We conclude 2014 with a personal reflection from Rev. Brian Morse, whose story reminds us how important it is to love Jesus more than we love being the ‘right’ kind of Christians. Brian is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He serves as Director of Spiritual Care for Truman Medical Centers-Lakewood, in Kansas City, MO. He lives in his hometown of Independence, MO, and loves to sing and play the guitar.
A few weeks ago, I was reading the Via Media Methodists Facebook page. I saw this post: “If you despise ‘those kinds of Christians’ more than you love Christ, we have a problem.” This post triggered a memory in me, so I posted the following response: “It took years of intentional work, but I am free. For years, I recognized that I hated (I called it “passion”) fundamentalists more than I loved the Gospel. God freed my heart.” I was pleasantly surprised when a curator for Via Media Methodists contacted me, requesting that I expand my story. I accepted, and what follows is the expansion.
I was raised in a small Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I deeply loved God, Christ, and Church. In fact, I felt called into ordained ministry at the age of 16, but resisted until I was in my 30’s. During college, I stopped attending church, and began to have doubts about the faith.
In my twenties, I found myself yearning to return to Christianity, but I had trust issues. My home congregation had called a fundamentalist to serve as their minister. When I say that this fellow was a fundamentalist, I’m not talking about a person who is doctrinally and politically conservative. I’m talking about a walking and talking stereotype for all things fundamentalist. His version of the Gospel was ham-handed and cartoonish. He sickened me. To be frank, I hated him, although I would never have said that at the time. I felt as if he had betrayed the faith.
I felt ready to abandon Christianity, when I read Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism by John Shelby Spong. He communicated exactly what I needed to hear at that time. It wasn’t just his content that resonated with me; his tone was important to me as well. He was angry, and so was I!
Jump ahead a few years. I’m now safely in a wonderful, liberal seminary. I recall the evening when I had the following epiphany. I was meditating in my student apartment, when I realized that I had a deeper passion against fundamentalism than I did for the Gospel. I wanted to believe that my feelings were those of “righteous anger”, but I knew that this was not true; at least, it wasn’t true for me. I was confronted with the fact that I felt hatred in my heart, and I knew this had to change.
How do we differentiate righteous anger from hatred? St. Paul puts this problem to us in Ephesians 4:26-27: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil”. Demonic imagery is appropriate. When we find ourselves seething with rage, it feels as if a wicked sentient being is taking control of our consciousness.
One way to discern between righteous anger and hatred is to observe external behavior. After all, one can be filled with intense feelings of despising someone and still outwardly behave in loving ways. This is an important skill, but it doesn’t address the intense power of the inner experience.
To understand the inner world, we must spend some time in self-awareness exercises. We must set aside time to detach and observe. Intentional moments of detached observation are necessary for sharpened clarity. With this increased clarity, we will be able to discern between righteous anger and hatred.
I’ve discovered that righteous anger leads you to clarity of values, and increased energy, but hatred eats a person up. Hatred drains energy and muddles clarity. Hatred hurts me and you, hurts those we love, and hampers mission.
Every person who is committed to loving and following Jesus Christ will experience righteous anger. There is much to be angry about. This is why it is important to set aside intentional time to detach emotionally, and to observe our inner world. We need to explore our most intense emotions. There is always clarity to be found there.
For Christians, and for all who strive to be more loving, we must put in the effort to discern if our feelings are toxic or life affirming.
The reason that I share my story is because there is much hatred in today’s Church, and this hatred is fueled by leaders claiming to have a passion. I am convinced that deep soul searching and honesty is needed. I leave you with these words from Jesus, to us, his disciples: “…By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)