The Problem With Stereotypes

We all tend to walk around with ignorant ideas in our head about other people, who they are and what they obviously believe, naively based entirely on an assumption about a race, culture, or religion as we understand it. We call these ideas stereotypes. The problem with stereotypes is that they get confused with archetypes, which is what you could call the prototype for a particular group. Jesus, for example, is an archetype, whereas all Muslims you meet are out to kill you and your family is a stereotype. The church is meant to be a replication of the archetype, but unfortunately, the loudest voices often perpetuate the reduction of the gospel to an easily stereotyped moralizing/political machine that I want little to do with.

I've been taking guitar lessons recently, cleaning up my own chops a bit, and getting my brain melted. My teacher is a fantastic guitarist, and passionate about what he does. The man has cried before while improvising. Needless to say, I want that sort of passion for.... well anything. During lessons it does of course come up that a large part of my guitar playing is done in the church, which I feel the need to apologize for. I'm not saying music in the church is a bad thing, or that I hate it, but understand that what is typically played on a Sunday morning across America is often seen (and often rightfully so) as a lesser form of art.

Honestly, as a musician, I share that opinion while simultaneously perpetuating it. The structures, the innovation, and the poetic thoughtfulness just feel lacking to me, which is sad because we have the best, most profound, and beautiful subject matter to work with. But I digress.... I'll get back to art in a couple of weeks.

So my teacher knows that I am a "Christian," and it greatly informs the subject matter. Whenever he says something about Christians, I feel something inside of me groaning because the things that he thinks a typical Christian to be are both horribly inaccurate yet simultaneously justified. The conversation came to a head the other night as we finished our lesson; lo and behold his issues with faith had more to do with politically induced inconsistencies and angry Christians than it did actually following Jesus. Why, for example, are Christians so adamantly pro-life for babies, yet so against life for the families of terrorists or even the terrorists babies who are killed by drone attacks? Or why for that matter are Christians so concerned about the life of the baby in the uterus but care so little about what would happen to those millions of now dead children after they were born. (Thankfully a lot of pro-life groups have recognized this and been making heartfelt changes).

Again these are all stereotypes, there are and aren't believers who do these things, but if I use the same language I used when I've made my own stereotypes, "The problem with stereotypes is that they are often true...." except of course when they are directed at us.

I know I get aggressive toward the church at times, but know that I love the church. I get frustrated when I hear someone talking about the church like this because I know the archetype has something else in mind, something that I think many are slowly (often very slowly) working toward, and that many are sticking close to Him and pointing to Him the best they can. But at the same time, it is frustrating to no end that the largest part of sharing Jesus with people in North America is getting them past the loudest negative voices of his followers. The judgement, the inability to forgive failure, the willingness to resign the powerful humility and servant heart of the kingdom of God in order to pass legislation, it all screams in their ears. It may not always be true, but do we care enough to work against those stereotypes rather than just getting mad at people for believing that's all there is (or even a part of) following Jesus.

Next time someone asks me if I'm a Christian, I'm going to ask them what they think a Christian is, because depending on their definition, becoming a Christian might be the last thing I want for them.


P.S. - Thank you to all of you who come from varied backgrounds, denominations, countries, and political affiliations who rescued me from my own stereotypes about what a follower of Jesus is. You go by family, friends, maybe even frenemies, but you continually seek Jesus more than your own ambition. You have been an example to me, keep going.

Also, thanks to social networking, this blog has grown a bit beyond where I can always predict who is reads it. If you are not a follower of Jesus, I encourage you, please look beyond us and try to see Him for who He is, not for who we've told you He is.