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Danger: Difficult Issues and Email Don't Mix

Use caution when discussing congregational issues on email, reminds Rev. Bob Hill, district executive for the Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA's) Southwest District.

"Email is wonderful," Hill says. "But it's also a terrible way to discuss difficult issues."

Please, please, please, whether you are a minister or a lay leader or a loyal critic, do not use email as a forum for dealing with complicated church issues or as a means of gathering support for one side or another of a controversy.

I have assisted with more than one situation in which email messages made problems worse than they had to be. Email has these dangerous qualities:

  • Email gives a false sense of conversation...without the help of non-verbal signals: voice tone, facial expression, body language, and so on.
  • Email lets you react almost instantly. I don't know about you, but often my second thoughts are a lot wiser than my first reactions.
  • Email messages are available to everyone in the world. They can be forwarded, accidentally or on purpose, to anyone who is online. Say nothing in email you wouldn't be willing for everyone to read.
  • Email messages are immortal. Any message you send about a church controversy today may be plucked from someone's hard drive, zip disk, or CD next week, next year, or ten years from now and quoted totally out of context.

"I'm not urging you to refrain from criticizing what needs criticism or to hold back your opinions about any legitimate concern of church life. Sometimes needed change can come about only through struggle and difficulties."

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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