Righteous Indignation


Jesus drives out the merchants

JESUS MAFA. Jesus drives out the merchants, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Fotó: http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48271 [retrieved June 21, 2020]

Often the anger we experience as humans is born out of bitterness, pride, and selfishness. This kind of anger is often 'vehicled' and instrumentalized by politics - in these days in Hungary even against American Christians who are struggeling with the righteous indignation caused by systematic racial injustices. Rev. Wylie Hughes is an African American ordained Minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA). He has lived in Budapest, Hungary for 3 years along with his wife Rev. Njeri Wagana Hughes, an ordained minister of the Reformed Church in Hungary. Publishing his reflection - with gratitude - is meant to be a sign that we are willing to listen to and emphatize with the sorrow and anger of Christians living in the US, and eager to learn that if we are angry at what angers God then our anger is righteous indignation. So that we can serve together, as the one body of Christ, as a vehicle for liberation.

African American author, playwright and poet James Baldwin once said: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” Currently this rage, anger, frustration and pain has set the country on fire. It is raw and emotional and often times it ends in violence. And while personally I do not condone this kind of violence in any way, I cannot help but empathize with it.

I too feel the rage when I see people, American citizens who look me, begging and pleading for their lives even as they are dying. It enrages me to see them dying or dead while other people watch and do nothing. As a Presbyterian minister trained in the Reformed tradition I wrestle with this rage. Jesus Christ tells us that we shouldn’t ‘let the sun set on our anger’.

As Believers we have always been taught to love our enemies and yet, as a Believer who is also a descendant of enslaved Africans in America who bear the legacy of 500 years of the most oppressive, cruel and dehumanizing epoch in human history, I find rage to be an obvious and natural response.

In fact, I am offended when colleagues criticize the intensity of my emotions. They tell me that such feelings are a sin and that I should fill my heart with forgiveness for those who trespass against us. I challenge them to ‘walk a mile in my shoes’. I challenge anyone to witness the real time death of an unarmed person who looks like you and not feel anything.

Which begs the question: What do we do with this rage? History tells us that many of the enslaved Africans in America and their many descendants have directed their collective rage at the very people and their descendants who trespassed against them. It manifested as slave revolts, insurrections and all-out war. Of course, such exploits are rarely mentioned in the textbooks. What is mentioned, however is the struggle for Civil Rights which began as a burning ember in the late 19th century and exploded in the late 1950’s. America was a powder keg of racial tension where the same collective rage that burned down plantations in the American South, was focused like laser at the social, political and economic systems where the racist legacy of slavery had taken root. We not only demanded justice but we admonished America to be the country it was meant to be. A place of freedom and liberty for all its citizens. We employed the same tactics that the forefathers of our country employed for their emancipation from the British crown 200+ years ago: “Give me liberty or give me death!”.

And through it all, the Church has been a witness. Often times a silent witness. And sadly, a too often willing participant.

But the Church also served as a vehicle for liberation for the millions of African American suffering under the after effects of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow. It was Church that gave birth to modern day freedom fighters like The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who scolded the Church in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love…. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.”

Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively in southern and border states, between 1877 and the mid-1960s. Jim Crow was more than a series of rigid anti-black laws. It was a way of life. Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second-class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-black racism.

Today I echo Dr. King’s disappointment in the ‘laxity of the Church’. I too feel as if the Church would prefer that we not disturb the peace or disrupt the social order, while it remains ever silent on the abortion of justice that is continuously on display right before our eyes. However, I also echo Dr. King’s love for the Church! My love comes from the same hope that I have for my country; for both America and the Church were created from a profound capacity for love. This same love binds us all together with God through Jesus Christ who, lest we forget, was so filled with rage that he braided strips of leather together and cleansed his Father’s temple, kicking over tables and chairs, destroying the property of those who turned a place of worship into a ‘den of thieves’.

This is our legacy as the Body of Christ! We have the power to transform the blazing fire of rage, pain and frustration into burning embers of ‘righteous indignation’. We have the power to create change, but we must act NOW! Let us not wait for another black, brown or any marginalized body to die a senseless and undeserved death at the hands of tyranny. Let us kick over tables and chairs and drive out from among us those who speak about Christ but refuse to live like Christ. I pray courage for the Church to speak truth to power and to show the world what it truly means for us to be One, as Jesus Christ intended. God Bless.

About the author

Rev. Wylie Hughes, an African American, is an ordained Minister of the Word and Sacraments of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and Pastor of Ascension Peace Presbyterian Church in Lauderhill Florida. He has lived in Budapest Hungary for 3 years along with his wife Rev. Njeri Wagana Hughes an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in Hungary. During his stay in Budapest, Rev. Hughes was a private English tutor as well as a conversational English teacher at two highschools (Budapesti Műszaki Szakképzési Centrum Újpesti Két Tanítási Nyelvű Műszaki Szakgimnáziuma és Szakközépiskolája - UMSZKI, and Berzeviczy Gergely Két Tanítási Nyelvű Közgazdasági Szakgimnáziuma - BGSZC). He was also an English Lecturer at McDaniel’s College in Budapest and Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design Budapest (MOME). Njeri and Wylie are living and raising their two children in the US.

Prayer in a time of anger, unrest and injustice

We are slow to confront our complicity and investment in white supremacy and dominance. We live in a world in which Indigenous, Black and Brown siblings are expected and compelled to offer forgiveness at a discount. Far too often, life continues as if nothing has happened while our gaping wounds are still open. When the cheeks are turned, they are met with another hand to the face, gun to the head — or knee to the throat. Forgiveness is too infrequently met with repentance.

This, O God, we name as sin. It is our sin. Many of us lament and strive against that sin. Help and empower us to continue that work with diligence and faith. Too many of us still waver and are unconvinced that there is a problem. Remove our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh that are softened toward our siblings. Help us to reckon not only with our personal failings, but also with our institutional history and the ways the church has helped to create systems of inequity.

By your Spirit, help us to corporately live into our creeds and confessions and provide sanctuary for all God’s children. When we say that “that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged” and that “the church labors for the abolition of all racial discrimination,” help us to truly mean it.