In Praise of Anger - Reverend Ray Gaston

By Press Office
May 18, 2015

Less than 48 hours after the election of the Tory government, thousands took to the streets in a spontaneous demonstration that ended up at the Conservative Party HQ. They were kettled and attacked by the police.

The demonstration probably would not have made the news except for the fact that at the Women’s Second World War memorial someone had sprayed “Fuck Tory Scum”. The Daily Mail fulminated in its usual manner and a government spokesperson said, “Spraying graffiti on war memorials is a despicable display of disrespect.” The assumption that the women remembered, whose generation went on to build the National Health Service and the Welfare State, would be more concerned about a little bit of spray paint in comparison to the disrespect shown their generation in the attack on their achievements that austerity represents, is certainly questionable.

However, it was not only the press and politicians who criticised the demonstrators. While there was genuine distress from those who would find such an action upsetting for genuine reasons, there was also much superficial ‘tut-tutting’ on social media in the vein of “I didn’t vote Tory but….”

Meanwhile, blogger and Christian sociologist Chris Allen unfavourably compared the demonstration to his experience of direct action group ‘The Love Activists’’ occupation of a derelict bank in Liverpool, that they then used to feed and house the homeless . Allen believed the latter action was closer to a model of Christ-like loving resistance than the placard waving anger of the London protesters. I have some sympathy with his approach and I reflected in a similar vein about anti-war resistance at the time of the invasion of Iraq(i)) . But I am also concerned that we don’t end up with an understanding of love that is completely divorced from anger and fail to recognise the close relationship between the two that is an important part of the Bible’s understanding of the righteousness of God.

Feminist theologian Beverley Wildung Harrison, in her essay ‘The Power of Anger in the Work of Love’ , says, ‘ Anger is a mode of connectedness to others and it is always a vivid form of caring…anger is – and it always is – a sign of some resistance in ourselves to the moral quality of the social relations in which we are immersed.’(ii) If we apply this understanding to the protestors , their distress and anger was only bringing to light the reality of the relations between the state and the poor and vulnerable in our society: the shouts of ‘Tory scum’ represented the frustrated cries and anger of those facing the cruel and biased reality of austerity. The dehumanisation is not the product of the demonstrators’ abuse but the economic policies that have caused the suffering of the poor and vulnerable; their cry is motivated by love - however inadequately expressed - a love also known by the name of solidarity.

Although not resorting to abuse, Jesus has some pretty strong words for the rich in Luke’s gospel. ln the parable of the ‘Rich Man and Lazarus’ (iii) – notice how the rich man is not named, he is depersonalised. We are often encouraged to view this story as one about failing to give to charity – the rich man fails to notice starving Lazarus at his gate. However, the parable is more radical than that. Jesus depersonalises the rich man because by accumulating wealth and land, which means people like the poor peasant are driven from their land and forced into destitution, he has separated himself from the divine understanding of the human community. He has broken the relationship and hence he finds himself in Hades after his death whilst Lazarus is at Abraham’s side – Jesus takes sides in the ‘class struggle’ and proclaims that God does too. Central to his ministry, particularly in Luke, and lived by the disciples after the resurrection in Acts, is the redistributive thread that is central to the Torah and the Prophets about which I have written before on this website .

But not only in Luke-Acts is Jesus’ bias to the poor emphasised. Matthew 25: 31-46 is a classic text that sees judgement as befalling those who ignore the poor and vulnerable in their midst and thus face the separation of eternal punishment. Jesus is also not short of angry words for those who he feels place burdens on the poor.(iv) He shocks everyone by clearly stating the impossibility of entering the kingdom if you are rich, because your wealth is not a blessing from God but the result of disobedience to God because it has been accumulated at the expense of others contra to the call of Torah.(v)

When Jesus rides into Jerusalem at Passover, in an act of civil disobedience, parody and provocation - probably at the same time as the Roman governor is coming in all his triumphal glory from another direction – it is a form of direct action. ‘Palm Sunday’ is a demonstration, loud and unruly, that in the synoptic gospels culminates with Jesus’ action, probably with his disciples’ active support, in the temple. It is a confrontational attack on both Roman and the temple rulers, on the Empire and those who collaborate with them – it is a direct challenge to ‘the state’.(vi)

Pope Francis has recently rehabilitated Gustavo Gutierrez, the moderate liberation theologian from Peru. It was his more radical Mexican comrade Jose Miranda who powerfully challenged orthodox and liberal western as well as traditional peace church interpretations of the nonviolent Jesus. In them he saw a failure to engage with Jesus’ own relationship to the God who actively sides with the oppressed against Empires and city states in The Scriptures: God is passionate and angry about injustice and oppression. It is this God who drives Jesus to challenge the rich whose wealth is built on the exploitation of the poor and who drives him to a direct and confrontational assault upon the state of his day. As Miranda says ‘ By what authority do you deny, precisely to the proletariat, in the name of Christianity, the legitimacy of a type of action performed by Jesus himself?’

In the months and years ahead I want to be prepared to see Jesus in the resistance to oppression in the many forms it may take. As the Iona hymn says, let us see Jesus waiting, raging, healing, dancing and calling in our streets and let us join him there.

(i) Ray Gaston, A Heart Broken Open – Radical Faith in an Age of Fear (Wild Goose 2009) p43-59.
(ii) Beverley Wildung Harrison, Making Connections – Essays in Feminist Social Ethics (Beacon Press 1985) p14 Thanks to my colleague Rachel Starr for pointing me in the direction of this work.
(iii) Luke 16:19-31.
(iv)Luke 11:42,45.
(v) Mark 10:17-27.
(vi) See Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan The Last Week (SPCK 2008)
(vii) Jose P Miranda, Communism in the Bible (SCM Press 1982) p78

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c Reverend Ray Gaston. Rev Ray Gaston is an Anglican priest, author and lecturer at the Queens Theological Foundation

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