How do you handle hate mail when the senders are too cowardly to identify them selves? Recently three people filled their pens with poison and targeted me. Praise God! At least when they were attacking me they were not after you. But although aimed at me, these letters actually landed in my trash can. That's the final resting place of all unidentified mail that comes my way.
Normally anonymous letters don't arrive in my office three at a time. But whatever their frequency, I learned long ago to disregard them and even avoid reading them. Thoughtful Christians may disagree strongly on a point and still respect each other; but I never respect someone who expects me to invest my time pondering their misguided missile without the courtesy of allowing me the opportunity to respond.
Here are a few suggestions for the occasions when you receive unsigned, unsolicited letters:
- Remember that your supporters may fail to speak. Many who appreciate your ministry overlook the importance of affirming you, since we usually express frustration more quickly than satisfaction.
- Unsigned letters typically tear down rather than build up. Of course, criticism has its proper place, and every leader needs honest input concerning shortcomings. However, appropriate criticism is constructive, meaning to construct, to build. Its aim is to improve the situation, not to blame or shame.
- Don't take it personally. Even though the attack upon you may be vicious, remember that conviction without courage is cowardice of the highest order. Refuse to become its victim.
- Anonymous writers often lack full information. Armed with ignorance and undeserved fury, they fire at the nearest, most visible target: too often, the pastor.
- Rejoice that you are the target rather than someone else. I remember an unkind note slipped under my office door one Sabbath. The unsigned author ranted that the young people should have stayed away from church rather than to perform the music they had sung that morning. Although their music was not of my preference, I rejoiced that they were participating in worship. Had the anonymous animosity hate mail reached them, it might have discouraged them to the point of abandoning their music ministry and perhaps the church itself.
- Develop a distanced perspective. If you permit vicious criticism to sink in, it will gnaw at your psyche and destroy your self-confidence. And this is precisely what your attacker wants. So let such messages roll off your back rather than sink into your soul. Another coping technique is to remember that members need to vent their frustrations from time to time and that you provide a real pastoral service when you are their focus for "recreational griping." This perspective also helps to shrug off bitterness that could easily germinate and take root in your soul.
- Refuse to be paralyzed by the pessimists. Never permit an invisible minority, hiding behind code words such as "everyone agrees," "they all say," or "many believe," to affix a wrong conclusion to your mind. Be proactive more than reactive. If you pander to the naysayers, little effective ministry will occur. Instead, keep close counsel with your elders and other church leaders and then move ahead to accomplish God's vision for your church without stopping to worry about those who are forever chasing after you to bark at your wheels.
- Model appropriate confrontation. If you want to reduce hidden messages or veiled threats, it helps to be open and aboveboard in your own dealings. Don't think problems will disappear if you let them go unchallenged. Follow Christ's counsel in Matthew 18 and speak directly to those with whom you disagree.
- Seek appropriate anonymous input. Sometimes anonymous input is desirable. When surveying the opinion of the entire congregation or seeking input regarding the "buys in" of your members on a planned program, soliciting anonymous input is healthy and informative.
- Dispel rumors with humor. Several years ago when false accusations abounded alleging that many pastors were using hypnosis to control congregations, I answered with humor. Pointing to the financial statement, I remarked to my members, "Here is positive proof that you're not getting hypnotized. If you were, you would be giving lots more money!" The humor dispelled the rumor more effectively than any complex explanation to an unfounded accusation.
Real friends will confront you when something needs correction. In fact, confronting that is "care fronting" is an expression of love. The Bible says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful" (Prov. 27:6).