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Re Phil Robertson: Beyond Anger To Grief

Posted on Dec 20, 2013 by Tom Gilson

I learned an important lesson several years ago about a way to move beyond anger, to a more godly and healthy response to upsetting events. I’ve thought about it again in light of A&E’s dismissal of Phil Robertson. In short, it’s about moving beyond anger to grief.

A Life Lesson Learned

I can explain it best by the story of how I learned it. I was a director of Human Resources at Campus Crusade for Christ (now “Cru”). One of our staff members, whom I did not know personally, had left his wife and moved in with another woman. I’ll call him Alan.

Alan’s friends and team leaders had counseled him, exhorted him, encouraged him, and begged him to move back home with his wife. He had refused.

So they came to me, as HR Director; and it fell to me to have one final employment-related conversation with him. In a missions context like ours, adultery is a big deal. It’s a huge hindrance to our witness and a contradiction of our message (especially that of FamilyLife, another division of Campus Crusade/Cru). It’s also very unusual in Cru: with about eight hundred staff members in my area of responsibility, I only knew of two instances in a period of about eight years. In the case of a persistently unrepentant person like Alan, the only option was to terminate his employment.

I was caught off guard by my own reaction when I heard what was going on. I was angry. I was angry at what Alan was doing to his wife, to himself, and to the ministry. I was angry in ways I did not understand.

I was so angry, in fact, that I knew I was in no condition to meet with him. There was no way I could have handled it right. So I called Stephen Shipley, a counselor who had helped me out previously, and asked for time to talk with him. We got together He asked me the usual expected about what might have triggered such unusual anger. We explored my background and other interesting avenues. It wasn’t very helpful

Then Stephen asked me, “Have you considered moving beyond anger, toward grief?” He went on: “Consider Alan: you know that he’s hurting, right? Of course he’s taking the wrong steps to ease his hurts, but still there must be a lot of pain there. You know, too that what he’s doing will hurt him even more in the long run. Consider grieving over him, his wife, and his ministry.”

A place for strong emotions to go

That really helped. I needed a place for my very strong emotions to go. That place needed to be deep enough to contain my feelings, and it needed to be healthier than anger. Grief was deep enough, and good enough.

Jesus Christ wept for Lazarus. Before he cleared the temple (which I’m not convinced was about anger), he wept over Jerusalem. Then “for the joy set before him” he suffered on the cross. Jesus knew that joy and grief could coexist together.

I had that conversation with Alan the next day, and it went as well as it could have, given the circumstances. He offered his resignation, effective three weeks hence, and I told him he had the resignation but not the three weeks: it would be effective immediately. I felt sick for the rest of the day: not over terminating him, but over the pain of what he was doing.

I know, by the way, that many people reading this are feeling serious pain over serious relational struggles, and that you’re much closer to your own situation than I was to Alan’s. My situation in a mission agency was unique. I’m not going to say that my thoughts here apply to you in your situation. You have paths to walk that I do not know.

Concerning Phil Robertson: Beyond Anger to Grief

Recall, though, that I said this came to mind in context of the Duck Dynasty debacle. This situation and the one I went through with Alan share something important in common: I’m not directly involved. I’m observing from a distance.

Still I’m unhappy over it, and all that it represents. Maybe you’re upset, too; maybe you’re angry. I can’t blame you if you are. But anger isn’t likely to accomplish the righteousness of God, and it’s also not likely to do you or me any good. It’s unpleasant, it’s hard on the health, and it’s a poor guide for action. Anger clouds the mind.

If we’re angry, though, this time we’re angry at some distant, faceless, nameless corporate decision-making body. For me, that means I can move pretty quickly beyond anger to grief.

I’m convinced what they did was wrong. (Those who disagree, or who think I’m over-confident in my opinions, will just have to deal with it. There are many on both sides of this issue who are confident they’re right. I’m one of them.)

