Starting last summer all the way through last week, the Center for Medical Progress has been releasing a series of undercover videos that seem to show Planned Parenthood execs discussing the illegal trafficking of fetal body parts. The videos and their contents were met with lament and outrage from most Christians who saw them. Many took to Twitter and Facebook to share the videos, their concerns and their indignation over Planned Parenthood’s actions.
But although the controversy helped bring conversations about abortion back into the cultural spotlight, it appears that much of the outrage failed to make a real or lasting impact on public opinion.
Recently, LifeWay Research, the Nashville-based research organisation of the Southern Baptist Convention, released a study that reflects just how little affect the videos have had on public opinion. LifeWay found that despite the uproar, 43 percent of respondents were unaware of the videos. Of those who were polled, only 18 percent had reacted negatively and spoken up against Planned Parenthood. LifeWay concluded that few Americans seemed to be moved to action by the release of the videos and the ensuing controversy.
Perhaps this isn’t surprising. We live in an era of unprecedented access to information, and we have almost limitless venues to react to that information. We can access the world with the touch of a screen, and the world can access us. To live in the 21st century is to be confronted with a constant stream of controversy.
Outrage pervades our culture, both in the Christian and non-Christian realms. Christians often limp from controversy to controversy, crying the cry of oppression at store clerks, baristas and abortion providers alike. Some of this outrage is understandable, even laudable. Paul tells us in Romans that creation is groaning at its broken condition, crying out like a woman in labor, against the world as it is, longing for the world that will be (Romans 8). Our outrage is an element of this universal groaning.
But when indignation is absent of perspective and when outrage is misdirected, it quickly becomes part of the problem rather than the solution. When every infraction is an incitement to the culture war and when every offense is outrageous, we often fall prey to the fatigue of outrage. We get so tired of hearing people rant about issues that we simply stop listening, even if the cause is worthwhile.
This lacklustre outcome is lamentable but it is also avoidable. Perhaps our outrage would have greater effect if we reserved it for the appropriate targets. To this end, I would like for us to think of three ways to avoid outrage fatigue.
Be Outraged at the Right Things
Aristotle once said, “Anyone can get angry, but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for everyone, nor is it easy.”
These words ring true in a world of blogging, posting, tweeting and vlogging. As Christians, we are not immune from this challenge, and how we engage a cause often communicates a greater truth than this cause itself.
If we are not careful and discerning, we can become addicted to the endorphin high that comes from releasing our frustration at and on our broken world. And like any addiction, the returns diminish as the hunger grows. Soon, we begin to resemble less and less of the Saviour, whose character we are called to display and whose temperament we are called to emulate. This risk diminishes when we direct our outrage well and when we express our outrage less often.
Be Outraged Less
Jesus existed among His creation for some 33 years, three of which were rather well documented by His followers. In that time, only once do we see Jesus express outrage. It wasn’t when He was tempted personally by Satan, it wasn’t when He was mocked, it wasn’t when He was beaten, spat on or crucified. The one time His anger was made manifest in outrage was when He cast out the men in the temple who were profiting off of the system of grace in “His Father’s house.” His rage was reserved for those who were attempting to profit off of God’s grace and His name.
There is a lesson in this example, beside the obvious discourse on greed; what does it tell us that the one Man with a right to express truly righteous indignation is recorded as doing so only once? We become Christ followers by receiving His grace and having His mind among us. This is a call to calm, more than a call to arms.
Jesus moved through the violent crowds, and He calmed the fears of his followers because the true power He possessed was in no way threatened by earthly insults. That power is now in us as Christians, and that peace will reside with us until He comes again. The scarcity of His outrage points to the impact outrage can have when it is correctly employed. This should affect the way we engage culture.
Be Outraged Well
Human beings were created for communication. In fact, Christians maintain that we were placed on this planet to communicate the glory of God, be witnesses of His love and show the worth of His word. Because we believe in His word, we know what He created, we know that creation is fallen, and we know it will be restored.
It is right for Christians to lament injustice and groan with creation over the fallenness of ourselves and our neighbours. There is a right way to lament in anger, to express outrage. From a position of strength rooted in the truths of God, such expressions will be fewer and far between but more effective. Perhaps one of the reasons crowds stood before Jesus in awe at the authority of His words was that when He spoke, He calmed storms rather than provoked them. The sooner we reserve our outrage for what angers God, the sooner we can convince a watching world that the God they should trust is not as angry as His followers.