Stereotyping and the Church

DIverse People Holding Text Church

One thing that is a constant theme for me, something that is always just beneath the surface of my thinking, one that is continually rising to the top, is the truth that people are not stereotypes.

I am probably as guilty as anyone of stereotyping. Sometimes stereotyping is useful, but we must never forget that people are not stereotypes. Stereotyping people into groups, and stereotyping groups themselves, can be an impediment to truth and an impediment to real dialogue, effective communication and understanding.

The impetus for this piece is probably anti-stereotypical in itself. It seems to me that some stereotypes are more “popular” than others at different times in our cultural history, and our history has been a series of societal movements to break those stereotypes. Race, gender, sexual orientation and many other categories of people and groups that have been stereotyped have gone through a collective metamorphosis. Currently popular stereotypes are “homophobes”, Christians, conservatives, the news media and, yes, liberals too.

Some time ago I read an article on a conservative blog site,, that struck me. I was led there by a post on Facebook about a black, female professor taking issue with current Democratic politics. The article suggests there is a rising tide of educated, black conservatives who are breaking down the stereotype that the Democratic party is the minority party.

Some time ago I read an article titled, “Church Displays Bleeding Trayvon Martin Nativity Scene”. The stereotypical expectation for the “Church” and conservatives is to take the side of George Zimmerman (along with gun rights, strong on crime, protecting the family, etc.). The church about which the article was written displayed a controversial and shocking nativity scene portraying a bleeding Trayvon Martin to highlight the evil of violence.

More recently, I watched a video of Iraqi Arabs dressed in typical Iraqi garb on an Iraqi talk show. They seemed like typical Muslim Arabs, but they were discussing the eradication by ISIS of an ancient Christian group from their Iraqi homeland, one of the first communities of Christians following the death of Jesus in the First Century. One of the men began weeping as he observed that these are peaceful people who do not hurt or bother anyone. This is hardly the stereotype of Muslims we have come to expect.

There have always been Christians who have stood against violence. The Quakers and other denominations have long held sacred the vow of peace. People rail against the “Church” for things like the Crusades and bombing of abortion clinics, as if millions of people can be categorized, and dismissed, with a single label.

I have spoken with people who genuinely hold the view that the “Church” (or religion in general) is responsible for all the violence in the world. It is easy to take that position, or any other dogmatic stance for that matter (i.e.; that the news media has a liberal agenda), if it supports our worldviews. Actually, it is not easy – any closer look will reveal that people and groups do not fall into the patterns we create for them – but it is comfortable and affirming to maintain those stereotypes.

This seems to be a time in which Christians, in particular, are subject to popular stereotypes. Stereotyping is a way of categorizing and dismissing. It has real social, cultural and political implications. Christians are being marginalized. It is not a popular time to be a Christian in these United States

At the same time, Christians should be careful not to react reflexively to that marginalization. If all we do is react to the world as it attempts to dismiss us, we end up with something like the Crusades. We are no better than the world around us. Being in, but not of, the world is our call. We should not be acting and reacting to the world around us; we should be acting and reacting in relation to our God, the word He has left to us in Scripture and the Holy Spirit who is with us to guide us.

A common Christian reaction to the marginalization of Christianity in our country is to fight back, to attempt to reclaim “our Christian heritage”, and to “take back America”. I fear that reaction is counterproductive, at least for the spread of the Gospel. I am doubtful it is a reaction to God’s prompting. I fear it is a human reaction to protect our turf. It pits “us against them”; and I do not see Jesus and the way of the cross in it.

This reaction, in itself, is a kind of stereotyping. Stereotyping is a human reaction. We can stereotype others, but we can also stereotype ourselves. “Going along with the crowd” is how we stereotype ourselves. We see how others react, and we react the same… or we react the opposite … because we are supposed to. Right? We need to be careful not to fall into the stereotypical responses to our world – God’s way is not our way. God’s way is to have us respond to His voice and do as He says, whatever that may be.

Jesus did not come to save the Jewish people from Roman rule. I do not believe that God is here to save America from liberal (or any other) rule. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. We should be about God’s business like Jesus was. Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God to us, to usher us into His Kingdom, not to put us in charge of this world so that we can add add God to it. We need to drop the stereotypes and become followers of Christ who is the image and full nees of the invisible God.

3 thoughts on “Stereotyping and the Church

  1. I have heard it said that Christians need to be the thermostat, not simply a thermometer. We can expect to be marginalized: We walk a different and narrow path.
    Having written these things, I also think we do well to allow God to work stereotyping out of us. It begins with judging others in the ways that the Bible tells us not to.
    Be blessed, uniquely created man of God. Hannah


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