Terms like "road rage" have come into our vocabularies in recent years. This term describes the uncontrolled anger that some people express toward other drivers on the road - honking, making obscene gestures, trying to run them off the road, and even shooting at them. As I understand it, most people who engage in "road rage" aren't really that angry with the other drivers, they are frustrated with other aspects of their lives, and they take that anger out upon drivers who inconvenience or displease them.
Terms like "road rage" have spilled over into other inappropriate expressions of anger, so now we have terms like "airplane rage" for airplane passengers, "postal rage" for post office workers and even "school rage" for students in school. All of these terms are attempts to describe what happens when anger is transferred into inappropriate expressions.
I suggest that we consider adopting the term "church rage" for those times when pastors and laity in churches engage in inappropriate expressions of anger within the life of a congregation.
One pastor who serves a church near a college campus explained it this way: "I have noticed that whenever someone loses on campus (doesn't get tenure, has their budget cut or loses a turf war at the college) then that person will fight to win at church."
I think that pastor is correct in understanding why it is that some church arguments seem so irrational and unexplained. Why, indeed, do churches sometimes argue over the color of carpet, the need for new paint or a $20 addition to the budget? Sometimes those arguments are due to struggles over power, authority, purpose and mission - but many other times they are really just expressions of frustrations at work, at home or in one's personal life. Church becomes the place where the anger is expressed, even though church is not really what the anger is all about. When that happens, we have "church rage" in our midst.
How can we deal with church rage? Let me suggest these options:
Listen carefully to one another. Sometimes church is the only place where any of us can really be heard, where our frustrations can be expressed and where we can vent some of our concerns without being punished or hurt. Listen and allow the other person to express their feelings - even if the feelings seem inappropriate.
Ask gentle questions about the source of the feelings expressed. Say something like, "It is obvious that you are very upset and concerned, but I wonder what is the real source of your feelings about this?" Sometimes such gentle questions, expressed in the midst of a caring community of faith, can help the person to realize that the church issue is not the real issue.
Draw boundaries around appropriate behavior and do not allow inappropriate behavior to destroy the church. Church should be a place where we can be honest and find acceptance, but no church should allow any individual to victimize others with inappropriate expressions of anger. It is important for the whole group or committee to say, "We understand that you are upset, but that behavior (and name the actual behavior) is not appropriate here."
Church rage will exist as long as people are human and as long as people have frustrations elsewhere in their lives which can spill over into the church. Church at its best is a place where we listen and care, but church at its best is also a place where we hold one another accountable and pray for one another. "Church rage" must not be allowed to hurt people or to damage the faith community.
The Biblical admonition is simply this, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Bishop Michael J. Coyner
Indiana Area of
The United Methodist Church
"Making a Difference in Indiana... and around the world"