Sunday, August 05, 2007

Anonymous and the Honesty Box

a.k.a. Come out, come out wherever you are!


Lately I've been posting comments on a blog that has gotten pretty controversial and a bit debate oriented. What is being written is something I'm rather passionate about, therefore I took the time to comment.

Something I've noticed is that a lot of people comment anonymously. I have given my two cents on that about how much I don't agree with it, and I notice I'm not alone in my sentiments. Many of the people on there believe it is cowardly and inappropriate.


I'm a person who believes strongly in these two things:


1) If you have something to say, identify yourself if people don't already know it's you talking.


2) If somebody tries to tell you something "anonymously" - don't receive it, especially if you are a leader. Most leaders waste too much of their valuable time and energy on things like this when they could be investing it positively in people who really care and stand ready to help you in moving forward. I believe this is one of the enemy's main distractors.


Over the years in ministry I have on occasion gotten an anonymous letter. I put them right where they belong immediately - in file 13 (the trash can!) If someone does not have enough character to sign their name and stand by their words, I have no desire to listen, nor do I believe God expects me to. It's like this - God is light. In Him there is no darkness. Satan works behind the scenes, in the dark, "anonymously" - he's always trying to hide himself, disguise himself. Jesus is about honesty and light, not deceit and things done in the darkness. Another blogger who disagreed with the anonymous posters said, "c'mon everybody, WWJD?" Indeed, what would Jesus do? I submit to you, He wouldn't hide.


There are only very, very rare instances where I believe it's okay to be anonymous. Recently on a blog someone was sharing a traumatic experience they went through as a child at the hands of a group of people in a church. They did not want to reveal the name of the church for obvious reasons. (Who knows, the church could be totally different now, and it wasn't right to disparage their name, so he/she didn't.) I was at a conference recently where someone gave a testimony and left parts out or anonymous because it was about sexual abuse. I can understand leaving something anonymous if you are protecting an innocent child who is abused or such. But in 99% of cases, anonymity is not appropriate.


Over the years, people have tried to anonymously tell me something in the church. For example:


Someone comes to me and says, "Pastor Deanna, "Somebody" feels this way but they didn't want to come to you." (Matthew 18 basically shows you should ignore this unless they handle things properly, just disregard this completely until they follow biblical order.)

Someone else says, "A lot of people" are upset about such and such..." Then you ask, "who?" Usually people will not give names. Why? It's rarely more than three or four people who want it to seem like an army. Anonymity gives them the illusion of power. (And it is an illusion, make no mistake. Usually such people have an incredibly over-estimated view of their importance and impact.)

I've gotten an anonymous note on an offering envelope or a fax (unless it says, "Love you, PD!" or something like that, this is what the church office shredder exists for.)

Signing or doing anything anonymous is for cowards, plain and simple. If you are so right, and you are so passionate about what you believe -- own it! IMHO if you have to hide it or whisper over it, it's probably of the devil.

Recently Facebook added something to their features called an "honesty box." With this feature, if you enable it friends can come to your page and write anything they want to, good or bad, anonymously. Some people seem to be filled with glee over the honesty box. I completely disagree with it. I honestly believe it teaches people to be dishonest. Because hiding who you are is dishonest. If you aren't man or woman enough to own up to your words, you shouldn't say them. "But," I have heard protested, "the honesty box enables people to tell people things they are too afraid to tell them otherwise." Then the fact is, the person writing in the honesty box has issues in their character that they need to work on. If they are not strong or courageous enough to tell the other person face to face or in a signed letter how they feel, their thoughts are not worthy of being heard. Notice I did not say the person is not worthy of being heard. It is simply that they are not able to own up to their words yet and be mature enough to communicate them directly, therefore the words are not yet worthy of being heard and should not be brought forward until they come to that point. To do anything else is to coddle immaturity and make it easy for people to continue in it.

Just in case anybody is wondering...no, I didn't receive an unsigned letter this week! In fact I haven't gotten one in a really long time! (Knock on wood...) But going on... it is unfair for a person to face an unsigned writer. How would you even make a wrong right with someone who writes in your honesty box when you don't even know who they are? And the truth of the matter is...you may not even have the problem that somebody wrote in the honesty box about. It may be their problem that they need to work through, not yours. But they just dropped a boat load of verbal garbage on you that you don't need. Why subject yourself to that?

