Twice this week I heard this question: What makes you angry?
Both times the men posing the question suggested paying attention to the circumstances that raise a flood of righteous indignation.
“It could be a clue to your calling.”
I didn’t have to think long. What makes me angry? When the cries of the victims of injustice, when the wounds of the abused, when the silent tears of those imprisoned in mental anguish or in circumstances they cannot control are ignored or downplayed by people who have the capacity to help, I feel rage rising. When people who brag about leading a loving community misuse their power by exploiting their charges, I am livid.
Recently I read a rant by a popular writer who can obviously relate to my anger. He blasted away at hypocrisy and corruption and cover-up within the institutional church.
“Wow, Lord! This is good. I totally agree. This guy is absolutely right.”
God’s still small voice response shook me.
“So was Absalom.”
“Absalom? The son who rebelled against his father the king?” I asked.
“Beware the man who calls victims of injustice to follow him saying, ‘If I were in charge…’”
I re-read the story of Absalom in 2 Samuel 13 to 18.
Absalom was right about injustice and corruption being covered up within the kingdom. He had first-hand knowledge of this. The prophet Nathan exposed King David’s crime of taking what was not his – Bathsheba, the daughter of one of his valiant friends and the wife of Uriah, who was out fighting for him. It couldn’t have been easy for a faithful servant to tell the king that his decision to cover up his sin by committing a greater one, arranging Uriah’s murder, would have serious consequences in his family for a very long time. David admitted fault. Psalm 51 records his feelings of deep remorse, but there were still consequences set in motion by his acts.
Later David’s eldest son, Amnon, also abused his power when he took what was not his. He raped his half-sister, Tamar, Absalom’s full sister. David was very angry, but he did nothing that gave the appearance of justice being done on behalf of his daughter.
Some say David couldn’t act because Amnon and his cousin/adviser made sure there were no witnesses, and in those days, and often in these, a mere woman’s testimony was not enough. Some suggest David did not take action because he was still in the throes of depression over his own sin. Some pose that Amnon, as first-born, was in a position of privilege, and even though God continually broke the expectations of society by choosing a younger son for a task, David was still intimidated by primogeniture culture (the eldest son inherits everything) – and because Amnon was still his boy.
Maybe David hoped that if he ignored it someday the whole thing would just go away.
It didn’t go away. It became worse. Absalom took things into his own hands. He arranged for Amnon’s murder. Then he fled.
David mourned for two sons.
The story of David and Absalom’s uncomfortable estrangement, and eventual quasi-reconciliation is told in 2 Samuel 14. By this time, Absalom was a full-fledged manipulator. He used appearance, charm, popularity, intimidation — whatever it took– to move himself toward a position of power. He sat at the gate and listened to people’s complaints of unjust treatment, something the king had apparently been failing to do. Injustice was piling up like garbage in the dark corners of Jerusalem. The failure of authorities to listen to the common people and deal with injustice is fuel for rebellion. How many times is this lesson repeated in history?
Absalom began to build an army of malcontents.
But wait? Didn’t David do the same after he fled from Saul? He did, but there was a difference. Although he wailed loud and long about unjust treatment, David never took justice into his own hands. He would not touch God’s anointed. He honoured the office, even when King Saul was reduced to a dangerously unbalanced giant wounded ego. David knew he himself was more popular. He could have made a bid for the hearts of the people to back him up in military take-over. But he waited for God to hand him the scepter. He honoured the position of the king who was trying to kill him.
Absalom couldn’t wait. Absalom dishonoured the king who disappointed him. Absalom led a rebellion. Absalom publicly shamed the women in David’s household. The victim turned perpetrator. Absalom died. He fell victim to his own symbol of beauty and by the hand of the man who once took up his cause.
I can relate to the popular writer who is dismayed by the lack of love or fairness. The repeated reports of willingness to hide corruption in church leadership is infuriating. I haven’t been in a place where I felt unsafe in years, but I know from the past what it is like to see women and children’s stories of abuse dismissed or “re-framed” to benefit someone’s hold on power.
I have seen a pastor badger a woman on staff of a Christian organization to confess her part in seducing the elder who raped her violently, even though she had been beaten. She lost her job. There were no serious consequences for the man.
I have hidden victims of incest in my home who were coerced to change their stories because they were told it would be their fault if the family broke up and the step-father was subject to ridicule or prosecution.
I have seen men falsely accused by bitter ex-wives who knew how to garner sympathy, but still neglected emotionally and physically the children now kept away from their daddies.
I have seen men on the verge of bankruptcy because another member of the congregation cheated them out of weeks of wages. After the issue was brought before the elders, nothing happened to the thief. The victims were told it was their responsibility to forgive.
I have seen teenagers thrown out of the house when they told a someone they were gay or that they had an abortion.
I have seen people become slaves to cult leaders with bad, bad, bad theology who prey on spiritual vulnerability motivated by a personal need for power.
I know what it is to cry myself and not be heard, and I know what it is to be loved, healed and restored by people who cared.
But I’ve also known the horror of feeling I had to betray a friend’s confidence because she chose to protect her husband’s reputation over her child’s well-being. I know the utter agony and extreme pain of hearing someone I cared deeply about screaming that I had ruined her life as the police took him away. All these years later I cry just thinking about it.
As a teacher, foster mother, and friend, I have heard stories that make me want to cover my ears and scream, “Don’t tell me! I don’t want to know!! Shut up! Just shut up! Shut up because now I am obliged to do something about it and I know how this goes!” But I listen and I act on the children’s behalf. I think I understand how the prophet Nathan may have felt when God told him what King David had been doing.
I know it is worse to leave the garbage festering where the next generation plays than to deal with unpleasantness. Hidden corruption in the church is threatening our ability to live and breathe and unite in trust and love for each other. God is exposing it for a reason. He loves us. Love without truth is mere indulgence. God’s love is also just.
I can relate to the popular writer’s rants, and I can relate to the pastors and staff who don’t want to know about hidden sin, because taking proper measures can cause years of building to crumble and wound bystanders. In the end, as painful as it is, we must stand up to protect vulnerable lambs in the flock while still seeking rehabilitation and restitution for offenders.
I also know the sickly sweet voice of the enemy entreating, “Are you angry? I can help you with that.”
I hear the warning that is also an encouragement from Abba, my heavenly Father, “There is a higher way.”
He tells me not to partner up with an army of angry, invalidated, unheard, unhealed victims as a force for reform.
“Unless you are part of the process of honesty, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration you are not working for the kingdom. You are working only for yourself. And that never ends well.”