This morning I received the following e-mail message (names redacted):
We have been asked by Ministerial and Member Services to be careful about sending out prayer requests. Only United Church of God members are meant to receive all of the prayer requests and updates that are sent out locally or from the home office. So, please, do not forward emails that we send you out of respect for other people’s privacy. The batch mailing that we send out does not include any non-United member addresses. While it is understandable that you may want to share information with some former members, the explanation below should help clarify why that may not a good idea:
“We want to remind everyone to take special care when forwarding or publishing prayer requests. There is a lot of personal information given in the prayer requests that we send out from the home office: addresses, names of children, details of health conditions, etc. Some of our ministers and members have re-posted this information on their local websites or in other areas that are not password protected. Once that is done, this information becomes available to the general public and may put our members at risk.
We will continue to send prayer requests to the ministry with this information, but we want to remind you of the sensitive nature of this material. We do not want in any way to limit the number of cards sent to those on our prayer list. If you forward prayer requests to an e-mail distribution list that reaches non-members, you might consider removing the address information before sending them on. The addresses will still be available through the password protected UCG prayer page at http://members.ucg.org/ucgprayer and you could point members to that location.”
Even though I currently live in Thailand, one of my responsibilities is adding prayer requests to my local congregational website “back home.” Even though I am relatively public and upfront about my own personal information, so that people are without excuse if they do not come to me personally about matters they are unclear about concerning what I discuss, I realize that not everyone is so forthright and open about communication and that some people can be greatly bothered by personal information about how they can be reached as well as their own medical condition to reach unfriendly people. Apparently not everyone is so discreet.
It is a lamentable condition, and a sign of our times, that there are people who like to take advantage of personal contact information to harass others from different churches, whether that is spreading lies and slander or trying to convince them to join up. This sort of reprehensible activity has been warned about within scripture for at least a couple thousand years (Paul himself writes about such busybodies and slanderers in books like 2 Timothy and Titus, for example). That said, the internet makes this sort of activity particularly convenient, as a staggering amount of information about our lives is available online. Once, for example, I found my old personal address as an undergraduate student had been posted online so that it could be seen on google from a private e-mail I had sent, which I found rather horrifying, even if I no longer lived there.
We cannot assume that just because we have good intentions and that we have some kind of lingering past friendship with people that they (or the people they now fellowship with) will use such information in a godly fashion. Lest we forget, we are dealing with people who have practiced slander for months, even years, against others, poisoning both their own minds and those of others with lies and libels and falsehoods to justify their own pride and ego, and so far without repentance. They have stolen and cheated, again without repentance. Therefore, we must assume that at least some of these people will use any personal information in an unfriendly and hostile and harassing way, because that is the way they have behaved for years now.
It is sad that this is the way that some people behave, but it is the truth, and we need to recognize such and be discreet in our own conduct so that we do not give other people ways to communicate us that we would find bothersome. After all, one can always delete internet spam, but when people are sending you harassing phone calls and making personal visits, it becomes much more irksome and uncomfortable. Additionally, we must also respect the privacy of other people, because we cannot assume that other people are as open to communication as we ourselves might be. In so doing, we look out for our brethren by preserving their peace and tranquility from slanderers and malicious people only seeking sleep for the slaughter. Let us therefore show love for our brethren by not giving their personal information out to the enemies of God’s people, even if we might consider them former friends.