A Little Grumble About Stereotypes

I have a grumble, only a little one. It stems more from puzzlement than anything else. Several times during the past week I have come up against our failure as individuals and as a community to meet the expectations others have of us, yet the matters in which we have ‘failed’ have been so trivial as to be baffling. I think our experience begs the larger question of stereotyping and the injustice — I hope that is not too solemn a word — not only of trying to make others conform to our ideas about how they should live their lives but also of making assumptions about them. When challenged about the stereotypes applied to ourselves, we react in different ways. If skin colour is involved, we cry ‘racism’; if sex is involved, we cry ‘sexism’; if religion, we have a much more complex reaction. For Christians, in particular, there can be a feeling that we ought not to defend ourselves. We must try to be forgiving, even to the point where we cease to be human.

I suspect some readers will respond with indignation, ‘Of course we must forgive always, no matter how hard it is!’ I don’t disagree, what I’m saying is that in our forgiveness we mustn’t run beyond grace, we should not become doormats. To forgive is a process, not a once-for-all act (unless you’re very unusual), and really to forgive, rather than just put others on probation, requires courage as well as generosity. It means allowing Christ to forgive in us, and sometimes we get in the way of that. We forget that fake holiness is no holiness. ‘Assume a virtue if you have it not’ requires rather more than pretence, no matter how well-intentioned. It asks for a change of heart, and that’s not done just by wishing.

Perhaps spending a few moments today thinking about how non-Christians perceive Christians could be fruitful. It would alert us to the ways in which our responses may be (mis)understood — and anything that makes for better understanding among people generally is surely a Good Thing. It may also help us to see that sometimes we conform to other people’s stereotypes because that is the image we have (or want to have) of ourselves. That is a Bad Thing, because it means we are not living truthfully; and whatever else anyone may say, Truth matters.

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3 thoughts on “A Little Grumble About Stereotypes”

  1. I couldn’t agree more Sr Catherine – and I, alas, speak from personal experience. We we challenge injustice we can be accused of being unChristian, as if holding other people to account, or to a standard of behaviour, or pointing that their expectationsare unreasonable and self centred is contrary to the way Christians are called to live. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course.

    Pax,
    Andrew

  2. Very much agree with the OP and with Mr.Doohan’s supplementary above. In my view, precision of language and demeanour is key. Provided “hate the sin, forgive the sinner” is clear from our words and general approach (easier said than done of course, but Jesus promised the Spirit to guide us in such circs and His promise has never failed me yet), our conscience can and IMO should be clear.

  3. People have loads of stereotypes about Christians , sometimes funny, sometimes bizarre and sometimes downright unjust. Christians are human, we fail and we can misunderstand and be misunderstood. I am not sure forgiving means being a doormat and you should tell someone if they have had unrealistic expectations that have led them to be unjust. That might open up the way for greater understanding and forgiveness.

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