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Sermon Illustrations on outrage

Background

Godwin’s Law

Have you ever heard of Godwin’s Law? While it may sound like some overly technical scientific hypothesis, it’s actually quite simple. Godwin’s Law, first coined in 1990 by an an attorney and early adopter of the internet named Mark Godwin, unfortunately foreshadowed much that was to come in succeeding generations. You see, Godwin’s Law is quite simple. “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches one.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Living in Outrage Heaven

The political cartoonist and Op-Ed writer Tim Kreider has provided us with some insight into the “world of outrage” we currently inhabit. A world that has been amplified by the dawn of the Internet and its dark recesses, better known as “the comments section”:

So many letters to the editor and comments on the Internet have this…tone of thrilled vindication: these are people who have been vigilantly on the lookout for something to be offended by, and found it.. Obviously, some part of us loves feeling 1) right and 2) wronged. Bur outrage is like a lot of other things that feel good but, over time, devour us from the inside out. 

Except it’s even more insidious than most vices because we don’t even consciously acknowledge that it’s a pleasure. We prefer to think of it as a disagreeable but fundamentally healthy reaction to negative stimuli, like pain or nausea, rather than admit that it’s shameful kick we eagerly indulge again and again…It is outrage porn, selected specifically to pander to our impulse to judge and punish, to get us righteous indignation.

Tim Kreider, We Learn Nothing: Essays and Cartoons, Simon & Schuster, 2012, 50-51.

Stories

The Red Cup Controversy

During his fifteen minutes of fame, Joshua Feuerstein started the 2015 Starbucks Red Cup controversy. Soon people were saying that Christians were upset, though I saw only one person—Joshua Feuerstein—truly outraged. He posted a Facebook message saying, “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus.” He also tagged media to attract attention. Without fail, the outrage cycle began.

Of course, Starbucks denied the accusation, assured worried Christians everywhere they were welcome to say “Merry Christmas” to their hearts’ content, and insisted that the company did not hate Christmas. Can you imagine the conversation in the Starbucks boardroom? Did they say, “Those Christians are fair-minded, gracious, and thoughtful”? I am guessing not. 

The reality was that Feuerstein tried to use Christian outrage to raise his platform. The news and opinion website Vox explained,         

Feuerstein’s new Starbucks outrage video might be the biggest of his social media career. It’s a rant stemming from a conservative Christian belief that there is a “war on Christmas,” and that each year during the holidays, Christians are persecuted by companies.

Of course, it would be interesting (and maybe even outrageous) if it were true. But Vox goes on to say,

Feuerstein’s most blatant untruth, and the reason for all the current furor about the 2015 red cup, is the implication that Starbucks at one time printed the word “Christmas” on its holiday cups and is now being stifled or stifling itself from doing so. In the past six years, Starbucks, which doesn’t identify itself as a Christian company, has never put the words “Merry Christmas” on its holiday cups—instead, it’s used wintry and vaguely holiday-esque imagery and language, including ornaments that say things like “joy” or “hope,” snowmen, and holly.

Ed Stetzer, Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is at Its Worst. Tyndale House Publishers. Source Material from Alex Abad-Santos, “Starbucks’s Red Cup Controversy, Explained,” Vox, November 10, 2016, https://www.vox.com/2015/11/10/9707034/starbucks-red-cup-controversy.

Outrage Towards Christians

Yet outrage can just as easily be directed toward Christians by a hostile world intent on shaming and attacking rather than engaging. In early 2018, the online publication Pitchfork turned out this clickbaiting headline: “Coachella Co-Owner’s Latest Charitable Filing Shows Deep Anti-LGBTQ Ties.”

Coachella is a music festival that is connected to AEG, an entertainment company owned by Philip Anschutz, who is an evangelical Christian. The story listed five of the “deep anti-LGBTQ” organizations: The Navigators, Dare 2 Share Ministries, the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, Movieguide Awards, and Young Life. 

The biggest gift among these was to Young Life ($185,000; June 21 and November 15, 2016), which was pilloried for their policy that “anyone ‘sexually active outside of a heterosexual marriage relationship’ shouldn’t work or volunteer for the organization.” In other words, Young Life holds the traditional view of marriage that has been a foundational component of Christian theology for centuries and is held today by most evangelical (as well as Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and other) organizations. 

Even so, the publication made no attempts at dialogue, gave no empathy or consideration as to why these views are important or nuanced. Just blanket insults aimed at provoking division. Outrage has no time for dialogue, and it won’t be distracted by nuance or even truth. Get the pitchforks, Pitchfork.

Ed Stetzer, Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is at Its Worst. Tyndale House Publishers. 

