Nehemiah got angry. He got angry when he heard the outcry and words of the people. Often in Christian circles, anger is seen as a sinful emotion. Sometimes it seems that any emotion outside of joy, happiness, and trust is sinful. In conservative Christian environments we act as if all is right with our personal world and the world as a whole. There is no reason to be anything but joyful because God has made our lives, well, perfect.
On the polar opposite end of the spectrum there are radical Christians who know no other emotion than anger. They are the people calling for the execution of everybody before the end of the year and supplying guns to their students to “end those Muslims before they walk in.”
But Nehemiah was neither of these kinds of people. He was angry at the injustice he saw in his community where brothers were taking advantage of brothers. God does not call us to be emotionless, but he does not call us to be repugnant either. We are allowed to have righteous anger towards the brokenness we see in the world, because this brokenness was not part of God’s original design.
As I reflect on Nehemiah’s anger I think of my work at Prison Fellowship Ministries. At work I have been researching the procedures and findings of the Charles Colson Task Force (CCTF). CCTF was established to examine trends in correctional growth and develop practical, data-driven policy responses.[i]
One of the testimonies given to CCTF was from a man who spent over 30 years of his life incarcerated and a decade in solitary confinement. He spoke of the emotional and psychological issues that came from his years of being isolated from other people. He witnessed other solitary confinement inmates’ talk to themselves, mutilate themselves, and even take their own lives.
Reading this brought me to tears. It broke my heart. It made me angry. Even though these men have committed crimes, they are still human beings. They are image bearers of God and therefore have dignity and deserve respect. So often we forget that these men and women in prison are people. They are not rabid animals that need caged before they attack something else, but sinful, broken people who need redemption. That latter description sounds a lot like you and I, doesn’t it?
The CCTF has been working for nearly a year to hear from experts, visit effective prisons, and compile data to impact the justice system. This issue runs deeper than just saving the country money. It deals with giving people a second chance at life. It is about equipping these individuals with the proper skills and pro-social behaviors to flourish once they return to society. It should make people angry to know that these individuals, who have been incarcerated in order to be rehabilitated, never really get a fair shot at effective rehabilitation. This is a disservice to the individuals among the prison population who truly desire to change but do not know how. I am not dumb; I know some do not desire to change. But I also know that others do.
As Christians we have to be angry about the injustices we see in the world. Without anger, what would call us to care for people and fix problems? As Nehemiah went to the nobles and officials, we have the same duty to defend those in need and fight for them. I can proudly say I work for an organization that does that on a daily basis.
Prison Fellowship’s mission is to bring hope and restoration to those incarcerated. Prison ministry is important because it sets an example to the culture, and especially the Christian culture, that we need to look out for the least of these. We must remember that we are all created with dignity and deserve that respect that comes with carrying the image of God. Nehemiah sets this example for us, and we are called to follow this example.
Elizabeth Manley interns in development in the not-for-profit sector and is a member of the 2015-2016 Capital Fellows Program.