Sometimes directed, sometimes contained, something akin to a simmering pot of water on the brink of a boiling release. It's both uncomfortable and rewarding, destructive and productive. We've all felt it. We've all attempted to cope with wave upon wave of roiling anger only to have the tide broken against the steadfast rocks of rational thought, allowing ourselves the humbling respite that follows.
Maybe we don't reach that place as quickly as we'd like, finding ourselves keeping the rage tucked within as best we can even as cracks in the dam allow just enough pressure to find its way out such that we are not overcome by it.
And then, for some of us, the dam breaks.
If you've followed anything I've written thus far, you've witnessed me navigating a lot of complex feelings, making every effort to fairly and transparently place before you a narrative of experience that, to the very best of my cognizance, recalls the process by which I've made it to where I now sit. Through a conservative upbringing, the acknowledgement of my sexuality, my time at Liberty University, and the deconstruction of my Evangelical faith, I've written of a lot of loss. (Not without some gain.) And as I've tried to make implicitly clear, such loss does not come without some kind of deep, visceral shift.
While the shift has been wholly necessary and good, it's been accompanied by a profound sense of anger, almost as if premised on a betrayal.
Anger was never something I wanted through all of this, but it came naturally as I stepped out of the familiar and into the unknown. With each collapse of a pillar of my belief system, I was left grasping for what I'd either always assumed or never deemed worth questioning.
And in the unsettled dust of my spirituality came a burning and evolving anger that would not have a focus for quite some time.
At least, not until I saw where it was coming from and where it was going.
If you've never lost your religion, this can seem melodramatic and something of a point in your favor - I wouldn't be this angry, sad, or anything in between had I stayed grounded in the "truth" of what I'd known. The comfort of the community, tradition, and future which I had been promised are something that, even now, I miss. The wistful memory of longing for the things which now promise angst are not uncommon, and the accompanying sense of existential displacement is keenly experienced in every way.
I didn't lose everything thinking it would be easy.
The spiritual vertigo that accompanied my transition out of Evangelicalism and non-affirming theology ushered in a period of grief.
I’ve written a bit on this already, but I stepped tepidly around any deepening anger I felt as a result of losing faith, community, and my sense of belonging.
It took great time, even as I wrote and published blog posts on my journey, came out to the general public, and assumed an activist posture within my community, to find enough space wherein the anger could be seen. Can it be managed? That's certainly a daily question, and some days are more intense than others.
But it can be channeled, and such has been my intent for as long as I've seen the embers within.
Sometimes, I'm left asking: Why don't they see it? Why don't they see how dangerous this theology is? Why don't they see the irreparable harm being done to their most vulnerable in the name of their God?
I'm outspoken because I'm angry - it’s not simply an abstract sense of outrage, but a fierce longing whose end is not the vanquishing of "enemies" or some punitive pursuit of justice. Instead, it's centered in Hope.
It’s a redemptive rage.
Before it can be seen as redemptive, I must identify the ways in which I’m angry, whether sources or functions. To rage against the machine without purpose is to scream into a void without hope. It’s a violent, lonely diminshing that crushes you.
Yet I must feel it and learn that not being okay is okay. I don’t always have to be happy. Negative feelings can have purpose; they can change us and our contexts for the better through a sacred, refining experience that informs our sense of what it means to be human.
I'm angry in big ways and small ways, in ways that affect me personally and affect others on a much greater scale.
I'm angry that I can't open my Bible without being reminded of traumatic experiences wherein I've been rhetorically harassed by fellow Christians - both friends and family - because "the Bible says". Something that once left me in awe of the God I knew is now more frequently used to remind me that God has obviously "given me over to my desires", that hell is not too far behind, that I’m a toxic presence.
I'm angry that, no matter how much I want to experience the same spiritual ecstasy I once knew in corporate worship, those feelings are virtually nonexistent, lost to the vacuum of deconstruction. I often can’t sing a song without being confronted by the violence of Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory, warrior-God complexes, the euphoric language of encounter-seeking charisma, biblicism, or the understanding that most of the people and churches who composed this music refuse to affirm my humanity. Even then, the emotional volatility accompanying Evangelical worship is more frustrating for me than helpful, and exclusively using traditional liturgy, though far more rich in meaning and symbolism (and certainly healthy for a post-Evangelical reframing of faith), lacks the same emotional connection I knew for so long - a move far to the other extreme for this former “charismatic". Living between these realities, at its best, is a weird, beautiful, perplexing experience.
I'm angry at my school, my administration, and my peers for vociferously defending the individual right to carry a lethal firearm on my campus, yet interpreting my rights as a gay man to be a threat. Speaker after speaker, conference after conference, and conversation after conversation remind me that I am ultimately inferior in their eyes, an anomaly in a bubble where straight, white, cisgendered men sit atop the power structure. Coming out brought with it a deafening silence from those I once considered my closest friends, and others proceeded to make my journey about themselves.
