As if 2020 wasn’t stressful enough, we’ve entered into another heated election season and it’s causing lots of anger, anxiety, and outright rage. Even the calmest of us are prone to getting sucked into an online debate with people we don’t know (or do) and feeling the adrenaline pulsing through us as we fight to get our point made. How can a Christian think that?!
So, why do we get so angry around election time?
More importantly, is there a way to not get so angry this election season?
I believe it’s possible to stay calm and at peace even in the most heated of elections, but to do it, there are few things it’s important to understand about anger.
1. Anger always comes from feeling threatened
In my book, Love Slows Down, I talk about the fact that anger isn’t a sin, it’s just a sign. It’s a sign you feel threatened. When you get angry at something happening around you, it’s always because of something happening inside you. Anger is a secondary emotion, it comes after we feel a threat to one (or all) of three specific things:
Security (physical, emotional, financial)
Connection (self-esteem, feeling seen and understood)
Control (sense of empowerment, free will, and having choices and options)
At the root of all anger is a fear of not getting one of those things, or fear having it taken away.
2. Fear drives action
Fear was the first emotion Adam and Eve felt when they were separated from the security, connection, and control/empowerment they had in the Garden of Eden. We’ve all felt fear ever since. Fear always leads to some response – fight or flight. When you feel threatened or afraid, your brain activity shifts from your pre-frontal cortex (the rational thinking part) to a more primal part. Fear drives you to action. And action is what politicians, the media, and companies trying to sell you something all want. They want you to vote for them, keep watching them, or buy their products. Fear has the power to get you moving in the direction they want.
Both sides of the political spectrum have their specific fears – all related to security, connection, and control. Whether it’s fear of having your guns taken (threats to security and control), fear of our country becoming uncompassionate to the hurting or refugees (connection), or fear of governments telling our church what they can and can’t do– each side sells fear that appeals to their voter base. And it works – but it also makes us angry at the other side because they are threatening those three basic things. If you live on a steady diet of hearing what the other side is threatening, it will naturally lead to anger. Fear always leads to anger.
3. Anger promises power
There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible. Anger shows up by chapter four. Anger kicked in right after Adam and Eve were removed from Eden. Their sons Cain and Abel offer a sacrifice to God, but God rejects Cain’s offering. Cain got angry. That’s always the sequence – first fear, then anger.
When we feel threatened or afraid, the natural response is to try to eliminate the threat to our security, connection, or control. Anger is an emotion that gives us a feeling of power. It helps us feel a little more in control of whatever is threatening us. But it can also lead to some pretty disastrous consequences if we lash out or use our anger to hurt others. It can lead to broken relationships and some serious regret.
But it doesn’t have to. This election year doesn’t have to mess up your relationships or lead to regret. The key is you have to slow down, identify your fear, then surrender it to something stronger. And there’s only one thing that drives out the powerful emotion of fear: perfect love Perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18)
4. Love Drives Out Fear (and Anger)
Fear is rarely rational. Which is why you can’t overcome fear with facts. At our core, even the most rational of us are highly emotional people who find facts to back up what we feel. You can’t usually talk a fearful person out of their fear using facts, rationale, or reason. It can only be driven out by experiencing God’s love in action. Living and giving God’s love drives out our own fear and allows us to help others conquer their fear. But words only have so much power — it must be accompanied by action.
Actions speak louder than words.
When we refuse to get swept up in the anger, fear, and arguing of election season and use our best energy to love those who believe completely differently than us — even those who might hate us or despise who we voted for — we display love to a mad world. Look past their frustrating opinions and see them as people with a deep need for security, connection, and control. Look at the deeper issues you share in common. Do your best to meet those needs, with the goal of pointing them to the true Source of getting those needs met. Live love. It will drive out fear.
This year, I encourage you to pay attention to the cues that are being used to trigger your fear, anxiety, and anger. Don’t let your emotions run away with you. Slow down, take a deep breathe, and realize that you don’t have to be swept up in the surge of emotions and arguments. Use your best energy to love others in their fear and you can be certain it will change hearts and minds. And you’ll feel lots of peace and fulfillment while doing it!
Joël Malm is a teaching pastor, leadership trainer, and counselor. Joël is also author of Love Slows Down: How to Keep Anger and Anxiety from Ruining Life’s Relationships and has a weekly podcast and blog. You can find more about him at joelmalm.com.