I recently watched an interview with Anote Tong, the President of Kiribati. Kiribati is on the front lines of climate change as sea level rise is already inundating their country. The Kiribati people will be among the first climate refugee nations and many have already begun migrating to Fiji to escape their permanently flooded homeland.
What struck me most from President Tong’s interview with a British television network was his dignity and humility in the face of certain peril for his people. When asked why he’s not angry at the rest of the world for causing the problem that is destroying his homeland his response shows tremendous grace.
“Would it make any difference if I were angry? I don’t have the means to influence the outcome. What I need to do is get people to feel a little guilty; a little sense of morality; a little sense of responsibility that they need to see justice done here. But anger is not the right response.”
To be honest, I have a hard time with his answer. It’s hard not to be angry when the wealthiest people in the world (myself included) are the cause of unjust suffering by the poorest. How do you respond with kindness when you learn that the fossil fuel companies have known for decades that their product causes human harm? How do you set your anger aside to choose patience and love when your own people choose deliberate blindness to injustice?
To be sure, scripture has a place for righteous anger. God was often angry at the Israelites for turning away from Him. Jesus demonstrated anger when he overturned the temple tables and when the Pharisees chose Sabbath obedience over physical healing.
At the same time, Proverbs tells us to be slow to anger and in Ephesians Paul reminds us to avoid sin in our anger. It may be that righteous anger has a place in the climate conversation, but I believe President Tong is right in that anger will not solve the problem. What we need is:
Urgent action combined with a patient spirit
Repentance combined with grace
Prophetic truth combined with humility
Hatred of injustice combined with love for ALL people
Should we be angry at the injustice of climate change? I believe the answer is “yes,” but that we should channel that anger toward the situation and away from people. Anger toward others is not the right response and will not lead to a solution.
We should continue to speak prophetic truth, take urgent action, hate injustice, and repent of our own culpability. But let us also choose patience, grace, humility, and love toward all our fellow humans—including those who actively work to undermine climate action.