Angry Reader Versus Me
A death threat arrived in my e-mail inbox the other day.
Actually, it would be better described as an Adventist-style death threat.
“You’re a liar, and you’re going to burn in hell!” the author essentially wrote in a message peppered with words typed in uppercase.
I had heard worse during the 17 years that I had previously worked as a journalist in Russia. But it had been easy to distance myself from those readers’ words. They weren’t Adventists.
At issue was an online news article that I had written with the headline “Adventists Urged to Study Women’s Ordination for Themselves.” In the article General Conference president Ted N.C. Wilson and Artur A. Stele, chair of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee, appealed to church members to prayerfully read the Bible to determine God’s will on women’s ordination.
The article generated the biggest burst of e-mails to my inbox since I had arrived as news editor a few months earlier. Many writers resorted to capital letters and exclamation points to underscore their views. “I’m sure you are a very smart person, and as an editor you should know better,” one reader wrote. “I can read. I know English vocabulary. God commands us to not ‘bear false witness,’ so you will be held responsible to a higher Judge. I’m just trying to help you out so that you don’t make news for twisting the truth.”
I never was accused of “bearing false witness” in Russia, which lacks a tradition of free media. People did threaten to sue me, defame me, or bankrupt me if I refused to modify or retract articles. Sometimes they used profanity. Eventually I came to view the occasional showdowns as a match of Angry Reader Versus Me that I had a fair chance of winning.
But my new job presented a dilemma. How should we react to irate Christians?
To be honest, my natural inclination is to avoid trouble. I’d rather not converse with any unpleasant people, whether Christian or not. At the same time, I know by memory the advice from Jesus on adversity: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you” (Matt. 5:44, NKJV).* Jesus’ rationale is simple. God loves every person, so we should too.
It’s hard, however, to find a way to e-love an online e-hater.
Thankfully, a friend came to the rescue and reminded me that ultimately conflict doesn’t involve people at all. Conflict stems from a battle between the unseen forces of good and evil. As Paul explains in Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (NKJV).
So how should we treat everyday conflicts? Here’s what I am learning:
- Be humble like never before. Prayer is an important part of writing. But I am not perfect, and I eagerly welcome correction. In the case of the ordination article, the Adventist Review’s editorial board correctly decided several days after publication to change a single word that was being misinterpreted by some readers.
- Love like never before. In the case of an unseen letter writer, this means respect. The simplest way to show respect is to reply to the angry e-mail—and write with kindness. If the writer fires back a second negative letter, perhaps the most loving response then would be to end the conversation. Clearly the exchange has fueled the writer’s anger, which is a sin.
- Pray like never before. Only Jesus has the power to counter the forces of darkness. If we look at each other, including fellow Adventists, we will be disappointed. We must keep our eyes on Jesus.
Our daily struggles fade into nothingness next to the real conflict that Jesus faced—and won on the cross. People are never the enemy. Satan is. And he’s a defeated foe. With that perspective, let’s not be distracted from our calling, and instead push forward in doing our very best for our Savior.
* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.