A while ago, I wrote a blog post giving a nuanced look at an unfortunate decision by some of the professors of our seminary to post an inside joke on Twitter… where, you know, everyone on earth can see it without understanding any context. I criticized them for that, but at the same time, I also pointed out that ignoring context and loudly screaming “Racist!” was also foolish. You can do both: Criticize the professors for doing something unwise but also understand the context of their picture and why it’s not racist.
Unsurprisingly, my article got some blow back (it also got a lot of support), though none of this blow back dealt with the main argument. Instead, what got a lot of attention was a throw-away line in the article (again, in the context of actually criticizing these professors for posting that picture on the internet):
Given our hyper-sensitive culture these days, where even stating bare facts like “There’s a very high rate of single-motherhood in the black community” can draw accusations of racism, it was foolish to post that online. That’s not to excuse our hyper-sensitive culture, but surely a joke like that is not worth the controversy and potential damage to the witness of the professors as well as that of the seminary.
Many people latched on to this line with great offense (though I’ll repeat, it had little to do with the main argument, and it was a comment about the culture as a whole which honestly shouldn’t be that controversial). “How dare you call people hyper-sensitive!” “You can’t fault people for how they feel!” “You shouldn’t invalidate people’s emotions!” So on and so forth. What is interesting is that virtually all of these comments came from Christians.
This honestly squares with my experience both from within and without the church when people’s emotions are criticized. These days, when someone is told he is being too sensitive, that his anger is unjustified, that his jealousy is irrational, or that his hurt feelings have no bearing on the truth of a matter, the typical response from him and others around him is to have varying levels of anger and shock. The implicit assumption is that emotions are always uncontrolled responses, always valid, and ultimately unassailable.
The problem with this line of thinking for Christians is rather simple: It is far from a biblical stance (not to mention counter-intuitive if you really think about it). The fact of the matter is that the Bible implies that we are accountable for how we feel and that our emotions can very well be wrong. Notice what I did not say; I did not say that how you act due to your emotions can be wrong, though that is of course true. I said the very emotions you have can be wrong, sinful, selfish, or irrational if they are unreasonable and/or come from a wrong heart. As unpopular and surprising as this is for many Christians (and especially non-Christians), this is what Scripture teaches.