On March 28, a fax came into our church office addressed to me by name. The fax was a letter signed “From Concerned Christians”. The letter began by quoting 2 Samuel 23:3. It went on to say,
“There is a man, with the ambition to become a ruler, proselytizing among the towns and villages of North Carolina, who preaches hope and promises change. Many people have come under his spell, thinking that this man symbolizes the promise of a morning without clouds.
Sadly, these poor souls have failed to observe the darkening sky shadowing both this preacher’s past, and our nation’s future.”
The letter went on to quote from “this preacher” and talk about the “sermons of hate” given by this man’s pastor. The letter invited me to “join us in warning against this silver-tongued portent of America’s twilight.” I gave the fax a read, got a good snicker, and then stuck it in a pile of papers that would soon be filed in my trash can. I didn’t give it another thought.
The next week, another fax came. And another one came the next week. 3 faxes in 3 weeks, all about the same individual without naming him, all of them inviting me to join “us” in warning against this man, and all of them signed, “With sincerity, from Concerned Christians”.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of intelligence to figure out who these letters are attacking, even though they never name the individual specifically. What I find most interesting is the way they are all signed: “With sincerity, from Concerned Christians.”
How sincere is your concern when you are not even willing to put your name to it? How can you invite someone to “join us” when you are not even willing to say who “us” is?
It seems more and more Christians are growing comfortable with what I have heard one person call a “sniper” personality. Pick out the target for your anger, and then strike in the most harmful way possible without letting anyone know who is carrying out the attack. Often times, in the church world, the weapons of these “snipers” are anonymous letters talking about how “many people” in the church are unhappy with something the pastor or a staff member or a committee is doing. In the last 5 months, I know of 3 different pastors just within my circle of contacts who have gotten these kinds of letters. All threaten the future job security of staff members and the overall solvency of the congregation if things aren’t fixed the way the author of the letter wants. Of course, each letter is written out of a “sincere concern for our church.”
I think that the Bible has some different terms for what these days seems to more and more pass for “sincere concern”: enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy. In other words, the works of the flesh as defined by Paul in Galatians 5.
Certainly disagreements are going to rise in the body of Christ. Certainly there are going to be issues that Christians must take a stand for. However, Jesus’ prescription for how to express “sincere concern” seems different from a lot of what we encounter today. In Matthew 18:15-16, Jesus said,
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”
Jesus’ prescription for dealing with conflict and disagreement involves face-to-face interaction, not hiding in anonymity. Is this difficult to do? Absolutely! Nobody is comfortable in this kind of conversation. It is so much easier to just vent our frustrations in anonymity so that we can feel better that we have said what we think needed to be said. Jesus’ words remind us that this falls short of His purposes in a conflict. His desire is for reconcilation and restoration of the unity of the body. This should be the sincere concern of every Christian, and the only way that this can happen is when we stop trying to be snipers that destroy and start going about the difficult task of looking each other in the eye and talking about the issues that divide us.
I realize that our country is facing serious issues in a time when some wonder if we as an American people are really and truly “one nation”. There is certainly a lot for us Christians to be “sincerely concerned” about. However, we should make sure that we are expressing our “sincere concern” in a way that seeks reconciliation rather than further division. Perhaps that is where our Christian witness can begin in our time.