Emotional Responses

Christianity and Emotions: When One Person’s Emotions Trump Another’s

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Is there a biblical precedent for how we handle our feelings?   Must we put aside negative feelings when others want to only focus on positive feelings?

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“I learned to my astonishment that God, whose ‘impassibility’ I thought meant that he was incapable of emotion, speaks (though in human terms) of his burning anger and vulnerable love. I discovered too that Jesus of Nazareth, the perfect human being, was no tight-lipped, unemotional ascetic. On the contrary, I read that he turned on hypocrites with anger, looked on a rich young ruler and loved him, could both rejoice in spirit and sweat drops of blood in spiritual agony, was constantly moved with compassion, and even burst into tears twice in public. From all this evidence it is plain that our emotions are not to be suppressed, since they have an essential place in our humanness and therefore in our Christian discipleship.”  ~John Stott

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In responding to the death of Calvary Chapel’s founder, Pastor Chuck Smith, we have engaged in a discussion about the timing of the post I published from Alex Grenier, a Calvary Chapel abuse survivor.  Alex posted his article on the day – within hours  – of Chuck Smith’s death and when I read it, I asked permission to post and did so a few hours later.

A few people have challenged me on the timing of publishing something so negative against Chuck Smith, that it is insensitive, even labeling me as an abuser:

If that is the case then I have to say you are abusing the family as you claim Chuck Smith has done to you and it is insensitive. I had hoped that my comment would make a difference. I am saddened to see it has not. Discernment ministries are good and needed until it needlessly harms as you are doing at this time to Chuck Smith’s family. It is not something I can or will support. You are now being the very thing you claim to be fighting. This is not the only ministry to have become this way in another area. It goes against what you say you stand for. You have now become the insensitive abuser.

and here:

Julie Anne: I know you don’t mean to be abusive, but that is what this is. Chuck Smith’s family are raw right now. They are grieving and to put this kind of post up now is cruel. Where is it any different than John Piper writing what he did when the Oklahoma Tornadoes came in May? He didn’t mean to be cruel either, yet he was. I cannot be anymore silent now as I was then. I support your cause, I am glad you and others have been speaking out. It needs to be. This however is not appropriate and it is cruel if not taken down in my opinion. It will hurt what you have worked so hard to build and do.

A man has died and there are already posts out there, more than this blog, with glad he’s gone and here is what he has done posts. Think of the family. That is Christianity. That is Christ. This is not no matter what reason you posted it. ~comments by Debbie

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David, too, had mixed feelings about the timing, too, but had these very strong words:

Look at the exponential effects of evil resulting from just this one sinful decision Chuck Smith made. You now have Wolf Bob Grenier operating CCV as a cult—a monstrous conceited man overseeing his own mini kingdom of bob. Where are the watchmen of the flock of God who will take action toward delivering the blind sheep from these houses of bondage?

Now where the timing of this may appear evil, I believe it provides all of us an opportunity to graciously tell our stories in the hopes that many of the scales of lies would be washed away from the eyes of those believers still trapped by the liars (and complexity of lies) upholding the CC mindset.

The sheep must awake!

On the day of Chuck Smith’s passing Alex’ Calvary Chapel Abuse blog hosted over a thousand visitors at a clip, all over the map, nearing the six million all time hit mark. That is a lot of exposure, and goes to show just how big and global the CC machine has become!

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David has a very good point about the scores and scores of people who visited Alex’s blog.  There were times where I saw over 1,200 visitors at the site at a time.  Were these people aware of the blatant abuses going on?  Could they have been some of those in pews knowing that something was not quite right and now stumbling across Alex’s blog find “the rest of the story,” albeit awkward timing with the death of their beloved leader?

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And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.  Mark 3:5

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Trust4himonly offered this remark:

 My concern was the timing. We know in Ecclesiastes it says there is “a time for mourning, a time to kill, a time for peace”. Maybe a good thing was to mourn the fact that this man did not use the opportunities God gave him for what was right and good. But at this time I still think it was good to give the family their own space without the blogosphere, no matter the wrong he did.

Brad balanced the other side with his thoughtful comment:

Now that Pastor Smith has passed on, it is natural that the emphasis shifts for a while from the factual to the emotional, as those who survive him in every sense of that word consider his impact, for good or for ill. I suggest we let all people affected by Pastor Smith’s life do what they need to, to process his passing and respond … and let there sift out from this public exchange on a public figure a truthfully balanced legacy, instead of partial information, misinformation, and/or disinformation.

