Re Phil Robertson: Beyond Anger To Grief

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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”