Posts Tagged ‘Stereotypes’

Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4.5: P.S. On Dealing with Stereotypes

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

I had a couple more thoughts to add to my last entry on dealing with stereotypes.

1.) The best place for talking about stereotypes.

I said:

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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.

Further Reading

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

Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4: Dealing with Stereotypes

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

In the previous entry from this series, I mentioned stereotypes—in this case, how conservatives are stereotyped as narrow-minded, as selfish, as hateful, or as smug, Pharisaical, self-righteous  judgmental jerks.  So… What do we do with that?  How should we respond? (Edit: I’ll say up front that sometimes the stereotypes are true. And I should add that this would apply to dealing with any kind of stereotype–including conservative stereotypes about liberals.)

I have a few thoughts—an overarching perspective, and then a list of miscellaneous points.

It’s going to involve a combination of words & actions.  Words to point out the stereotyping, words to communicate what we mean & believe, and actions in keeping with what we say.  I’m not precisely sure what the balance should be between them, but I suspect it should and lean toward latter two.   (“They’re stereotyping us” isn’t an inherently interesting or helpful subject.  Talking about Christ, the Gospel, and the Scriptures is—along with acting like Christ.)

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.  For people to be so familiar with us that they know who we are.  For us to be so pervasively, consistently Christ-like, clearly communicating the Gospel, that we cannot be unjustly stereotyped.

And of course, that assumes that the stereotypes are unjust.  Which isn’t always the case!  (We all live out stereotypes, sometimes.)

Thoughts to ponder:

  1. How often is there truth in the stereotypes?  How often are there real negative experiences behind people’s bad perceptions of Christianity and/or conservatives?  How compelling will such people find it when we simply insist that we’re not really like that?  (Counter-thought: How often are people oversensitive about their past experience? How often do they use it as an excuse to broadbrush?)
  2. Talking about the stereotypes is limited in its usefulness.  “They’re stereotyping us” is helpful if done right, but we have to be careful that it doesn’t become complaining or whining.  After all…if the stereotypes are true, we’ll spend a lot more time & energy decrying “them dang lib’rals & the lib’ral media” than we’ll spend talking about Christ and bearing fruit in service & love.
  3. It will be hypocritical for us to complain about the stereotypes, if we don’t do a good job of cleaning house, seeking to be above reproach.  I don’t know if actions speak louder than words, but they’re sure important for backing them up.  (Along those lines, see the previous entry on service.)
  4. We need to be clear that we truly see ourselves as fellow sinners in need of a savior. We need to be clear that the Gospel is not, “Become a church-goer—be better, like us.” That the Gospel is what Christ did for us—the gift of redemption, received by simple, humble, repentant, God-seeking faith.
  5. We need to act like we speak. To be humble & loving.  To soak in the spirit of Phil. 2:1-18.  That means heart transformation–we need to pray for God to change our hearts to be more like Christ.  So that we will do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly.
  6. We all need to watch our own tendencies to stereotype & categorize.

Update: I added a “Part 4.5” to my series, with a couple more thoughts on dealing with stereotypes.

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