Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures. You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
James’ letter instructs the church in matters of action based out of belief. Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers he tells his audience. Belief is not merely enough. With true belief, one must act; there is no other option. Although I appreciate James’ call to act generously, speak peacefully and live honestly, too often the instruction to slow anger, slow speech prevents those from righteous anger. “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” But this slowness, this anti-anger niceness is often abused by those in religious power to the slowing of progress, the prevention of justice for all human beings. For women in ministry, we are asked to wait. The church is not ready yet for women in leadership. Take action slowly. Do not get angry at the limited pace of church activity. However, this slowness, this meekness or shying away from anger leads to sluggishness, drawn out, and deliberate inactivity. In effect, James’ words become an excuse to limit the rights of women and others in the church.
Anger, in its deepest form, is a sense of power. It is a potent feeling that demands respect because it is a map to truly important issues. Therefore anger is meant to be acted upon. It is not to be acted out but it points a direction of transformation. James is correct in discouraging anger out of reaction. Anger out of reaction creates enemies, destroys relationships and prevents helpful progress. However, anger demands a response. Without a response, anger festers into resentment and finally apathy. Anger is a key to who we are, our passions, our priorities and even our self worth.
James’ epistle originally met much contention for inclusion in the New Testament canon. In a way the epistle, once called by Martin Luther “the epistle of straw,” resonates with the women of ministry who are frustrated by its words. Highly contested, James’ words demand a voice. Similarly, women in ministry no longer deter anger, but allow the anger of inequality to create within us doers of the word.