By Bob Russell
“This is the sorriest bunch of drivel I’ve ever read. With pitiful leaders like you it’s no wonder our churches are in such terrible shape! One day God will judge you in eternity for leading his people astray.” Those strident comments were e-mailed to me by a believer who was upset with something I wrote in a blog prior to the November election.
What made the writer so angry? It wasn’t that I had denied the Trinity or the inspiration of the Scriptures. No, he disagreed with my conclusion that a Christian could vote for a Mormon for president.
I suggested that we weren’t voting for a minister but for an administrator, therefore we should vote according to social values. Not every Christian endorses that position but it was shared by a number of respected leaders. Obviously, it was a matter of opinion, not a matter of salvation. It seemed to me the popular slogan, “In doctrine, unity; in opinion liberty; and in all things, love,” should apply.
I replied to the e-mail as follows. “I seldom respond to nasty letters. But there’s something about your note that intrigues me. I see by your e-mail address that you are a preacher and I assume you know the Scriptures, “The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness and kindness” and, “Let your conversation be always full of grace.” Can you explain to me, please, when you write nasty notes like this . . . what possibly goes through your mind? I would really like to know!” He has not yet answered.
Here is a sampling of other ill-
natured e-mails I received to that same article. “You are brainwashing your readers.” “You are abusing your position.” “You have lost your ethics.” “You sound so arrogant.” “Your conclusion is unconscionable.” “You have zero credibility.” “You should be ashamed of yourself. “You are a hypocrite.” “I’ll never read another thing you print.” “You have blasphemed the Holy Spirit.”
Having been the recipient of nasty-grams my entire ministry, I have learned to live with it. But I am often perplexed as to why Christians write such mean-spirited notes. A friend who had been a CEO of a large company agreed in retirement to serve as the president of a parachurch organization. He later reported that he received more vicious letters from the Christian community than he ever did from the business world.
Granted, we are dealing with issues that are eternally important and intensely emotional. However, there’s an old suggestion that we should “disagree without being disagreeable.” When you are at odds with a Christian leader, before pounding out a vicious e-mail or confronting in anger, perhaps it would be helpful to review the following passages of Scripture.
Proverbs 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” What’s your motive—to stir up more animosity, or to persuade another of the wisdom of your position?
Proverbs 29:11: “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” (NIV, 1984). Are you playing the role of a fool or a mature, self-controlled Christian?
Ephesians 4:26: “In your anger do not sin.” Your position may be right and your anger may be righteous, but rage opens the door for Satan to win two victories.
Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” If you have a broken bone you want the doctor to set it as tenderly as possible.
First Thessalonians 5:15: “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other.”
He who has ears to hear, let him hear. And he who has a computer to type, let him use a little discretion.
Bob Russell is the retired senior minister of Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky.