitterness, cynicism or a feeling of profound helplessness in the face of so much evil in the world. We end up numb to the injustices that once made us angry.
So the question arises: how can we keep a tender heart towards the injustices and evils in the world without burning out on anger and outrage? Because as Christians who long for the coming of Christ’s kingdom and who believe that we are to work towards that kingdom, we can’t ignore the evil in the world. We can’t sit back and wait for it all to burn, or for Jesus to rescue us; we are to be Christ in the world, to feed the hungry and comfort the hurting.
I don’t have easy steps to avoid outrage, but I have one suggestion: practice charity.
Not the donating used clothing sort of charity, but the charity of faith, hope and charity — the charity that is profound love. Outrage culture thrives when we have an “Other” to rage against — someone or some group that represents everything that is wrong with the world. Charity approaches that “Other” as a beloved child of God. Maybe a deeply misguided or even abusive child of God, but a child of God nonetheless. Remember that our struggle is not against people but against powers, and that we are to love our enemies just as we love our friends.
Responding to outrage with charity doesn’t mean that we ignore injustices; charity doesn’t ask us to pretend that evil doesn’t matter. But charity gives the nameless other a face and an identity: child of God. This charity towards others will inevitably temper our outrage. It takes work to see those with whom we disagree as worthy of God’s love and ours, but this work is necessary if we want to be free from the cycles of outrage. To be clear, we may still be angry, and rightfully so, because of different events or actions; we will still work against evil. But we can’t sustain both outrage and charity, and it is clear which one Jesus calls us towards.
Above all, we must remember that even as we work in the already-but-not-yet kingdom of God, we rely on God, not ourselves, to ultimately redeem the world. We may have reason for anger, but we have no reason for hopelessness. Our labor will not be in vain, even when it seems we make little headway against the evils of the present age. Outrage is an easy but shallow response to the wrongs we see around us. Faith, hope and charity are harder — but better by far.