Being convinced they’re wrong, however, I’m also convinced that “there but for the grace of God go I.” We’re all in this mess of life together. We all have to make our own decisions. There are right ones and wrong ones. Wrong moral decisions reflect moral confusion, and I can grieve over that, for it’s hurting those decision-makers more than it is me. Wrong decisions have harmful consequences, which again I can grieve over, since they are the ones who will hurt from them the most.

It’s a lot easier to pray for people we’re grieving over than people we’re mad at. It’s a lot easier to show them the love of Christ. It takes nothing away from our opinions or beliefs about what they’ve done; rather it adds in the factor that we’re all fellow human beings, all created in God’s image, all loved by God.

More of the Same To Come

Phil Robertson’s suspension is one more example of a growing social trend toward suppressing the public expression of biblical viewpoints. I don’t think it will be the last of them. We’re likely to have a lot of strong feelings. Based on my experience, I think it’s a lot better to approach many of these situations with grief than with anger.

Related: Phil Robertson’s Suspension: “So It Begins”

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25 Responses to “ Re Phil Robertson: Beyond Anger To Grief ”

  1. Blake says:

    Well said Tom.

  2. Keith says:

    Tom, a question.

    In this and your last post (“So It Begins”), there are private companies where an employee makes a public statement that is “a contradiction of our message”.

    Just as Cru’s “message” was damaged by Alan’s “statement”, A&E’s “message” was damaged by Robertson’s statements.

    In the first case, as an employee of Cru, you fired another employee for contradicting the corporate message (and felt justified in doing so). In the second case, you are angry a corporation suspended an employee for contradicting the corporate message.

    How are those two cases not the same?

  3. Tom Gilson says:

    Good question, Keith.

    I’m not denying that A&E had the right to make a public statement about their values in this way. Rather I’m saying (mostly) that this is yet another instance of Christian belief and expression being suppressed, and that I’m deeply concerned about that. Another factor entering into it is that I think the message A&E is trying to send is both wrong and harmful.

  4. Crude says:

    Tom,

    It’s a lot easier to pray for people we’re grieving over than people we’re mad at. It’s a lot easier to show them the love of Christ. It takes nothing away from our opinions or beliefs about what they’ve done; rather it adds in the factor that we’re all fellow human beings, all created in God’s image, all loved by God.

    I respectfully disagree. In fact, I think this attitude – at least in part – is one of the problems plaguing Christians right now in America.

    The fact is, you have a right to be angry. A moral right, and a biblical right. And you can be angry while still being judicious.

    You should be angry that GLAAD and HRC blatantly misrepresented what Robertson said. They lied about him, they slandered him, and this is only the latest in a series of events.

    You should be angry that A&E piled on, and quite possibly orchestrated this whole fiasco in an attempt to clamp down on one of their more ‘culturally problematic’ shows and show stars.

    Why should you move from anger to grief? No one’s saying you should want harm to come to anyone. But why do you need to turn A&E executives into objects of pity? Is it justified? Is it reasonable? Is it even Christlike?

    I ask this sincerely, because I’ve thought this over repeatedly and the conclusion I’ve come to is that no, this isn’t the Christian thing to do. Sometimes Christ was angry. Sometimes he used that anger.

    Keith,

    In the first case, as an employee of Cru, you fired another employee for contradicting the corporate message (and felt justified in doing so). In the second case, you are angry a corporation suspended an employee for contradicting the corporate message.

    Because the ‘corporate message’ here is partly one of maligning Robertson? Of promoting a flat out misrepresentation of his views? Of hypocritically offering itself up as an open-minded network?

    Also – A&E isn’t some individual organization committed first and foremost to some religious or even political ideal. It is, supposedly, an entertainment and edutainment station. The only ‘corporate messages’ it has are ultimately ones of convenience, and ones that can be shaped by reaction. And if pressure, anger and backlash can force them to change their message, that’s fair game. In fact, that is precisely the terms on which GLAAD has operated for years.

    The ideal outcome of this situation, remote as it is, should be for an A&E executive to come out and say ‘We were wrong in how we reacted to Robertson. We apologize to him.’, and for GLAAD and HRC to receive so much backlash that they think twice before speaking up about this again.