Let me give you an example. My kids are all on line and participate in these type of forums. Let's say my honesty box is enabled. One night one of my kids misses curfew by 40 minutes. After such they come in completely unapologetic about it and think I'm the crazy one to even expect them to have a curfew. We get in a tiff about it. Their mouth gets out of control and they end up being grounded for a few days. Fast forward to later that week when I get an unsigned comment in my honesty box from my kid that says, "you don't realize it,, but you're really mean. I think you need to pray about it." Obviously it wouldn't be me that had the issue, it would be them. There wouldn't even be anything for me to pray about in the above mentioned circumstance - I would just be not only exercising my God-given right as a parent, but actually following His command to correct my children. However, what if I didn't know the "anonymous note" came from my son or daughter and I gave it a moment's worry? That would be so wrong and needless. Which brings me to my next point.

There is such a thing as earning the right to be heard. I for one don't allow just anybody to speak into my life or dump things on me. I believe every person in this world earns the right to be heard. How do you earn the right to be heard?

1) Identify yourself.

2) Have some relationship with those you are speaking to. (For instance, it always amazes me when a visitor will tell you everything that needs to change about your church. It happens rarely but a few times I've had visitors talk to me about the fact that we need to change our stance on speaking in tongues, or what not. I think to myself, "first of all, these are the foundations of our faith in this church and it's not changing. Second, who are you to tell me this? I've known you for all of five minutes."

3) The level of what I say to a person or what is said to me depends on the depth of relationship. For instance, if asked I would tell my best friend, "that dress does make you look heavier than your other one..." but there is no way in the world I would tell that to just any woman in my church even if we had known each other several years. Only close friends can and should tell each other some things and then only with the gentlest of spirit.

4) The level of what I say or what is said to me depends on the my current level of involvement in whatever I am speaking about. Years ago I served on a ministry committee and while in those meetings spoke freely (being given permission to do so) on issues surrounding the ministry. I would give my advice, ask questions, give an honest critique when invited. However for me to speak to anything at all at this point would be completely inappropriate. Why? I have no level of involvement. I no longer earn the right to be heard there despite all the years I served there. At this point, others have taken on that mantle.

So dear readers, let me, Deanna D. Shrodes, go on record as saying that I do not believe anonymity is right. If you have something to say do the right thing and come out into the light. If you can't do that, then be quiet and let others who have developed the character trait of courage do the talking.

5 comments:

Kathi said...

I agree with you 100% - that's why I've chosen for years to use my real name online, not a "Screen name" (I will use one once in a while for fun... but generally folx I'm communicating with know who I am)

Sometimes I DO leave anonymous compliments though... just a little something to brighten a day. :)

Pastor Deanna said...

I do appreciate that about you, Kathi. You always say what you feel courageously and have no problem standing by your words. I haven't "known" you for long (on line, that is!) but long enough to know that good quality about you! Blessings!

Lady Melissa said...

God bless you Pastor Deanna,
This is so true and I agree 100% with all that was said. I never liked worthless games and anonymity is one of the worse.

I received two anonymous comments on my blog, they were nice comments but not having a name or face behind the comment made me feel sort of eerie and I don't like feeling spooked! I couldnt understand, if you're saying something nice why would you have to hide?

Thanks for the post, Lots of love

Jones 5 said...

I agree as well ;)
One other situation that I wrestle with is email rants and raves!!! I'm a believer that we should be willing to discuss in person what we would rave about in email (obviously for the purpose of the blog...we can't do that)...but as someone who has been in and out of ministry...I've made it a priority to always try to meet in person and at the very least over the phone when there is an issue to discuss... Anyways, thanks for the blog...I enjoyed it!
Christelle

Pastor L said...

I totally agree - I maintain somewhat of a degree of anonymity on my blog or on message boards, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out who I am...I do it more for safety purposes than anything else! Besides, you can still find my blog if you just Google my name :o).

I pay no attention to the phrase "Some people think..." because usually it's the opinion of the person talking to me, and they're just afraid to own up to their own thoughts! I usually put them on the spot and politely but firmly ask, "So how do you feel I should handle this?" Then I get stuttering and backpedaling from them. It's sort of fun :o).