I'm angry that I can't act like a normal human being in a relationship on my campus because, if the right person sees, I'll be reported to the Office of Student Conduct, potentially fined, put into counseling, and given community service hours to complete.
I'm angry that my peers find the status quo at Liberty University acceptable, that the white, heterosexual supremacy complex is something to be celebrated so long as the conscience-cleansing "Jerry doesn't speak for me" platitude can be retweeted into the echo chamber of white, straight, cisgendered Evangelicals.
I'm angry at the persecution complex raging within Western Christianity, blind to its imperialism and oppression of those not within its walls.
I'm angry that white Evangelicals are so preoccupied with amassing power that they've rallied behind a racist, ignorant, ego-maniacal reality television star and elected him President. Apparently, retribution runs deep in Evangelical theology, and so it is with the rise of white nationalism in churches and politics. We’ve been so inoculated to American exceptionalism at the cost of nearly everyone else in the world that our churches are hardly indistinguishable from national monuments.
I’m angry that, to many within my former tradition, black lives simply do not matter.
I'm angry that LGBTQ people, people of color, women, disabled individuals, and any group of oppressed people in this country are treated unfairly and demonized by the group of people whose religion is best understood as visiting prisoners and caring for the lonely.
I could go on, but you get the point.
Were it possible, I would have moved on by now. I’d be comfortable in a progressive frame of mind, willing to let go of everything I knew.
But it’s not. And it leads to asking the same damn question over and over again, sometimes believing I’ve truly moved on only to be reminded that there’s so much work yet to do.
It reverberates in the hollow caverns of a heart riddled with grief, a cycle of hope and loss:
Why do I care so much?
I’ve had to think on that question, meditate on the meaning of Love, and to learn some hugely valuable lessons.
I care because this is, for better or worse, where I’ve come from. This is my family. These are my peers. These are my churches.
This is my faith tradition, and while I may no longer identify on the spectrum of Evangelicalism, who I am was shaped and refined within the depths of this community.
It is a part of me, and I am a part of it.
Here, we arrive at what has ultimately proven pivotal for my perspective on this journey:
In much the same way God - the God who I sometimes disbelieve and sometimes believe more than anything - was enfleshed and executed within a tradition that rejected the very message it was designed to carry, I must bring the upside-down Kingdom of God to bear in my context, no matter how resistant it may be to the good news of the crucified Christ.
The Incarnation, the event whose significance we far too often overlook, points me to the answer: Jesus.
The poor, middle-Eastern guy - the one whose name his followers use to oppress me - is why I care. Emmanuel doesn't just have something to say, but he does have something to "be".
And that incarnate Presence best understood as Love changes everything.
This is my tradition, my people, my faith communities, my friends - it’s not where I want to be, perhaps not those with whom I necessarily want to be associated, but this is where I come from and where I am physically located right now. And while I’m not going to fix all of it, I’ll be rightfully angry when it transgresses the Love of God, when it breeds darkness instead of Light, when it oppresses another, excludes the least of these, marginalizes, and harms.
I have the right to be angry when you sin against me and my neighbor, and I’ll call you out - not because I hate you or have it out for you. No, it’s redemptive. It’s because I know the beautiful people and hopeful souls within your tradition are better than this.
And to the many of you for whom this post may find resonance, I’m sorry.
I'm not sorry for being angry - I'm sorry for not doing something with my anger.
I repent for my inaction, my willingness to cut everything away as if it can’t be saved. Don’t get me wrong - Evangelicalism as it now stands must fall, but how it does so can be an outworking of the “consuming fire” that is the Love of God. Many idols must be burned away as people begin seeing past nationalism, colonialism, and the many other misuses of the Lord’s name that stand between their death and resurrection.
That’s what renewal looks like, and for myself, it’s a resurrection of hope that isn’t premised on a feeling, but a way of seeing.
I’m hopeful Liberty University can change, and while I can’t change everything, I have a part to play. If you can, join me in critiquing it. Protest when necessary. Seek justice in all aspects of your community, calling out injustice wherein it may be found.
If we rage, let us rage towards redemption.
A salvific torrent of prophecy: truth against power, love against fear, joy against oppression.
Let us feel what we feel in its totality and never forget the meaning of Emmanuel, “God with us”, because it was Jesus’ rejection that punctuated his message. And so it is with me, as I attempt to make sense of life where I do not belong, I’ll seek to redeem my anger in truth against power.
Redeem your rage.
“May God vindicate the afflicted of the people.”