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How the Evangelical Teaching On Anger Affects The Manner in Which a Person Lives

righteous anger

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Ephesian 4:26

 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. James 1:20

Anger is a common human emotion. Each of us handles anger differently.  Some of us are quick-tempered, others internalize anger, and some of us count to ten or use other control techniques. No matter how anger affects us or how we deal with it, we’ve all been angry at one time or another.

People who says they never get angry are not being honest. Either they have a faulty view of what constitutes anger or they have deceived themselves about their emotions. Everyone gets angry.

Seeing a counselor on a regular basis has helped me to see that anger is a normal part of being human. For most of my life, I thought anger was a sin. If I got angry about something or someone I was sinning against God.

Most Evangelicals believe that there are two types of anger, fleshly or worldly anger and righteous anger. According to the Evangelical, fleshly or worldly anger is a sin against God. Righteous anger, however, is an anger to be desired and cultivated. Righteous anger occurs when the Christian hates what God hates. Of course, it is the Christian who, through his or her interpretation of the Bible, determines what and who God hates. When homophobic Baptist preachers are confronted over their anger towards and hatred of homosexuals, they often play the righteous anger card. In their mind, they are just loving what God loves and hating what God hates.

I find it interesting that what God loves and hates matches exactly with what the Evangelical loves and hates. Witness the culture wars with their vitriol and hatred. Culture warriors routinely say that they are just a mouthpiece for God. I find it strange that God talks out of his ass. Evangelicals are angry about all sorts of things that supposedly an affront to God: sin, worldliness, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, Barack Obama, abortion, Obama, sexual immorality, illegals immigration, Starbucks coffee cups, Barack Obama, nudity on TV, programs that mock Christianity. As offended Evangelicals rise up and vehemently shout their opposition, they are certain they speak for God and that their anger is of the righteous variety. Non-Evangelicals just see angry, hateful, offended people.

Evangelical preachers have a natural outlet for their anger. They can get up in the pulpit and rail against virtually anything and anyone and call it righteous anger. The preacher becomes God in the flesh, because he hates what God hates. Witness the preaching that goes on in many  Independent and Southern  Baptist churches. The preacher screams, hollers, stomps, spits, and hits the pulpit as he preaches against anything and everything he considers sin. Since the preacher’s sin list is exactly the same as God’s list,  his angry preaching is considered righteous anger. Again, Non-Evangelicals just see an angry, hateful, offended person.

I am a temperamental person.  I have red hair. Everyone knows redheaded people have bad tempers, right?  (Combine red hair with being a Baptist preacher; well that’s a perfect recipe for fireworks in the pulpit every Sunday.) As I entered the ministry, I learned that I had to “die to self.” i.e., I had to die to my anger.  I had to suppress my anger at all times. Any display of anger was a sin against God. I learned quickly that perception is reality. If I wanted to be seen by others as a “man of God” or as a “Holy Spirit filled preacher” I had to keep my temper under control at all times. No matter what anyone did to me I had to grin and bear it. No matter what anyone said to me I had to always keep my temper in check. Above all, I had to maintain my testimony.

Some of the nastiest people I have ever met were in church. People who were constantly critical felt it their calling to remind me of my deficiencies and failures. I’ve been abused by more than a few  Holy-Spirit-filled, Jesus-praising Christians. No matter what they said or what they did I was never allowed to show anger. And I was, to be sure, angry. Really angry. The anger was driven inward. When it bubbled to the top it usually made itself known to the people who I loved the most, my wife and children.

Behind closed doors I was allowed to be myself. I was allowed to be angry. Unfortunately,  my anger was misplaced. Instead of being angry with that pompous ass of a deacon or the bitch who thinks she controls the church, I was angry with my family. I transferred my anger from the people who should have received it, and took it out on those I love.

Now that I am no longer a Christian or a preacher I am free to be human again. Those who deserve my anger get it. I no longer try to suppress my emotions. There are things that SHOULD make me angry. My counselor tells me that to not be angry is abnormal. I am now free to be angry. Cut me off in traffic and I’m likely to wave at you. Show disrespect to me or to my wife and I am likely to let you know what I think about your opprobrium. I no longer have to  put up with people who feel their calling in life is to make others miserable,

It feels good to say to the cashier from hell, “do you normally treat everyone like shit?” It is refreshing to get angry with the refs when they blow a call and my team loses. It also feels absolutely wonderful to be able to express anger towards people like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh,  Donald Trump, and other right-wing zealots. Those who want to harm others deserve my anger, and now that Jesus is no longer looking over my shoulder, I’m free to pointedly say what I think about those who seem to think they are called in life to savage anyone who gets in their way.