Lydia’s comment caused me to think of those left alone by abuse:

Look this stuff does not have to be personal. Why not simply come to discuss why it is ok or not to discuss this?

You know, there is a whole psychology going on when your abuser or someone who protected your abuser dies. How do victims deal with such unfinished business never to be “finished”? That is one thing but what about when they were ALSO a “Christian” celeb and everyone is singing their praises in the Christian media? That has to be tough and LONELY.

photo credit: Walt Stoneburner via photopin cc

My head has been like a yo-yo trying to think about sensitivity, appropriateness, seeing both sides of the story.

Is there a biblical precedent for mourning?  What is it?

I propose that at a time like this, we are given the opportunity to experience a full range of emotions:  sorrow, happiness, anger, joy, regrets, etc.    We can experience more than one emotion at the same time.  Alex Grenier, expressed he had mixed feelings.  He felt sorrow over Pastor Smith’s death even though he also had regrets about Smith’s lack of involvement in his father’s situation.

I get concerned, however, when people tell others that they cannot feel or cannot talk because “it’s not the right time.”  Where is this in the Bible?  Show me the verse, please.  Why is it okay for some to express their feelings and others not?   Why are we so reluctant to allow ourselves and/or others to respond truthfully with those negative feelings – that we have to put the negative feelings on the back burner for fear of offending others?  Why do some people’s emotions trump the emotions of others?

A lot of this feels controlling to me.  I don’t believe feelings are bad or good.  They are given to us by God and they just are.  If emotions were created by Him, and He did not give us a rule book on how to use them, it is not a sin to feel them and express them.

If spiritual abuser survivors cannot feel safe to share how they feel about a leader’s passing here on a blog dedicated to them, where can they go?   If they are being told it’s the wrong timing, it’s basically saying, “don’t feel.”   But again, if God gave us feelings, are we to reject that which God gave us?  Is that not lying and denying the gift of emotions?  How is that honoring God in how He created us?

Is this “grieving-the-right-way-and-in-the-right-timing” thing a cultural issue?  If so, then how are Christians to respond to that if there is no scriptural precedent to back it up?    If there is no scriptural precedent on the proper way to grieve,  should we be telling others how they ought or ought not respond?

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23 thoughts on “Christianity and Emotions: When One Person’s Emotions Trump Another’s”

  1. A psychologist would tell you that letting the emotions be expressed is critical to healing and keeping them in is dangerous to emotional well-being. The abused have a need to heal and the grieving have a need to grieve, and each should tolerate and not object to the expressions of the other. Again, the place needs to be appropriate. The grieving can grieve everywhere and anywhere; the abused can grieve everywhere except at the official places and events of mourning.


  2. A distant relative of mine was an abuser and nobody took the abused’s (his daughter) claims seriously, not even his other children. When the abused died, his daughter went ballistic. She had spent her entire life trying to get somebody to believe her, to listen to her story, to see that her father was not the excellent man that they thought he was. She grieved in a way that nobody expected; in a way all of that negative emotion just came pouring out and she attacked the family members who ignored her. To this day, 15 years later she has not reconciled with the rest of her family. Nobody believed that this man, the former chief of police, was capable of these atrocities against her. Because the daughter was not grieving “properly”, she was tossed aside. I have learned so much from her. Victims of abuse will often experience an outpouring of emotions when their abuser dies, an outpouring of emotions that can be shocking. And that is amplified by a million times if justice was not achieved before the abuser’s death. I will never tell someone that their emotions are inappropriate or unacceptable in the face of tragedy. We must support the victims when their abusers die, no matter what path that takes. It breaks my heart that my own cousin is not welcome by 90% of my family because of a series of events beyond her control.


  3. Every time I attend a family reunion or gathering of some sort, I see that my cousin is missing. She might as well be dead to my family. Instead of showing compassion towards her, my family shunned her. I can’t imagine what pain she feels every time she goes on facebook and sees pictures and loving comments and knows that she is disowned because she dared to get mad that her abuser died without acknowledging his crimes against her. I admire Alex Grenier and Julie Anne for having the courage to step forward and say that justice was not served here on Earth and it stinks. We want it so badly and it is so hard to accept that it didn’t happen. At the same time we know that silence only perpetuates the abuse. Someone else will fill Chuck Smith’s spot. He most likely will take advantage of the fact that people are focused on “grieving properly” that they will selectively forget his role in the abuse. I’ve seen this exact scenario happen time and time again. My own cousin relives her abuse every time her own brothers and sisters tell her to move on, that he is dead so there is no point in discussing it. Even after death, silence perpetuates abuse.


