Back in the 1980s when the world was still trying to figure out how to get a handle on the pandemic of AIDS, I came home from work one day and had a letter from the American Red Cross. I had recently made a blood donation, which I did periodically, and figured this was some type of marketing letter to follow-up on that donation.
It was certain some type of marketing letter!
I opened it up. The first sentence read, “This is not a letter about AIDS.” At that point they lost me because it was definitely a letter about AIDS.
The basic message was that they had rejected my recent blood donation because while testing it they determined there was an indicator in my blood that was on their rejection list. Due to the proliferation of AIDS, and the fact that at that time there was not a reliable test for HIV-AIDS, they had rejected my donation. Further, they would never be able to accept a blood donation from me again. Additionally, they had placed me on a secret international list of people who are prohibited from donating blood.
And I was supposed to feel good about this?
In closing they offered me counseling. I was anticipating that the final sentence would be something like; “have a nice day” or “bless your heart”, but those expressions did not make the final edit.
Immediately I called my favorite medical technologist who worked in a hospital lab and asked her what this meant. She checked around, called me back, and said not to worry. My numbers were just over the line where concern was raised for the particular enzymes that were high. HIV-positive persons have numbers thousands of points higher.
A couple of doctors she talked to had also gotten this letter from the American Red Cross, and they said for me to change the over-the-counter pain medicine I use and my count would come down. It did.
Further investigation showed that high enzymes in that body organ are hereditary in my family. My father had it, I have it, and my son has it. It is like high or low cholesterol running in a family.
The end result is that in an attempt to protect themselves and the general populace with an “in your face” letter, the American Red Cross lost a donor, an advocate, and a person who had previously organized blood drives. If this was the way they treated people, even in their fear about a pandemic, they lost me when they said this is not a letter about AIDS. They may say the price was worth it. It may have been. With me, however, it was personal.
I wonder if anything like this ever happens in your congregation. What messages do we send out to our guests, people who regularly connect, or people who have been members less than a few years? Do we actually communication that they have a scarlet “A” [or in the case of congregations a scarlet "S" for sin] on the front of their blouse or shirt?
If we were to reject their contribution to our congregation, what would the first sentence say of a letter or e-mail we might send to them?
- “This is not a letter about your sins, even though they are worse than our sins.”
- ‘This is not a letter about going to Hell or Heaven, even though we have a good idea about where you are headed.”
- “This is not a letter about your lack of tithing, yet your will never have that position in our church that you want unless you do.”
- “This is not a letter about your request for different [unChristian] music in our worship services.”
- “This is not a letter about your bringing those misbehaving children from the trailer park to church last Sunday.”
- “This is not a letter about your failure to use inclusive language when teaching your Sunday School class.”
- “This is not a letter about your desire to start a small group for weekly prayer without pastor or deacon supervision.”
- “This is not a letter about why women cannot be deacons in this congregation as we just cannot find any qualified women.”
- “This is not a letter about your involvement with the group advocating against sex trafficking, and the public demonstration in which you participated last weekend.”
- “This is not a letter about you taking your children to soccer practice on Sunday mornings.”
What first sentences would you add? What are the first sentences your congregation writes or says to people? What first sentences seek to protect your congregational culture and the world as you know it? What are the first sentences subtly intended to help you keep your congregation the way you have known it for the past several decades?
And the people to whom you send these letters are supposed to feel good about this?