I have found that anger has its place in my life. I’ve have also found that anger has its boundaries. If I want to practice mindfulness, I must learn to channel my anger into productive ventures. I’ve seen first-hand that living a life of constant anger will destroy a person, physically, emotionally, and mentally. But, so will trying to live as if anger doesn’t exist. I no longer concern myself with what God thinks. When anger is justified I allow myself to be angry. When it is not I try to realize it and act appropriately. My desire is to fully embrace my humanity.

What has been your experience with anger? For you who are no longer Christian,  how have you dealt with anger now that there is no Bible prohibition to deal with? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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9 Comments

  1. Avatar
    kittybrat

    Anger is the one of the toughest things I have dealt with in my life. As a woman, I was NEVER allowed to be angry, and I, too, took it out on the people I love. Thank you so much for this post.

    • Avatar
      howitis

      “Depression is anger turned inwards” — I don’t recall who said that, but I first heard it from my therapist when I entered treatment for depression and anxiety.

      Growing up in a fundamentalist, evangelical church, I was taught that girls and women must “keep sweet” in order to please Jesus, and that anger was a sign that you weren’t right with God. My mother went so far as to tell me that “boys don’t like angry girls. Anger makes you ugly, and you don’t want to be ugly.” So I denied and suppressed my anger, even in the face of some pretty horrible events in my childhood that I had every reason to be angry about. But rather than lash out at others, I turned on myself; depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, a suicide attempt.

      30 years later, after much therapy and despite walking away from a despicable, horrible church, I still struggle to manage my anger in a constructive way; I either take it out on myself or take it out on defenseless objects; I’ve broken a few windows, walls, dishes and glasses in my day (at least I’ve never taken it out on other people or animals.) Managing my anger is a daily struggle….and I can’t help but think it would not be, if I had only had a secular, rational upbringing instead of a superstitious, religious one.

      • Avatar
        kittybrat

        Oh, yes, if only.
        One of the great things that has helped me keep windows and dishes intact is to go inside my car with the windows rolled up. Then I can rant, rave, scream, cuss, cry, pound on the steering wheel, and everything I have to do to get it out. Works pretty well! Sure is better than keeping it in, which has, I’m sure, contributed heavily to my own battles with depression.

      • Avatar
        gimpi1

        I’ve largely had that secular upbringing, and I still have issues with anger. I have a bad temper, and like you, I take it out on objects. I’ve hit walls, thrown vacuum cleaners and smashed china. Like you, I never lash out physically at anything alive. However, I can be hurtful. I can upset people.

        Some of that is fine. I try not to hurt people, but sometimes a truth that needs to be told causes pain. Sometimes it’s better to upset someone to give them information that they really need. But sometimes I just lash out, and that’s not OK.

        While I was never told anger was a sin, I was told that it wasn’t something “nice girls” should display, except in “cute” ways. Honest anger at injustice, anger at being treated dismissively, anger at being made afraid, that was “unladylike.” Perhaps our upbringings weren’t that different after all.

        I still work on controlling my temper. Meditation helps. So does being sure to get enough sleep. Nothing shortens my fuse like being overtired. It also helps to have someone I can talk about things that upset me with. I’m fortunate to have a wonderful husband and good friends who let me vent periodically.

  2. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    I was never taught that women shouldn’t get angry, just that we shouldn’t show it; it was “unladylike”. The “ladylike” way of dealing with anger was to be a passive-aggressive bitch. I decided pretty early on that I didn’t like being on the receiving end of that, so I wasn’t going to dish it out. But that left me without any way to express anger. Since I was suffering from depression anyhow, it was easy to turn anger back onto myself; whenever there was a situation that might cause me to feel anger, it was because somehow I was wanting. I hadn’t been diplomatic enough. I hadn’t been understanding enough. I hadn’t appreciated the other person’s difficulty enough. And often it somehow boiled down to, I hadn’t read the other person’s mind, or I wouldn’t be angry with them. As you can imagine, I was pretty miserable.

    Meds and therapy have taught me that it is okay to feel anger, but it still makes me extremely uncomfortable. It still doesn’t take much to twist a situation around so that I’m the one in the wrong, and therefore my anger is unacceptable. It is slowly getting better as I work on it, but I’m very much a work in progress.

