In today’s volatile environment, rage is taking center stage. Anger is something that comes from deep within – seemingly uncontrollable. How can a hot-tempered person possibly rid himself of indwelling hatred and become a person who, rather than stirring up strife, calms a dispute (Proverbs 15:18)?
“I saw what I had become, lashing out at every single thing. And I asked God, ‘If you take anger out of my heart, I’ll never hate again,’ Justice Clarence Thomas reminisced in Created Equal, an auto-biographical, feature-length documentary distributed by PBS.
Thomas is perhaps best known for the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991 and the explosive sexual harassment claims by Anita Hill. If ever there was a time to be angry – to lash out in defense, it was then. But God had already answered Thomas’s prayer. The hate was gone.
As I listened to Thomas tell his story, Dr. Ben Carson came to mind, who also struggled with anger and called out to God for healing. Now U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Carson has led a successful life as one of the world’s most renowned pediatric neurosurgeons, a man marked by a kind and gentle demeanor.
After attempting to stab one of his friends at age eight, Carson spent two hours in the bathroom crying out to God for help. When he read Proverbs 16:32, it felt as though it was written just for him: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”
“At last I stood up, placed the Bible on the edge of the sink,” he wrote in his autobiography Gifted Hands. “I washed my face and hands, straightened my clothes. I walked out of the bathroom a changed young man…I’ve lived more than twenty years since that experience. I’ve never had another flare-up or even had a serious problem of needing to control my temper.”
Without question, these two men have become mighty men of integrity – free from the anger and hatred that once shackled them.
Both men grew up in poverty, were without their fathers, and faced discrimination. The obstacles were seemingly insurmountable.
I’ve known these things about Carson for over a decade, having read his autobiography Gifted Hands and watched Gifted Hands, the 2009 inspirational movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr.
But I did not know these things about Justice Clarence Thomas.
I reluctantly agreed to watch the documentary on a Friday night with my husband – not thrilled about surrendering that precious end-of-week recovery time to the viewing of a political commentary. But once the cameras began rolling, I discovered it was neither dull nor distressing, but, rather engaging and insightful with captivating photography and story-telling.
It is through the words of Thomas himself that I now feel I’ve come to know this Supreme Court justice as more than a political figure, but I’ve been endeared to a man who has victoriously overcome hardship with grace and humility.
I knew nothing of his seminary training, his falling away, and participation in the Black Power movement. As he thought critically about racial issues, his views began to change and return to the ideals his grandfather had instilled in him. But then, he began to face another set of issues.
He described the onslaught of discriminatory attacks and the prevalence of antagonism concerning his conservative views: “It’s stereotypes draped in sanctimony and self-congratulations. There’s a different set of rules for different people. If you criticize a black person who’s more liberal, you’re a racist. Whereas, you can do whatever to me or to, now, Ben Carson, and that’s fine. Because you’re not really black because you’re not doing what we expect black people to do.”
But he, like Carson, continues to show us how God can change a heart, how forgiveness brings clarity and peace, and hard work and resilience brings prosperity.
The question isn't "Is my anger justified?" Rather, it's "Will I allow my anger to destroy lives including my own?" Thank God for these two Americans and the choices they made. We should follow their lead.
Created Equal is rated PG-13 for the segment on sexual harassment, and it does contain limited profanities. For more information, click here. A companion website providing additional details from over 30 hours of interviews with Justice Thomas and his wife will soon be available. Also accessible is Thomas’s 2007 memoir, My Grandfather’s Son.