    Your mileage may vary. But let’s not pretend this is all the stuff of innocence and, gosh darnit, just some folks tryin’ to live up to their ideals as openly as they can. It is, in the case of GLAAD, HRC and A&E, a bit more manipulative than that.

  5. Crude says:

    And Tom, if you haven’t read it already, I’d suggest reading about what may have happened behind the scenes in this case, in more ways than one.

  6. Keith says:

    Crude @5:

    Phil Robertson is anti-homosexuality, has said so repeatedly and publically, and there’s video. He refers to homosexuals in vitriolic terms:

    They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred; they are insolent, arrogant, God-haters; they are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless, they invent ways of doing evil.

    Regardless of whether or not he’s wrong or if you agree with him or not, his views have not been misrepresented.

  7. Tom Gilson says:

    Keith, what is the antecedent of “they” in that sentence? Really. Show the full quote. Do you know the source it came from?

  8. […] as they were, appeared to me in a new light when I read these two articles, recommended in a comment by Crude. There’s more information there that renders my option #1 considerably less likely, and […]

  9. Keith says:

    Tom @8:

    I apologize, I thought it was clear the quote came from the video I linked.

    To be fair, note that link is edited; here is a link to the full sermon, without edits. This quoted section starts at minute 17:00.

    Robertson is preaching Romans 1:26. The lead-in to the specific quote is:

    Therefore because they did not think it worthwhile to attain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to shameful lusts. Women exchanged natural relations and were inflamed with lust for one another, and the men were inflamed with lust with each other; women with women, men with men. They committed indecent acts with one another, and they received in themselves the due penalty for their perversions. They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred; they are insolent, arrogant, God-haters; they are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless, they invent ways of doing evil.

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    Right. It’s a list of moral errors people fall into when they exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship the created rather than the Creator. Start at Romans 1:19 and see the full context.

    It is not a list describing homosexuals. Homosexuality is on the list, but it is not the point of the list.

    At about 17:22 he says, “First they say there is no God.” The antecedent to “they” there is those, as mentioned in Romans 1:19 and following, those who deny God.

    So please don’t misinterpret this is a list of descriptors of gays. That’s not what it is.

    Does that help?

  11. Keith says:

    Tom @10:

    Watch the sermon, Tom, or at least that part. This is not an explication of the first chapter of Romans, this is Robertson talking about “gross sexual immorality”, in America, today.

    If, after watching, you still believe Robertson’s views have been misrepresented, I would concede the point.

  12. Crude says:

    Keith,

    Phil Robertson is anti-homosexuality, has said so repeatedly and publically, and there’s video. He refers to homosexuals in vitriolic terms:

    Right out of the gates – it does not matter. GLAAD and HRC were referring to the GQ interview exclusively, and they mentioned nothing else from him. This is a ‘didn’t become common knowledge until one day ago’ video that was utterly unrelated. It doesn’t absolve them of lying about his statements, and that’s clear.

    As for the video itself, I watched the relevant portion. Nope – once again, he is condemning acts, not people. He’s not even singling out homosexual acts in that video, but talking about – among various things – ‘gross sexual misconduct’ in broad enough terms to pick up heterosexual acts as well.

    So once again – still misrepresented.

  13. Keith says:

    Crude @13:

    Yes and no.

    I don’t know the timing on GLAAD & HRC — I’ll defer to you.

    Agreed; Robertson does not use the word “homosexual”, but to argue “gross sexual misconduct” is not focused on homosexual marriage/relationships, that’s a bridge too far for me. First, that’s the sexual issue of the day, second, his go-to verse is Romans 1:26.

    Do you believe he meant to talk about “general sexual morality”, and not homosexuality specifically?

  14. Crude says:

    Keith,

    I don’t know the timing on GLAAD & HRC — I’ll defer to you.

    It’s a matter of public record. They targeted his GQ interview, expressly.

