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American Rage

I saw Religious Broadcasters Association’ spokesperson Daniel Darling was fired for his support for vaccinations on a cable news channel. After Darling wrote in USA Today, “we are experiencing a deficit of trust in our institutions. At almost every – political, business, religious – we have seen profound catastrophic failure by those we’ve asked to lead us…And yet, in spite of this cloud of confusion and air of mistrust, I felt it was important for me and my family to get the vaccine.”  It’s reasonable to think that his employer feared the rage of a constituency to which Darling was not towing the party line. Collective rage gets results. 

A week before Darling was fired Lt. Michael Byrd showed his face in an interview, for the first time.   As a Capitol police officer Lt. Byrd shot and killed insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt, when she tried to enter through a window on January 6. Byrd recalled the fear and urgency of the moment he was in. Speaking to NBC’s Lester Holt, Byrd, said, once we barricaded the doors, we were essentially trapped where we were. There was no retreat. No other way to get out. If they get through that door, they’re into the House chamber and upon the members of Congress” Byrd saw American rage up close and personal. Babbitt’ rage prompted her to seek redress by any means necessary despite being fueled by unfounded claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Most of us witnessed collective American rage like we had never seen before. According to American Enterprise Institute conducted in February 2020, three in five white evangelicals believed Joe Biden was not the legitimately elected winner. Byrd’s life had been threatened and he fears for his life because this American rage isn’t based on righteous outrage about something to be corrected, but on a lie that felt righteous despite any evidence. 

Darling and Byrd were both victims rage looking blame than repentance. 

Why does American rage feel so right? I am calling white rage ‘American’ because other racial groups could never get away with their rage and not feel the righteous blunt response of retribution from white Americans. The Edison Research exit polls after the 2020 election found that 76% of white evangelicals voted for the previous president. Historian Randall Balmer concluded, “white evangelicals no longer have a hold on society. Rather than accept that all Americans enjoy civil rights and protections under the U.S. Constitution, they seek desperately to cling to the majority status that white Protestant, especially evangelicals, enjoyed for most of American history” (, January 25, 2021) 

Reading David Damico’s “The Faces of Rage” proved helpful in trying to understand the source of American rage. He wrote, “rage is a self-protective shield we use to avoid loss, threatening circumstances or events. It gives us a false sense of control…It is empowered by vows we make around our buried losses to ensure we won’t be trapped by them again” (p. 24) In other words, rage comes out as avoidance of unresolved loss and needing a scapegoat story of self-justification than the facing the hard truth. Civil War historian and Pulitzer Prize winner David Blight concluded the Lost Cause narrative of defeated Confederacy reinterpreted loss as righteous rage. Blight concluded, “all Lost Causes find their lifeblood in lies, big and small, lies born of beliefs in search of a history that can be forged into a story and mobilize masses of people to act politically, violently, and in the name of an ideology” (New York Times, January 9, 2021) Both Darling and Byrd were both victims rage looking blame than repentance. 

it is always about actual persons, actual pain, actual trouble, actual sin

What can white evangelical America do with its rage? One of the most powerful people in the Bible was King David. In 2 Samuel 12, David raged as the prophet Nathan told him a story about bullying and inequity. David was ready to go to war until the story sharply and surprisingly turned on him. The late author Eugene Peterson reflected, Nathan pounces, ‘you are the man…The word of God is not about somebody else. It is a general, abstract truth, but always personal address…it is always about actual persons, actual pain, actual trouble, actual sin: you, me; who you are and what you have done; who I am and what I have done” (1 and 2nd Samuel, p. 184)

The second story of wisdom comes from 2 Samuel 16. The prophet Shimei threw rocks and cursed David for his handling of the house of Saul. David’s commanders asked David if they could shut up this problem. David, with holy restraint, said “if (Shimei) is cursing me because the Lord has said to him ‘curse David’ who then shall say, why have you done so” Peterson added, “summarizing David’s response in these words: Shimei is right; he is telling the truth about me…He faces what he has become” (Ibid, p. 213) Instead of dismissing the reports with rage David was then open to repentance.  Rage doesn’t have to have the last word if it’s received and absorbed into repentant action. 

God’s rage against sin, pride and hubris was absorbed on the hill called Calvary. There is a place to take unresolved loss and pain than trying to assault white marbled buildings in Washington DC or trigger happy fingers on social media. American rage can choose a better way by choosing a target that can take their rage.     

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