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Those Libelous Anonymous Letters*
Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.
Why Are They Written Anonymously?
Often the anonymous letter may contain something which indicates that the situation is so out of hand that they had no other recourse but to go straight to the pastor. This simply gives undue attention to the target of the attack.
That's why a general rule of thumb is that the one who receives the anonymous letter is the focus of criticism. Implied in this undue, unfair focus is the threat, "If you don't do anything about it, you are a goner! So listen up, you'd better get moving or else!" "After all, you're responsible for all this, pastor, and not us!"
The best policy is not to respond, react or deal with the letter in any way. There is nothing positive you can do with that letter in any ethical, Christian way. It's useless. Don't act on it. Don't share it with your leaders. Just throw it away.
There is a danger in acting on an anonymous letter. The anonymous letter is a trigger for a gun pointed at its recipient. If you act on it, you pull that trigger with predictably unpredictable consequences. It's a Pandora's box which potentially sets into motion all kinds of mayhem! It rolls out the red carpet for the anonymous writer to exercise a number of options. These include but are not limited to the following.
* Setting things into motion in such a way that others have to deal with congregational problems and challenges without their having to be involved;
* Watching others fail at something major in the church's ministry they know is going to be difficult (e.g. financial issues, institutional issues, growth issues, et al);
* Setting one's self up so that when other leaders fail, they can come in with a white horse to heroically "save the church."
* Setting a scenario to prepare major changes in leadership after any perceived "failure." Often such things will be heard, such as "See, the pastor and all his sycophants couldn't do it. You can't trust them. They can't do it. We need to take control and do it ourselves." Note, however, that in their eyes "failure" has absolutely nothing to do with the results of any pastoral or leadership efforts. "Failure" is determined exclusively by the criterion of who is doing it. Thus, what the pastor does is by default a "miserable failure." Anything they do is, by default, a rousing success!
* Creating the potential for a pastoral faux pax. Pastors are often foolish in this regard. Their sermons, their giving of recognition, their conversations with others, and other ministry activities often give antagonists substance for their agenda. "Did you hear what pastor said about me?" "Did you see how pastor blew up? That's certainly not very pastoral!" et al.
* Knocking the leadership off balance, proceed with an antagonistic propaganda campaign, attack the leadership, but not have anyone be able to pin anything on them.
* Making the leadership so mad, frustrated, impatient as to "blow their cool" and go on the offensive;
* Discrediting the leadership on the offensive as being uncaring, provocative, and power-hungry. "After all," they may reason, "watch how they treat those nice, sweet friends of ours."
* Putting the pastor in a no-win situation. "Pastor, I heard you had an anonymous letter. What did it say? Oh, so you won't share it, huh? What are you hiding? What else are you hiding? No wonder so many in this church don't trust you!"
* Setting a precedent that leaders will act on anonymous material if, for no other reasons, than fear.
* Establishing a reign of fear among leaders to stifle innovation and forward movement in the Kingdom. One of the best indicators of this is when leaders and pastors say, "I wonder what people will think?" "Let's not do it. We don't want anybody to get upset, do we?" etc.
* Testing to see if this strategy will work. If it works once, it may be worth trying again and again and again!
* See "Dealing With Difficult Letters" (Ministry Health #248) for additional insights.
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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:02:30 PM