The Smiling Selfie in Auschwitz

Did you see the “Smiling Selfie in Auschwitz”? An American teenager touring Auschwitz stirred up a firestorm of criticism when she posted a picture of herself smiling amid a concentration camp (and even included a blushing smiley face emoticon). Her Twitter handle, “Princess [email protected],” played into so many stereotypes of the millennial generation as entitled, spoiled, and insensitive. The iPhone earbud dangling in her photo only enhanced the notion that she was drifting cluelessly through a Nazi death camp to a private soundtrack, trampling the memory of those snuffed out in such a horrific genocide.

To many, her selfie communicated ahistorical insensitivity, her smile seemingly mocking the six million lives lost under the Nazis’ horrific genocide. Breanna was lambasted across social media (and traditional media outlets). As her infamy grew, the Alabama teen tweeted, “I’m famous, ya’ll.” The outrage was swift and unsparing. My family was in Europe when this online debate exploded. We were teaching at a summer program in London.

Thanks to my book iGods, I was invited by CNN to comment on the controversy for their Belief Blog. It was obvious that the student’s reaction (and even her efforts to explain her reasons for smiling) were not easily defended. She talked about connecting with her deceased father through the experience.

They had studied the Holocaust together just before he passed away. While most wondered, “What kind of monster could walk through gas chambers and come away smiling?” I saw a teen, perhaps still in personal grief, connecting with her father across time. Rather than attack, I chose to offer a defense of this teenager who was being grilled across the Twitterverse.

Craig Detweiler, Selfies: Searching for the Image of God in a Digital Age, Baker Publishing Group, 2018, pp. 1-2.

An Unexpected Friendship

Sometimes moments of forgiveness and friendship come from unexpected places. In 2018, the comedian Pete Davidson appeared on the “Weekend Update” segment of Saturday Night Live (SNL). Davidson made a crude joke about a former Navy Seal turned Congressman-elect Dan Crenshaw.

Crenshaw had lost an eye in the line of duty, which became the butt of Davidson’s vulgar joke. The combination of mocking a person’s disability (especially a disability that came from serving his country in war) alongside a clear disapproval of Crenshaw’s political beliefs led to a burst of public outrage. While Davidson was making the joke, it became clear many found it in poor taste, and the vitriol aimed at the young comedian would ultimately lead him down a spiral of depression and self-loathing.

Davidson then took his anguish public, posting on the social media platform Instagram:

“I really don’t want to be on this earth anymore. I’m doing my best to stay here for you but I actually don’t know how much longer I can last. All I’ve ever tried to do was help people. Just remember I told you so.”

When Crenshaw heard about Davidson’s condition, he didn’t do what many do when embroiled in a public tiff: tell the offender the public scorn served him right, or make some other cutting comment at Davidson’s expense.

Instead, Crenshaw decided to extend an olive branch, befriending the comedian, and even offering words of life to a person who clearly felt lost amidst being stuck in the cross-hairs of the American public. Davidson recounts that Crenshaw reached out and comforted him: “God put you here for a reason. It’s your job to find that purpose. And you should live that way.”

Humor, it has often been said, is a coping mechanism to deal with the pain that life throws at us. But in the midst of the deep, unsettling pain of being publicly shamed, what Davidson needed was not a good joke, but forgiveness, and perhaps, even a friend who could share the good news of the gospel with him. In some ways, it is ironic that a man trained to kill and destroy his enemies could be so moved by compassion that he reached out to someone who publicly mocked him and his deeply held political beliefs. But that is the beauty of the gospel, it enables us to look beyond our own reputation, our own pride, to care for others.

Stuart Strachan Jr. Source Material from Dino-Ray Ramos, “Texas Congressman-Elect Dan Crenshaw Reaches Out to SNL’s Pete Davidson After Troubling Instagram Post,” Deadline, December 18, 2018.

Humor

Godwin’s Law

Have you ever heard of Godwin’s Law? While it may sound like some overly technical scientific hypothesis, it’s actually quite simple. Godwin’s Law, first coined in 1990 by an an attorney and early adopter of the internet named Mark Godwin, unfortunately foreshadowed much that was to come in succeeding generations. You see, Godwin’s Law is quite simple. “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches one.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Lord Halifax

Lord Halifax, a former foreign secretary of Great Britain, once shared a railway compartment with two prim-looking spinsters. A few moments before reaching his destination the train passed through a tunnel. In the utter darkness Halifax kissed the back of his hand noisily several times. When the train drew into the station, he rose, lifted his hat, and in a gentlemanly way said: “May I thank whichever one of you two ladies I am indebted to for the charming incident in the tunnel.” He then beat a hasty retreat, leaving the two ladies glaring at each other.

Bits & Pieces

More Resources

Related Themes

Click a topic below to explore more sermon illustrations! 

Attitude

Bitterness

Criticism

Judging

Offense

& Many More