Outrage can be a useful prophetic gift when used rightly and timely. Elijah, for instance, reserved his anger for the Ahabs and Jezebels of his world while bringing consolation to a widow and child. Jesus reserved his outrage to the false religious leaders while providing comfort to the weak and hungry in Israel. Outrage can be useful, but if everyone and every issue are worthy of outrage, we discern poorly.
H.L. Mencken was right when he noted that “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” There is plenty in the world, the flesh, and the devil to demand our sacred violence. But Twitterdom has turned outrage into a gimmick; a cheap ticket to the best seats at the Superbowl. Outrage is the greatest rage out there. The problem with unremitting outrage is that while bringing out the crazies to your defense–after all, crazies love’m some outrage–it limits the Gospel to self-righteous angry outbursts.
But the Gospel is so outrageous on the topic of outrage that it outrageously limits our outrage. “Be gentle as doves and wise as serpents,” Jesus said as he sends us out to the wolves. I suspect wolves quickly devour doves, but gentle doves are subtle. They reserve their bows and coos for the right occasions. Their gentleness wins over the enemies. They disarm the wolves’ expectations.
Similarly, the serpent is cautious in its approach. The snake doesn’t attack without carefully studying the opponent. Calvin writes that serpents know that they are hated, so they do not rush heedlessly to danger. You may think your outrage is the noblest form of Gospel expression; you are bold enough to head on towards danger, but all the enemy sees is your “God Hates Fags” t-shirt.
Overused outrage diminishes our ministry. It shuts the doors of the enemies. It ends the conversation before it starts. It hinders our Gospel message. It’s unwise and unkind. The Gospel message is bold not because of its bullying, but because of its balance. Loud does not mean more effective. Just the opposite may be true.
The reason Fundamentalism lost their soul in the process of their proclamation is that they demanded speedy moral and cultural results without the careful, deliberate method of engaging, persuading, praying, hosting, and loving others. Most modern outrage is a form of addiction accentuated by social media which needs to be carefully analyzed in our day. We chastise evangelical groups who made their mission appealing to the masses through sexy ads and strategies fit for businesses, but now we are amusing ourselves to death one outrage at a time treating our sins as more dignified than “theirs.”
This is even more pronounced within Christian communities. We outrage first and ask questions later. A harsh word stirs up anger, Solomon says. The alternative to harsh words is not outrageous words, but a gentle answer. The Bible extols gentleness, careful pronouncements to those in the household of faith. The failure of our Christian conversations is that we throw mud at our own expecting our white shirts to be untouched by dirt. But outrage is vicious because it is addictive. And before we know it, our entire environment is composed of statutes of outrage. “Look, isn’t his outrage something worthy of admiration!” ‘Doesn’t he outrage with preciseness!” Thus, we create divisions on the basis of our indignation. Group A is not as holy as we are. Their outrage is a 1 in the Richter scale. How outrageously pitiful his holiness must be!
Lest one thinks I am in the contra outrage party, I actually like to walk across the aisle to speak with my friends. I like to think they hear me in the midst of their cacophony of outrage. But sometimes they are just too loud, and their points are clouded by their rage. I like a good dose of outrage. Like a fine single malt Scotch, it needs to be sampled slowly. Too much of it, and it no longer becomes a gift, but a vice. It can be a great prophetic gift as long as we don’t confuse Ahab with faithful brother George.