Anger Management and Domestic Abuse

Maybe you have seen the movie Anger Management that stars Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson. Dave Buznik (Adam Sandler) is a businessman wrongly sentenced in court to an anger-management program. His instructor, Dr. Buddy Rydell (Jack Nicholson), uses controversial and unorthodox tactics to help him. In watching the movie, I was often thinking the therapist was in greater need of therapy than anyone else!

We are all in need of anger management training at various points in our lives. However, the key is not to manage anger, but to metamorphosize anger. Managing anger does not lead to constructive ends; it only bottles up the problem until a later time. Of course, not all anger is bad. Jesus was often filled with righteous anger when facing injustices. We are to be righteous in our anger. What is righteous anger? Here’s an episode involving Jesus recorded in Mark 3:1-6:

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

Jesus was not angry for his own sake, but for the sake of the man with a withered hand and on account of various religious leaders’ hardness of hearts. Their rule for Sabbath keeping did not keep the focus on caring for this person in need. Moreover, they were more interested in witnessing Jesus healing on the Sabbath so that they could accuse him, and as we see here, plot his death, rather than see the man healed.

No doubt, it wasn’t only Jesus who experienced righteous anger. Many of the common people enduring this oppressive distortion of the Law experienced anger. Jesus opened their eyes to see that the Law was made for the people, not the people for the Law. As Jesus declares earlier in Mark’s Gospel: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

Jesus took to heart the people’s plight. He listened to their painful cries and lived into their pain and suffering—even unto death on their behalf. Do we listen to people’s pain bound up with their enduring an oppressive system of injustice, and do we live into their pain and suffering? Like Jesus, do we end the cycle of abuse by identifying with people in their abuse and bringing about just dealings? Do we do so even to the point of dying at the hands of the abusers in view of Jesus who rises to inaugurate a new way of engagement? This way of engagement is centered in laying down one’s life for others rather than laying down their lives for our own abusive agendas. If we don’t, how will they find healing? How will our society find healing?

Injustice in any day creates further injustices every day. No doubt, as the Romans oppressed the Jews, some Jews oppressed their own people. Certainly, the Jewish tax collectors were known for benefiting from the Roman oppression. Oppressed people oppress others. Perhaps the unjust use of the Sabbath Law was also a response to the Roman oppression. And just perhaps, the common people took it out on others in their circles. The victim in one system becomes the victimizer in another system, as their anger is unleashed and abuse after abuse is multiplied.

One cycle of victimization particularly rampant in our society is domestic violence. Domestic violence arises from abusive situations and generates more abusive situations of various kinds. My colleague, Pastor Cliff Chappell, has started a new venture called Man-Up that works to get at the sources of domestic violence so that people can experience interpersonal and internal healing. Here is what Pastor Chappell says about Man-Up:

I believe domestic violence is what fuels many of our problems that we face in our society: addictions, incarceration, suicide especially murder-suicide, fatherlessness and gang-violence just to mention a few. The vision for Man-Up is an attempt to get out in front of these societal problems instead of reacting to them, by addressing the internal hurts and traumas in the souls of persons and see them healed from the inside out. So often we address the symptoms of the problem but not the root cause of the problem. I believe the problems start with trouble in the souls such as loneliness, hurts, trauma, distorted love and the need to be loved and accepted. (Taken from here.)

Pastor Chappell is bringing people together to share their personal pains and wounds that go deep. In his own community, the African American community, wounds go so deep—back to slavery, back to Jim Crow, and up to present manifestations of injustices in our enduring racialized society. As people have opportunity to share their stories to those who will listen and who will live into the struggle with them, healing will occur. Will I listen? Will I live into the situation? Will you?

Our society today needs better listeners if we are going to move beyond anger management that so often puts a lid on the anger for a season, but does not bring about constructive solutions so that the anger can become redemptive. We need those who will listen and live into the pains and the plight of those under duress in various ways. In one way or another, we are all in distress. All too often, we do not listen to others; nor do we listen to ourselves. We need to move beyond managing anger to metamorphosizing it into constructive engagement where we can right wrongs together in our society, not living in isolation, but by sharing life together and becoming the solution to overcoming the traumas that we experience in our isolation. We need to move beyond accepting simply “anger management” as a strategy for righting historical oppressive wrongs to metamorphosizing the anger oppression creates into constructive engagement. Anger often stems from oppression, and can be righteous. But if not expressed in constructive situations to those who would truly listen and live into the pain toward a communal solution, the angry person may misapply the anger and bring about further abuse. Anger must be shared and transformed into constructive solutions. Only as people have opportunity to be heard and experience life with those who will share in bringing about constructive solutions as in the case of Jesus’ redemptive identification with those suffering will we be able to move beyond abuse to effective appeal and advocacy. Are we listening?

This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and at The Christian Post.

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