I received my first anonymous hate mail today at my school. It came in a card shaped envelope with my (misspelled) name typed on the front with my school address. Inside there was a cute smiley face card. I opened it and found a typed note – it was nasty and vile and attacked me personally. The language was ugly and it sent me spinning for a bit. I was not prepared for the reaction I had to it.
I have always taught my seminary students that there will likely never be a day in ministry when someone is not upset with them. Often these folks let us know when they are frustrated with us either by confronting us in person or calling us to talk. Sometimes they act out in a committee meeting or other group to let us know their feelings. But this felt different.
I have been picketed by Fred Phelps’s church, Westboro Baptist, after being interviewed for the Kansas City Star followed General Conference in 2000 when they reaffirmed the language in our Discipline (church law) forbidding gays and lesbians from being ordained. I stated in the article that I was pained by the decision and hoped we moved toward full inclusion someday. Westboro picketed my church the next week. It was nasty and painful, but this felt different.
This time it was anonymous. In church ministry we often know when folks are upset. When Westboro picketed me I knew who they were and why they were there. But this was different – this felt so personal. It was aimed at me personally. So it felt personal.
The smiley face threw me off. The cute and sweet smiley face that has always stood for fun and humor made it feel safe to open. That’s exactly what they expected. They expected me to open it thinking it was safe. And they expected it to hurt me, which it did.
And that made me mad. I was upset about the power of that card to make me feel badly. I have heard for years that “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” But that is bunk. Words do hurt. And words have power. We have to choose to use our words for good and to not give too much power to those that aim to hurt us. I gave those words too much power today, but I also knew I just had to process it some.
This evening I found out several other seminary professors around the country got the same cards today. So it was not just me – and that helps in some way but also makes me even more determined to NOT let them win.
We have made someone mad – by speaking the truth about our beliefs or about who this person believes us to be. Whatever the cause I will not be deterred. I will continue to be who God made me to be. I will continue to speak the truth and cry out for justice in many different ways. I will continue to try to counter hate with love.
And no little smiley face card filled with hate will stop me. So whoever you are … you DON’T win. Love does.