I had a couple more thoughts to add to my last entry on dealing with stereotypes.
1.) The best place for talking about stereotypes.
And the best way to defend ourselves is not to have to. For our message and our lives to be so clear and so well-known, that we never have to try to defend ourselves.
The idea there is that we’re inoculating people against the stereotypes. (When they’re not true, anyway.)
But that has a major exception: People who don’t know us at all. People whose perceptions are formed by what they see on TV or read on the internet. And something about those venues seems to propagate stereotypes. For instance, “Christians being Christ-like” isn’t likely to make the news. (Even Fox News.) What’s more likely to make the news is when a prominent Christian sticks his foot in his mouth. And then there’s the Internet, where what sticks out are the flame wars and loudmouths.
That’s probably the best situation for pointing out the stereotypes, assuming we can do it without whining–when we’re dealing with people who just don’t know conservative Christians. (Inoculation works better to prevent stereotypes, than to cure stereotypes.)
Still, though—as much as possible, I want to fix the stereotypes simply by being clearly Christ-like and Christ-honoring in our words and deeds, pointing to Him and the truth He taught.
2.) “Bad” stereotypes that aren’t really bad.
Sometimes, the “bad” stereotypes are true—but they’re not actually bad! That happens in two ways:
- Christ offended a lot of people. If we’re doing everything exactly right, and communicating Him well, then He’s going to offend them through us. Sometimes. (And other times, His goodness & love overwhelms.)
- Misunderstood or poorly-done truths. Take evangelism. We’re stereotyped as being into “proselytism”. Which is true. (Depending on your definition of “proselytism”.) But sometimes, the”bad” stereotype comes from evangelism done poorly. Or evangelism misunderstood. (What if people see evangelism as, “Join my religious club” instead of “Know and understand Christ, and the stunning grace of what he has done”? What if they see televangelists inviting people to receive Jesus and send in their money?)
So the answer here is pretty much the same. Speak and live clearly. And make sure that if people are offended, they are being offended by Christ–not by us.
Summer White, And Then I Got Punched In The Worldview
Summer White is the daughter of Dr. James R. White, of Alpha & Omega Ministries. She recently blogged about an experience at her college, dealing with stereotypes. You might check it out–how well do you think she handled it?
Dan Kimball, They Like Jesus, But Not the Church
Dan Kimball comes from the more conservative wing of the Emerging Church. The title is pretty expressive. I liked this book, though I’m not claiming it’s perfect. (It’s been a while since I read it, so I don’t clearly recall what there might be to criticize.) It’s worth reading, especially if you keep in mind a couple things: (1) The “Jesus” people often like is a watered-down Jesus—a pop Jesus who only ever says nice things, except when he’s cutting down religious conservatives. (2) When Kimball talks about areas where people “like Jesus but not the Church”, he is not saying that the church is necessarily doing something wrong there. He does advocate correcting misunderstandings.
Update: Here’s the entire series:
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 1: Slogans & the Gospel
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 2: The Gospel in Romans
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 3: Hypocrisy, Stereotyping, and the Gospel
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4: Dealing with Stereotypes
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4.5: P.S. On Dealing with Stereotypes