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How to Handle Hateful Email

How to Handle Hateful Email
  • Name
    Thom Rainer
“You have no business being the pastor of our church. All you are interested in is getting your own way and changing all the good things we have going. People are saying you should be fired. I agree with them.”
Yes, it’s a real email. Yes, it’s from a church member to a pastor. The Internet has certainly brought us incredible ways to do commerce, to get information and to communicate. But it has an ugly and evil side to it as well. It allows cowardly critics to hide behind a keyboard and cut people to the core through blogs, social media and email. So how do we respond when we get a hurtful email? The pastor who received that cruel, cowardly and vitriolic email asked me that question. Here is how I responded:

1. Pray about it.

Do not respond in a quick-tempered, fleshly anger. Give it to God. Let Him guide you. Pray for wisdom and pray for those who attack you.

2. Wait.

Some leaders work on the 24-hour rule. They will not respond to a hateful email immediately. Some wait longer. They are waiting on God. They are waiting to have a more tempered perspective. And they are waiting to get input from others.

3. Get godly counsel.

I was recently accused of plagiarism in an email, a first for me. I was incensed. After a time of prayer, I knew a part of my anger was due to my own pride and ego. I pride myself on writing original content, so the accusation of copying someone else really irked me. But I sought the wisdom of others. I eventually responded strongly, but nothing like my original thoughts. The wisdom of others saved me from writing something I would have likely regretted for a long time.

4. Decide to respond or ignore.

Not every email, tweet, blog post or Facebook post is worthy of a response. Sometimes it’s just best not to engage the critic. That can be tough, because we so much desire to defend ourselves. But if you do respond, I recommend this next step.

5. Call or meet with the critic if at all possible.

I know it’s not always possible to have a verbal conversation with someone. But meeting face-to-face is ideal, and talking by telephone is better than a written response. Many critics are taken aback when they see the willingness of the person they attacked willing and desirous to meet with them. Leadership is tough, particularly in the church. You will get those “nasty-grams” from time to time. Remember the wisdom of Proverbs: “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). It’s not always the easiest path, but sometimes it’s the best and most godly path.