Churches sometimes receive a communication that can be deemed “hate mail”: a letter delivered to the church, a note placed there, an email, a voicemail left on the church’s phone. It could even be sent through a social media platform. We spoke with attorney Frank Sommerville about his experience with these situations and how churches should respond when they occur.
What’s a useful, working approach for churches in terms of understanding these messages? How can churches determine when messages need to be taken to local authorities (and when they can be dismissed)?
There is no one response. It depends on who sent it, whether it’s anonymous, whether or not it’s specific, what the threat is: It depends on lots of variables.
If taken to local authorities, would the police do anything with the threat?
Not necessarily. It depends, again, on what kind of threat: how specific it is, whether it’s from somebody who’s known or unknown. For the most part, anonymous ones that are just left at the church, or even through the mail, are a lot less credible. The more specific—the more concrete the threat is—the more you need to take it seriously. That’s about the only pattern you can ascertain from that.