Abel Harding writes in the Florida Times-Union today on the perils of anonymous criticism of pastors. First Baptist, Jacksonville church member Tom Rich, had anonymously posted a criticism of the value of his pastor’s home, a dollar amount that wasn’t out of line with the median price of Jacksonville homes at the time. His pastor, Mac Brunson, subsequently accused Rich in an interview of having an obsessive-compulsive problem, and of being a sociopath. Those descriptions led to a defamation lawsuit which was eventually settled and included a public apology at last Sunday’s service by Brunson. The dispute lasted four and half years after Rich’s identity was disclosed by a subpoena served on Google. Rich was forced out of the church.
Harding, in his article today, reminded his readers that personalities – ministers, politicians, athletes and the like - have every move scrutinized and motivation challenged. He grew up in a preacher’s home and saw how tough church battles were on his Dad. Pastors are human. They have family members they try to protect, egos that get bruised and feelings of frustration when they don’t believe they are getting a fair shake. He asks how Brunson must have felt being subjected to anonymous criticism, some of it rather vicious, on an ongoing basis.
I was advised many years ago never to read anonymous letters. If they weren’t signed then they weren’t to be taken seriously. Criticism that comes to me second or third hand also cannot be given credibility if the critic isn’t willing to speak to me directly. The story is told of famous preacher Joseph Parker who was harassed by unsigned letters from a church member. One Sunday when he entered the pulpit he found a note in her writing with one word on it – “Fool.” He said, “Usually I receive anonymous letters but today it has no message, only a signature!”
Harding says that there is a place for anonymity to expose corruption, greed and abuse of power, but that it is often overused. Unless one’s life or livelihood is at risk, criticism should be leveled respectfully, and not behind a cloak of anonymity. Jesus said, “If you brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listen to you, you have won your brother over.” (Matthew 18:15)
I appreciate it when critics talk to me and not about me nor down to me. I am human. I make mistakes and I am willing to admit it and ask for forgiveness. No one is perfect.