I recently read about a fascinating exchange between some liberal seminary students and a religiously conservative Imam:
My first “welcome to America” moment occurred when I invited an imam to my Introduction to Islam class at Columbia Theological Seminary. The imam talked about the basic tenets of Islam for an hour and asserted, among other things, that Jesus is not the Son of God, denied that he was crucified, and maintained that the Bible has been falsified. My students listened respectfully throughout the lecture. When he paused and invited discussion, the students replied with rather timid and politically correct queries, at which point the imam said: “Why are you not asking me about jihad, about terrorism, women? I know you have all these questions. Why are you not asking me the hard questions?” So one student queried him about Islamic teaching on homosexuality. The imam answered by defining the practice as un-Islamic, not of God, unnatural. Suddenly, the faces of a good number of the students went red with shock and rage. I stepped in and gently steered the discussion away from the topic.
I recall a similar situation during an NYU All University Gospel Choir concert, perhaps ten years ago now. As was tradition for such concerts, songs were interspersed with various testimonies, often given by the emcee. All of these were politely received by the theologically mixed audience, except one: a young African American gave a testimony where he mentioned, almost off-hand, how he had been saved out of the gay lifestyle.
I don’t recall all the details, but you could tell the mood in the room had shifted to something between discomfort and outrage. One guest my roommate had invited, who I think was a seminary student at the time, was particularly offended.
Everyone has some sense of justice, and when it is sufficiently violated, it causes us to become angry. We become upset that the world is not the way it is supposed to be, or at least the way we want it to be. In this case of the gospel choir concert, people were offended that something they deeply value was not cherished as they thought it should be. Moments like these can tell us a lot about others–and ourselves.
Our defensiveness is a window into the soul. It is rather telling that the professed Christians at Columbia Theological Seminary cared more about sexual autonomy than whether someone honored the revealed character of God. That suggests a near total capitulation to secular moral values.
But using the anger diagnostic on others is easy enough. It is rather convicting when used on yourself.
I was recently quite defensive about an insult I received on social media. It wasn’t really all that different from any of the other condescending and smug responses that all too often characterize interaction between groups with differing ideology. Yet for some reason it cut deeply. Was it because of external circumstances (say, a lack of sleep from raising young children)? Or perhaps the accusation was particularly unjust? Whatever the reasons, my defensiveness signaled to me that I cared a great deal–and probably far too much–what some stranger on the internet thought of me.
Compare that to Jesus’ sense of justice. He had a finely tuned sense of anger; he was defensive about all the right things. He often absorbed slights to his honor (and even commanded us not to trade insult for insult), yet was incensed when the religious elite put spiritual stumbling blocks between regular Israelites and God.
Jesus’ anger showed his love for others–for his people. What about yours?