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16 June 2017

Will we turn hate mail into love mail?

Anthony Delaney leads Ivy Church in Manchester.  

I received two lots of anonymous hate mail this week. The first batch came the day after the BBC put out a quick video detailing how I went to the local mosque here in Didsbury the day after the Manchester bombing with a cardboard sign saying ‘hugs not hate’ went viral on Facebook.   

I had decided not to engage with or even read the comments section under the video. Why not? Because I think the world is now divided into people who do things and people who comment, and because I know all too well from being a preacher how one negative line can weigh heavier on the mind than 50 positive ones. It’s the way our brains work, wired to detect danger. The fight or flight mechanism releases chemicals to help us flee the sabre tooted tiger when we feel threatened. But they’re extinct, so now we just get stressed.  

The first lot of hate mail was from “A group of atheists” who declared me as dangerous and deluded as the bomber. The second was 26 pages long and from someone identifying themselves as Christian. I have only ever received official hate mail once before. It was also anonymous and from some kind of Christian and I was becoming a little concerned that the Christians were now outnumbering the atheists in opposing my ministry.   

I was a police officer for some years and on the riot squad for a time. I think that’s quite good preparation for ministry: if you’re going to put your head above the parapet – or pulpit – you need to be brave. You need to have your body armour on, someone next to you to lock shields with, and to keep pressing forward. Nobody should enter such conflict areas alone.   

This week my ‘shield’ was locked in with friends across the city who lead other churches, people who actually know me – and still like me anyway.   

My spiritual warfare was strengthened by belonging to a great local church network whose members also made time to love and encourage me. I received an anonymous piece of love mail from someone in the church. We were getting even!   

That’s also why I pray for the Alliance and I’m grateful to be a member of an organisation which stands for us and with us as a member church. I received supporting messages from them every day after the bombing.   

Then the next day another thick package arrived at the church office, with my name on. I was reticent to open it for fear of more vitriol.   

But when I did, I found it packed with postcards from a church in Birmingham. I had never visited or connected to them, but they had decided after praying for Manchester to write to us and encourage us. They didn’t know about the hate mail, but my heavenly father did.   

The anonymous blessings outweighed the intended curses at least 50 to 1! I spread them out around the office as I read them one by one, so grateful for every man, woman and child who had prayed for us. I was inspired by them.  

The apostle Peter’s instructions on how to go through attacks when you are only trying your best to do what is right deserve reading in full, but a shortened section jumped out from my daily readings:  

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing…. Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.” 1 Peter 3:9 

We live in days when, in the public and private spheres, cynicism, negative jibes, put downs and hatred threaten to overwhelm how discourse takes place and disagreements are aired. But can we be the ‘love mail’ people? Why not send someone in the public eye an anonymous letter of blessing today in the name of Jesus? Maybe even someone you don’t agree with…