My inbox has been full lately with dozens of angry messages from people I do not know. Most have accused me of false belief, intolerance, and close-mindedness. It took a while for me to understand the source of all this anger – and ironically it is for a decision that I did not make or know about until the last few days. Sometimes people are angry with me for things I have done or decided (and sometimes their anger is justified) but it is intriguing to see how dozens of people who don't know me (or the facts) can so quickly become angry with me
Here is what happened: the General Commission on the General Conference decides which vendors are allowed to have displays during General Conference. They do so on the basis of our Social Principles and of course give priority to official United Methodist groups and institutions. Evidently a group called Discovery Institute wanted to have a display at General Conference to promote the concept of "intelligent design" – the understanding that the evolution of life was guided by God or some other force of "intelligent design" rather than by random action or unguided evolution. The General Conference Commission turned down their request for a variety of reasons, mostly because they are not a UM group or a mission project, nor does the concept of "intelligent design" fully correspond to our UM faith in the God of Creation.
So the supporters of Discovery Institute have launched a campaign of emails to the UMC officials they believe have wronged them. Someone has accidentally or intentionally confused that list and included the General Council on Finance and Administration (of which I serve as Chair of the Board of Directors). So my inbox is being "spammed" with angry messages accusing me of all kinds of evil and injustice.
I can live with that (thanks to my Delete button), but it reminds me that the admonition of James in Chapter 1, verse 19, is a word for our culture: "be quick to listen, slow to speak, and even slower to get angry." By contrast, in our culture today people are unwilling to listen, quick to speak, and speedy in their move to feel angry and offended. Of course social media and email speeds up that process.
And so I am reminded that our Christian response to this age of "everyone feeling offended" is to LISTEN before speaking, to UNDERSTAND before jumping to conclusions, and to ENGAGE in meaningful discussion rather than one-way messages. May God help me – and all of us – to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and even slower to yield to anger.