Responding to Anti-Vaccine Hatred

“You killed that kid. You are a c---.”

“You are a part of the problem!”

“You should be ashamed of yourself and should not be a doctor at all.”

Since I published my posts on measles the attacks have been vicious and continuous. Multiple emails have flooded my inbox challenging my character and my motives and questioning my ethics and my intelligence, all sent by strangers who have never met me or spoken with me. As I read each one I ask myself, “How should I respond?”

The Barrett in me wanted to fight back, challenge every negative assertion and correct every false claim. I wanted to not just defend myself but to destroy their claims and show them to be the misguided people they were. I didn’t. Something stopped me.

That something might actually be a Someone, for at the time I was dealing with these responses I was also preparing to speak at a church in Burbank. The scripture for that Sunday was from the Sermon on the Mount, the part where Jesus informed His disciples that they were likely to be insulted, persecuted and lied about viciously in the course of following Him. He went on to describe how his followers should respond in such difficult circumstances, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

I must confess that this response was not the first one that entered my mind when I read the hateful emails! How could kindness be the appropriate response to hatred? As I continued to review the passage of Scripture and prepared my talk the answer to that question became clear.  Jesus consistently taught about eternity, about the blessings of the life to come. When the temporary attacks of others are placed in the context of the enduring blessings of faith it is easier to see the attacks for what they are, the responses of lost and broken people, people in need of a relationship with their Creator.  in this eternal context it is also easier to understand the appropriate response, as my goal should not be retribution or punishment but an effort to guide them to truth.

With this in mind I tried to answer every email I received. I avoided argument, instead choosing to acknowledge receipt of their message and suggesting web sites they could visit if they wanted more information. I did not apologize for my stance or affirm theirs, for that would be disingenuous. When there were specific questions I did my best to answer them. I doubt that I changed any minds but I hope that I may have challenged some presuppositions. I did not act in the way they expected. I pray they will reflect on my words and maybe even read other posts on the blog.

As I consider my responses to these strangers I am led to reflect on my responses when hurt and offended by those who are closer to me. I think of patients who have complained or given me negative reviews and of recent employees who unjustly accused me of unfairness. I have concluded that it is much easier to brush off the accusations of a stranger than it is to deal with accusations from someone who you thought knew you better. It is easy in such hurtful circumstances to justify an angry or defensive response. It is easy, but that does not make it right.

I need to learn to not take these slights personally, to respond in kindness whenever possible and to love and pray for those who hurt me, for this is the response that should characterize those who follow Christ. I know this because it was the response of Christ himself when he hung dying on the cross, his prayer for his persecutors, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” What a powerful example

May we all become more forgiving people.

-          Bart

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