    Agreed; Robertson does not use the word “homosexual”, but to argue “gross sexual misconduct” is not focused on homosexual marriage/relationships, that’s a bridge too far for me. First, that’s the sexual issue of the day, second, his go-to verse is Romans 1:26.

    Read his GQ interview. Are you honestly going to think that when Robertson talks about gross sexual misconduct he’s letting heterosexuals off the hook? Here he is:

    Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.

    So, homosexual behavior. Bestiality. (I notice a lot of people want to stop right there and pretend he was comparing the two, without going on.) Sleeping around in general. Adulterers. Idolaters. Male prostitutes.

    So no, given the context and what he said, it’s pretty clear that Robertson is talking about sex in general. Accent on the sex by the way: not ‘Homosexual relationships’, as if two people holding hands or loving one another in and of itself drew ire. Anal sex. Sodomy. And also? This holds for heterosexuals too.

    Robertson asks if we see evidence of gross sexual misconduct in the US. He never singles out homosexuals, even in your own quote. I don’t think ‘Well, he must mean homosexuality, because what else is there to condemn nowadays?’ works, especially when you look at his GQ interview. He’s pretty explicit in the range.

    Do you believe he meant to talk about “general sexual morality”, and not homosexuality specifically?

    Based on what I’ve seen of that interview? Yep. He also talked about idolatry, as in putting animals on pedestals. Are you really making the claim that Robertson thinks heterosexual morality and behavior is beyond reproach nowadays?

  15. Ordinaryseeker says:

    Do you think he would have been suspended if he had said, “Due to my beliefs as a Christian, I do not support gay marriage/homosexual relationships/homosexual behavior?”

  16. Tom Gilson says:

    Probably not. That would have been just inside the line. He crossed the line when he made it more than a matter of his personal support/lack of support: he called it out as wrong.

    Interestingly, though, in the Christian blogosphere there’s considerable criticism of his lack of nuance and coarseness; whereas A&E did not cite that in its notice of his suspension. They cited his “values.” The implication there is that if he had said “homosexuality is wrong,” he would have been suspended, even if he had stated it in a more refined manner.

  17. Ordinary seeker says:

    I think that if he had said, “Due to my personal religious beliefs, I believe homosexuality is wrong,” he may not have been suspended; and, if he were, there would have been much support for your position.

  18. Tom Gilson says:

    I suppose you’re largely right. Still I’m glad he was wiser than that.

    For if he had said that, it wouldn’t have been a statement of my position, or of the biblical viewpoint. There is a strong impetus in our culture to privatize religious beliefs as merely personal. I reject that, for Jesus Christ is not my personal God, he is God of the universe with or without me; and my personal beliefs do not tell me what is right or wrong.

  19. Ordinary seeker says:

    Not sure what you mean.

    What I meant was that if he had spoken his difference of opinion respectfully, there would have been more support for his right to express his beliefs. The way he spoke seemed more like hate speech and less like an expression of his religious beliefs.

  20. Tom Gilson says:

    I see.

    If he had spoken more respectfully it would have helped, I agree. He is who he is. Do you watch the show?

    What I was saying was that this isn’t a matter of personal belief.

  21. Keith says:

    Tom @19:

    Would you please unpack the phrase “my personal beliefs do not tell me what is right or wrong”?

    What do you mean when you say that?

  22. Tom Gilson says:

    I mean that what’s right and wrong are what they are; they don’t depend on my personal beliefs. My beliefs tell me what I believe is right or wrong, I suppose, or maybe I just wrote that carelessly and I don’t need to defend it as much as I need to correct it.

  23. Keith says:

    Tom @19, @23:

    What (I think) you’re saying is there is an absolute morality, but then agreeing you have imperfect access to it.

    This is one of the places I think atheists and Christians talk past each other: Christians focus on the absolute morality part (“God said it, I believe it, that settles it”), and atheists focus on the imperfect access (since what God “says” changes with every culture and generation, it’s a personal belief).

  24. Keith says:

    Crude, @15:

    I’m convinced, you’re right — thanks.

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