  4. Have you been able to talk with her about this, Mandy? I just cannot believe how cruel this is. I cannot imagine what the holidays must be like for your cousin.


  5. JA, Joe Carter got caught in one of my huge pet peeves and Medford took him on. Good for her. Carter issues, Ex Cathedra of course, a VAGUE rebuke accusing “SOMEONE” or a “group” of “slandering Christ’s Bride”. Unless he gets specific with who and what, he should be seen as the silliness he is and what comes out of that group. Vague blanket rebukes NEVER work.

    But they are worried and they should be. You can always tell when they are worried by the articles they write. They took a hit on supporting CJ and now with all this spiritual and sexual abuse coming out all they can say is “you are slandering Christ’s Bride”. So typical. They are telling us who they are.

    I have read more tripe over at TGC. They remind me of little boys trying so hard to be taken seriously.


  6. Oh, Oh Oh!!! I love it. Joe trots out the “bearing false witness” accusation. I have seen this one used by the YRR over and over again.

    Well Joe here is how it works……you are bearing false witness for accusing them of bearing false witness. Isn’t that fun? Note how they try to make any response to them —a SIN!!!

    Unless you get specific Joe, you have no street cred.


  7. Mandy,
    Thank you so much for sharing your family’s story. I had the same thought when I read the critical comments on SSB’s post about Chuck Smith’s death–we seem to be more concerned about the grief of his family than we are about the grief of his victims. Victims live with the hope that in the end there will be justice and often fail to fully grieve the trauma and loss associated with their abuse because they are so vigilant about protecting themselves and looking for justice. The death of their abuser means that their hope for justice and validation also dies and often the suppressed grief and anger finally are voiced. WE dare not silence that.

    Chuck lived a long life and while I am sure his family is sad at his passing, he did not die tragically or at a young age. He is at peace but his victims are not. Again, I say, we dare not rebuke them or try to silence them. If we do, we are colluding with their abuser. My prayer for your cousin is that she will find peace and healing. I’m so glad she has a compassionate cousin like you who understands what she is experiencing.


  8. Sigh. I need to use my jaded side here for a moment. Quite honestly? I can’t count on my fingers how many times a person that isn’t ‘popular’ in Christian Circles that they run – not walk to gas constantly about the person when they pass. I mean think about it. If a famous homosexual, or feminist dies? Do they ‘pause’ for the family to have the proper grieving time before throwing out their venom filled opinions? No. (must turn off jaded side now – i don’t like it)

    It makes sense that people struggle with the death of someone that harms them, and yet THEY and their followers still refuse to even acknowledge things. It pushes feelings of their hypocritical stand to the surface when they pass. That is very triggering. Here lies a man that says he STANDS against child abuse, and yet doesn’t take a stand when needed. What Carter seems to miss is you can write all these lovely articles against some subject – or no doubt what they call social woe – and when faced with it directly just to ignore it? They refuse to expand their brains to realize YES that is silence.

    Like it or not – Part of this pastor’s legacy will be: faced with accusations of child abuse I used ‘independence’ of churches as an excuse to not deal with it. How he can state he stands ‘against child abuse’, and yet stands silently when faced with option of righting a wrong. That’s not a stand – its silence.

    I can empathize with the mourning of this family, but I highly doubt they are spending time online searching for criticism. If their family and friends KNOW this is happening? There is a time and place for mentioning it if its not up front an personal right at this moment. If someone is in the room that has been hurt by them? They all placed themselves in that circumstance by allowing it to fester with denial, and all the rest. Sadly, choices have consequences.

    I mean lets face it. Their reaction won’t be any different one week or one month later.


  9. Scripture tells us to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those that rejoice. I would suggest that believers should show consideration to those who are mourning. This doesn’t mean one has been silenced it simply means one is showing empathy for a hurting family. Everyone knows that their family members were not perfect and hurt other people because every human being is guilty of this but when that person dies families are hurt by the loss of the good that is associated with that person.

