I do not read anonymous letters. From time to time over the years, there have been those who have a beef with me and want to "bless" me out via a letter without signing it. As soon as I see where the letter is going I always check to see if it has been signed and, if not, I immediately discard it in the trash.
Recently, our community of faith invited John Dominic Crossan to be our guest for our annual Davis Lectures. Crossan has spent his lifetime as a serious student of scripture and, most especially, the historical Jesus. He takes scripture seriously, but not literally. We knew he is and would be, even now, for some folk in our area a bit controversial. We had no idea!
After his departure and a subsequent news article, the cries for his scalp and ours began. Letters to the editor, messages left on our answering machine that dripped with condescension, and the anonymous contacts burst forth. Some folk did identify themselves (you have to sign your name if you write the editor). But the very first message that came to the answering machine was from a minister who refused to identify himself but did seem to take pride in telling us how we should rebuke Crossan. Then, yesterday a cd arrived in the mail. It was the recording of what appeared to be a Wednesday evening prayer service where the preacher prayed a little and then blasted us a lot. The basic thrust of his message was that we had invited the "antichrist." Again, no enclosed note with a signature. No return address or identifying mark.
I confess that a part of me hopes that I can come face to face with these individuals some day so I can say to them that I find them to be cowards. I'm relatively sure that none of the above parties read this blog so I can't bait them into making contact with me and identifying themselves. In the meantime, we move on, understanding that this is just a part of the make-up of the world in which we live.
But even so, I still take pause. Such actions rank right up at the top with me for the list which reads "Reasons not to call yourself a Christian." If this kind of visceral, loud, self-righteous, but cowardly behavior describes what it means to be Christian, then I don't want to be one. I see nothing of the spirit of the One from Galilee in such hypocrisy.
Having now ventilated enough for the moment, perhaps to move on to something much, much more serious is necessary. The Penn State fiasco should say to all of us that there are moments in which we may find ourselves where we must stand up and speak out. Family violence, abuse of children, and sexual assault come to mind. On this we cannot be anonymous. Perhaps there can come a movement where folk see the vital importance of speaking face-to-face.