  3. Avatar
    Brian

    A soft anger turneth away wrath; grievous words stir up anger…. It goes something like that, as I recall, and it means that anger is bad and needs to be given to God. I used to believe that bullshit, full plop, not any deeper interpretation at all. My family held so much denial and its sister, anger, that there was widespread depression: What can there be when the system, the fucked up Christianity, denies the healthy expression of feeling and supports denial, supports giving it away, begging for God to change your self, your own self and make you into the trademark image that is acceptable and in actual fact pure and impossible fantasy. When you eat so much shit and take a Susan-Anne White hammer to yourself, your wicked, fallen self, there is no recourse but to get more and more rigid in your failure-faith, your endless efforts to be something you are not. The anger is your own body rebelling, taking on this and that and the other thing because you have no fucking life of your own where you can truly be, can just be, without judgement and failure. Oh, you can go to prayer meeting and multiple worship services and you can weep and carry-on but it is not true feeling; it is abreaction. It is true feelings put through the evangelical meat-grinder and supporting more denial. It is no different than tipping another shot of whiskey, finally.
    Here is what happened to me: As a preteen, I ripped my finger nails till I bled and scratched myself with sharps. I hated left and right but was a good Christian lad, never telling the truth but allowing the lie to be spouted around me and for me, year after year. As soon as I discovered marijuana in the late sixties, I became a sort-of smoker and lost myself in music and the dropping-out. I had by this time been baptized in the Baptist church but stopped attending. I felt such anger at my parents for their distance and their preachy ways but I was unable to tell them, just avoided them at all costs. When I went to college, I never really came home again and my anger still simmered and came out buried in sarcasm, sharp sarcasm in most directions. Anger and depression ruled my life in Christianity even though those who knew me in the faith thought I was a nice, quiet lad, a preacher’s son on the way to some lifelong service of God. You sound like your dad, many said to me. Have you considered becoming a preacher like him? Anger and depression were my constant companions, my inner voice. After stopping attendance and giving up on constantly trying to do it right (Christianity), I started to reinvent the Jesus, to imagine my own religion with the good guy, rather than constantly being forced to puke up the myriad existing flavors I had tried at churches here and there. I am sure many of us found that we ended up trying to make it all right for ourselves so that we could resist tossing the baby Jesus out with the bathwater. Of course, that was another step away from faith, done in the only fashion I could muster. I still believed but could not attend or share the belief without offending or being offended. Years along this road, I sometimes thought to myself that I seemed to simply not believe in God but I could not accept that for the longest time. I had to try to practice it, to say it in a mirror and wonder if it could be true. All the while, depression (with occasional meds) and anger lived with me and remained faithfully present in most of my life. One day, when I told the mirror I was an atheist, I felt happy, suddenly, gently content and happy. I remember crying, a weeping that was relief. It was like surfacing and feeling that it was possible to simply breathe. Therapy (not with Christians) has been a huge help to me. I took my anger online as part of a group of survivors who shared together in a blog started by an amazing psychologist named Alice Miller. I allowed myself to tell the truth about my life there, and I howled in anger and misery not only for myself but for others there who had trouble expressing their pain. I did what we called ‘child work’, going back in memory and just allowing whatever to come out and be…. it was greatly freeing for my emotions to be able to be a little kid again in a safe place, in a place where I was not punished for being full of feelings. I still hold a very special place in my heart for children and young people who are in situations where belief is extreme and where children are ‘trained up.’ I still have anger sometimes and quite often but it is pointedly specific and not at all global now. And I have no desire to put an end to it when I feel it any more than I want to stop laughing when laughing feels right. I believe being honest, not allowing the lie of belief in my life any longer has been very healing for me. Like Karen the rock whisperer I am very much a work in progress, 63 and counting. Like kittybrat I learned very early to be guilty about anger and I took it out on my family too, the people I loved.
    I love anger and laughing and crying and being able to be. Christianity was a tool of repression and painful suppression in my life and I broke free. I feel very fortunate, so lucky to have made it at this far. I am free to be human, as Bruce says for himself. What on earth more could there be for a human, than to be free to be… Christian proselytizers, save yourself and let me be.

  4. Avatar
    Charity

    Bruce,

    Thank you for allowing us to vent on your blog.

    I swear and I swear an awful lot. I sing, laugh and I hate to admit it, eat a good bit at times. That’s how I deal with anger. I was rarely happy the first four decades of my life because I was a religionist. Several years as an atheist later, I’m still angry. I’ve sought secular help from as far west as California, all the way to my home state of Tennessee. I haven’t gotten anywhere with those claiming to help people with RTS or from Recovering from Religion.

    I was raised by horribly abusive Jesus People parents. I graduated from CFNI Dallas between the Bakker/Swaggert scandals and the True Love Waits movement. Brownsville Assembly of God was my home Church for a couple of years. I’ve been Hope Chapel, Morning Star (originated from California), Full Gospel, Calvary Chapel, Missionary Alliance, Word of Faith, Non Denominational, Assemblies of God, Methodist, Southern Baptist and even temporarily apart of an IHOP type of Church. I assure you, I have a helluva lot to be angry about.

    I will say what helps me through it: Knowing that I’m not surrounded by a bunch of self righteous, gossipy, cackling hens anymore is always a relief. Certainty of my marriage to a good man who deconverted when I did. And getting the fuck out when our oldest just turned seven and just before our youngest’s fourth Birthday. That last one in particular keeps me going!

    • Avatar
      Charity

      Oh, and when my joints don’t hurt so much and my female health is not too bad, I book it on my treadmill. I don’t know what I like more, the adrenaline rush or the relief of sweating out my gripes. I wish I was in better health because I’d love to run more. I’m working on it.

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