Earlier this week, I had a brief exchange with a stranger on Facebook.
He’d made a comment claiming that he couldn’t talk to liberals because as soon as they learned he was a Republican, they accused him of being a racist, anti-gay, hateful, gun nut. I responded that I am a liberal Christian and didn’t make any of those assumptions about him.
He replied, “Good for you for not being like all the rest of them.”
I don’t think he saw the irony of defending himself against stereotyping by promoting more stereotyping.
I’ve had similar online and face-to-face exchanges with people who claim Christians do nothing but promote intolerance and then dismiss countless examples of charitable and loving efforts as “exceptions that prove the rule” – which, by the way, isn’t really what that phrase means.
Right now we live in an atmosphere that promotes division. It encourages us to assign one label to a person – conservative, liberal, Christian, atheist, feminist, socialist, capitalist, whatever – and assume they possess all the attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs of the most extreme people who claim those labels.
That there is some lazy thinking, and even lazier loving. It gives us permission to stereotype and perceive ourselves as victims of stereotyping at the same time. It even recycles language formerly associated primarily with racism, such as “That Joe is one of the ‘good’ ones.”
This kind of thinking is not fair or welcoming. We can’t express it in our churches and homes and expect anyone to take us seriously when we say all are welcome at Christ’s table.
On the flip side, we shouldn’t assume others are thinking that way. If you suspect someone may want to judge or stereotype you because they identify as liberal or conservative, don’t preemptively do their job for them by being pre-offended. Let them do their own dirty work of exclusion. Or – better yet – be pleasantly surprised that they don’t hate you because you’re different.
There will always be some people who want to deliberately exclude or oppress others, and we will stand up to such injustice. There will be many more people – myself included – who will always be in a state of learning about how we can better relate to and learn from our fellow human beings.
At Christ’s table, we manage to put our differences on hold for the duration of a single, communal meal. One bite, one sip. Whatever else is going on in our lives, we find common purpose and need at Christ’s table. Can we take that moment and expand it? Throughout the week, can we preemptively assume we will accept and be accepted? We very well might do so and be wrong, but otherwise we will miss every chance to be right.
May the peace of our lord Jesus Christ be with you all.