    There is nothing wrong with telling the truth but hurting other people because you have been hurt is not the right way to express your emotions.


  10. “There is nothing wrong with telling the truth but hurting other people because you have been hurt is not the right way to express your emotions.”

    Agreed, mostly. Unfortunately, Julie Anne and others have been taken to task for merely speaking the truth.

    I’m not sure I completely agree with the statement that hurting other people because you have been hurt is not the right way to express your emotions. Sometimes expressions of anger, for example, are provoked in the heat of the moment. The one who provokes is simply going to have to deal with it, and we had best be careful not to blame the victim in this circumstance. Premeditated vindictive harm is another matter–not good. The pursuit of corrective action, even justice–that’s O.K. In fact, suppressing/repressing and failing to express emotions will only increase the probability that they will at some point come out sideways, in ways that are harmful to the victim as well as to the perp.


  11. I think that when someone tells you what you should feel, what the “proper” reaction is, we run into trouble. For my cousin, it was incredibly isolating when nobody understood her anger over the passing of her abuser. Grief manifests itself in so many ways and not just the proper tears and sadness. My own family is proof of what happens when you ostracize someone for mourning differently. Instead of telling her she was wrong, we should have been by her side sharing her anger that her abuser died without answering for his crimes. If only we had mourned with her…

    My mom stills writes and emails our cousin regularly. She may never trust another person in our family again but my mom choses to love her anyways.

    One last thing. It takes great courage to love someone in pain. It means opening ourselves up to their full range of emotions, no matter how painful, and being there til the end. I choose love.


  12. Mandy, you have got it very right!

    “It takes great courage to love someone in pain. It means opening ourselves up to their full range of emotions, no matter how painful, and being there til the end. I choose love.”


  13. Wesley Roy said, “There is nothing wrong with telling the truth but hurting other people because you have been hurt is not the right way to express your emotions.”

    IMO: Two things. This statement is just off. AND it doesn’t even apply.

    Of course, hurting other people because you have been hurt is NEVER the right way to express your emotions. I agree with that. But #1: a truth-telling action doesn’t make the truth-teller themselves a hurter AND #2: this statement in this context leaves me wondering.

    The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Who is doing the hurting whenever truth is told? Is it the abused speaking up about it? Or is it the abuser who sinned? Are the abused anything more than messengers of truth if all they are doing is speaking the truth? Ever heard of “Don’t shoot the messenger”? Let us be thinking Christians. Families will always be hurt when learning of loved one’s wrongdoing, unless they don’t care about right & wrong.

    First, who knows if the family cares about right & wrong? If they don’t, it won’t hurt them to hear it. If this is the case, they may be upset, but not because they’re upset that wrong was done.

    Second, if the family cares about right & wrong, they will be upset. Who will they be upset with? The one responsible. Not the victim. Ever. Because if someone cares about right & wrong they will NEVER blame the abused for truth-telling. Ever.

    We see blameshift thinking in the secular world all the time. Stuebenville. The reason truth-telling was wrong, was the victim’s fault? Because of the results: students couldn’t go to school, it was on lock down, students puking, students scared, the town is getting a black eye. I agree, this is all horrible. So, is the result/consequence/domino effect the victim’s fault? Who’s fault is it? Who’s to blame for sin’s consequences: the abused or the abuser? Let’s think about it. Should Christians hold to this belief?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLV9cUW-MsE Here’s the Steubenville video. The caption is bad, I can’t help that. The video is informative and a great example of blameshifting.


  14. I think it is a cultural thing, and I can see where both sides are coming from, but I too feel uncomfortable with the idea of telling abuse victims what to feel and when they can or cannot express it. It’s natural to have feelings at this time, and like you said, if they cannot express it here, then where? This is our space, not the family’s space. No one is pushing it in their faces. I don’t think consideration of the family’s grief extends to other people’s spaces.

    /two cents from someone not directly affected by any of this.


  15. Having just read the blog post and none of the comments, it has been my experience that abusers always stand ready to call confrontive truth “abusive.” Those who accuse others of being abusive for speaking the truth are feeling entitled to control WHAT can and cannot be said and WHEN it can and cannot be said. (Truthfully, they’d rather “it” not be said at all.) The definition of abuse is not speaking unpleasant, harsh truth. The definition of abuse is a feeling of entitlement to have power and control over others.


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