Overcoming Workplace Violence with Forgiveness in Christ

Last week Vester Flanagan killed TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward in Roanoke, Virginia, because he was angry with their employer, TV station WDBJ, for having previously fired him. He was fired because he could not control his anger against other employees involving alleged racial slurs. His allegations appeared to be more imagined than real when his discrimination lawsuit was dismissed by a Virginia state court.

Anger is one of Satan’s most favorite tools in stirring up conflict in ourselves and others. Pride is the source of most anger because we become angry when our ego is offended or when we think we are being disrespected and treated unjustly.

The antidote for anger is forgiveness of the offending party, which may be difficult for us without God’s grace available to us through Jesus Christ.

Jesus had a lot to say about forgiveness. It was one of the petitions he gave us in the Lord’s Prayer, and the only one he went on to explain that if we can’t forgive others of their sins against us, God will not forgive our sins. (Mt. 6:14-15) When Peter asked how many times he should forgive a brother who sins against him and suggested seven times, Jesus responded, “seventy times seven.” (Mt. 18:21) And, how can we forget Jesus’ words of forgiveness from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

In Hope for the Workplace-Christ in You, there is a story about workplace forgiveness that illustrates Jesus’ words. Bill taught high school business classes for fifteen years. He then earned a master’s degree that qualified him to move into counseling. He initiated an application for a $250,000 grant for his school district which enabled the district to hire four vocational counselors. Bill was able to both counsel students and administer the grant.

Then there was a change of administrations and Bill was moved back into the kind of teaching job he had previously.   Bill said, “My boss told me there was an emergency vacancy in another school, and because of a hiring freeze I had to take the job. It was clear to me, however, that my new boss wanted his own person in the position I was holding.”

“Needless to say, I was angry,” Bill said. “I felt the change was unjust, and found myself blaming my boss. Many told me that I should have been given his position when the change in administration took place. For nearly six months I was preoccupied with anger and resentment. It affected my attitude and performance. My ego got a hold of me. ‘You’re better than that,’ I told myself. You’re not being treated fairly.’”

At this point, Bill’s anger and resentment could have continued to grow into an angry confrontation, but he heard a teaching on forgiveness at a meeting of Christians in Commerce that said, “As a result of forgiveness, everyone is set free. The wrongdoer is released from obligation, guilt and shame. The victim is released from indignation, anger and bitterness. And the Lord releases more of himself.”

Bill said, “This really hit me; it was a turning point for me. I prayed for the strength to forgive and let go of my anger, and my prayers were answered. Almost immediately, I had a new outlook and peace of mind. The Lord gave me the grace to forgive and truly let go of my anger and frustration. My life was changed.”

“A year later I went back into counseling in the same area I had been previously. I kept the same boss for the next fifteen years and we enjoyed a relationship of mutual respect. I thank God for blessing me with a wonderful career of teaching high school and middle school students for many years, and I thank him for freeing me from a time of anger and resentment that could have distracted me from the calling he had for me.”

The difference between Bill’s story and Vester Flanagan’s is that Bill sought God’s grace to forgive and Vester did not. The workplace is full of opportunities for offense, hurt and injustice. Through God’s grace available to us in Jesus Christ and the power of his Holy Spirit, we need to be willing to forgive when we have been offended. Similarly, we need to be open to offering an apology and seeking forgiveness when we are the offending party.   Are we willing?

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