What better way to be inspired to write again than to receive a passive aggressive letter in the mail about a hat! Thank you anonymous writer for rekindling my desire to write! Because this is certainly something worth writing about.
I received a letter yesterday that I thought to be handwritten when I saw my address scrawled quickly on the front of the envelope. After all, written letters are a rare commodity these days, so I eagerly opened the letter. Imagine my disappointment when I saw that the rest of the letter was typed. My initial excitement soon dissolved into further disappointment as I read the following message:
Whitney dear,Could you do me a favor and please ask that gentlemen that sits with you at church to kindly remove his hat when he is in the church building? It offends me and wearing a hat throughout service is not a customary habit by our men nor one that we want started in church. It doesn’t appear to be cold or raining in the building either so I look to you to please take care of this simple request. Thank you.Signed,-watching for cooperation
- It was addressed and written to me, not the person (my fiancé) that caused the “offense”
- It was anonymous
- The writer assumes to speak for the entire church
- The writer expects full “cooperation”
I soon realized these are all errors in effectively resolving a conflict. I’ve been learning a lot about conflict resolution lately as I learn to have a better and closer relationship with my future husband. And everything this writer chose to do to address a conflict is exactly opposite of what I’ve been learning. Now please do not misunderstand me. I hold no resentful feelings towards this anonymous writer. I have forgiven them for the initial offense to myself and my fiancé that this letter caused. This actually became an opportunity to start writing again, to share what I’ve learned about effectively handling a conflict, and also share a concern this letter portrays of a bigger issue within churches today. For that I am thankful. So please continue reading as I explain my response to this letter.
1. It was addressed to me. I should not be in this conversation at all nor be expected to “take care of” this request. I am not the one that offended this person. The writer should have addressed Rob, preferably in a verbal manor, since he is the one that has caused the offense. (And no, neither Rob nor I have been approached by anyone about this apparent issue by someone at our church.) And my reasoning comes from Matthew 18:15-17.
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector”
I believe this same approach should be applied to one considered to have caused an offense. After all, the person who is offended might consider the offender as having “sinned” against him/her. So, according to Matthew, and Luke 17:3, the person who has been offended should confront the offender directly, in private. So this letter, should have never come to or been addressed to me. Granted, I realize they might not know my fiancé’s name. He is still somewhat new. I choose to give them the benefit of the doubt.
2. It was anonymous. Not only was this letter addressed to the wrong person, the writer chose to remain anonymous, again ignoring the need to confront the person that has offended them directly. By remaining anonymous, this person leaves no room or opportunity for discussion. The verses in Matthew speak how direction confrontation can lead to “gain[ing] your brother.” In other words, confronting someone who has offended you is an opportunity to gain a relationship. You might shed light on something they misunderstood, or vice versa. And in this specific case, my fiancé and I would have had the opportunity to explain that he once suffered from pneumonia and is cold natured because of it. Add in a bald head, and a hat is much needed on a cold morning. My fiancé is a respectful and honorable man. He doesn’t wear a hat to incite disrespect or offense. He is simply cold and would rather not shiver and shake the whole pew. But we have no opportunity to share this information with the writer, because we don’t know who it was. Still, I will choose to love this person. I am disappointed and frustrated by their choice to remain anonymous, but I trust that this person is still good willed and simply misunderstands the situation. I choose to give them the benefit of the doubt.
3. The writer assumes to speak for the entire church. The writer explains that the “habit” of wearing a hat is not something “we want started in our church.” This statement makes the assumption that all other church members agree with the writer’s request and point of view. With a church of 500-ish, it is simply improbable that all other persons agree or were offended by my fiancé’s hat wearing shenanigans. (It’s still cold out by the way. The hat in question was most likely a wool beanie). This statement reflects the writer’s expectations of how a church member should look or act, implying that they would not approve of a hat wearing church. This attitude could cause one of two unfortunate consequences. One, my fiancé (and myself by extension) would feel rejected and likely not want to attend, meaning he might miss a lesson or relationship that God had intended for him that day. He might see this member’s actions as an extension of how God views him, and cause him to struggle in his relationship with Him. Two, if others decided to wear hats and this writer continued to take offense of this, then that writer and their family may choose to leave, which could cause similar struggles with others and their faith, and would also hurt the body as a whole, since we are to be one body in Christ.
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many,are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Romans 12:4-5
But again, I choose to give them the benefit of the doubt. The writer may not have realized the impact of this statement or did not intend to assume to speak for the whole church. Perhaps they do not realize the consequences this attitude can cause, especially when paired with remaining anonymous. Satan may very well be using this small issue of the hat to prevent this person from developing strong relationships with others in the church and become stronger in the Lord. With this realization, I wish even more that I could reach out to this person and “gain a brother” instead of an adversary.
4. The writer expects full “cooperation.” Signing this letter with “watching for cooperation” is no less than an underlying threat. There is a simple implication that something will be done if this request is not met because they are “watching.” This is the most unloving, fear-inspriring, and highly disappointing act of this whole letter. It was that simple sign off that incited the most indignation and anger at first. But after a little while, I again chose to give them the benefit of the doubt and simply felt the deepest sadness towards the person whom I still believe is good willed and simply misunderstands the reason for the hat. And I fear how often something this simple can cause such barriers between each other when we are supposed to be united in Christ.
The saddest part about receiving this letter is that it is just more fuel to the flame of frustrations my fiancé has faced with the church we attend. If you don’t get with the “in” crowd, then you feel like an outsider, and not really part of the body. I have another friend who has stopped attending because of this very same underlying vibe. There is a sense that you must meet certain standards, dress a certain way, or find the right group to be a part of. Even more so, if you bring new ideas, new thoughts to a discussion, or even the recognition of an issue, should we not engage and discuss instead of judge and ostracize? Why are class discussions so quiet? Why is no one willing to speak up? Is it maybe for fear of being judged, of finding yourself suddenly outside “the group?” I know I’ve felt that fear. But my fiancé has always spoken his mind. He challenges discussions in a loving and respectful way, and agrees when truth is spoken, wanting others to understand what he has learned and get them to think. It is one of the reasons I love and admire him.
But I again still choose to give this writer the benefit of the doubt. This may have seemed like a simple request to them. But unfortunately, we often do not stop to consider how powerful some small action can impact another’s life. And this letter had no small impact on us. But we have both chosen to see the opportunity this letter brings. We have the ability to show love and grace, and to share the learning points we can take away from this moment.
I hope that the person who wrote that letter will one day see this. But if not, at least I can share with others what I have taken away from this. And I believe it has been a really great personal exercise in being thoughtful and understanding the deeper issues that this letter has made me aware of in myself and around me. As far as what we will do next…nothing. My fiancé will continue to wear a hat on the days that he needs to, and I support him in that, because for us, it is out of necessity and thus we think nothing of it.
I welcome your thoughts so feel free to leave comments. And thank you for reading!