Now there’s an ignorant, wasteful sentence starter if there ever was one; a lazy, dismissive, broadly painted insult disguised as objective insight, designed to malign someone and undermine their perspective and write them off—all in less than 140 characters.
In the bloody trenches of social media debate, it’s a cheap, unproductive, foolish tactic. Yet as debate tactics go it’s no more cheap, unproductive, or foolish than beginning a sentence beginning with:
“That’s the thing with all you Fundamentalists…”
It turns out that when confrontation arrives, creating caricatures comes equally easy to all of us regardless of our theological or political leanings. We’re all quite capable of snap judgements and blanket insults and drive-by stereotypes.
Heck, it’s a whole lot quicker than actually stopping to listen to people.
The moment in a heated conversation when we lump someone in with an entire people group (whatever that people group might be), we’re admitting that we’d rather not learn the intricacies of their individual road or the complexities of their position. We prefer instead to lazily toss them into an already created box of predetermined negative characteristics and opinions—ones we’ve already conveniently constructed iron clad arguments against.
“I know exactly who you are”, we think to ourselves (and sometimes say out loud) “and I know exactly how to deal with you.” Yet knowing people often isn’t really anything we care to invest in. We’d rather just put virtual strangers on blast and walk away with an ego boost.
When we do this to people we disagree with; when we affix hastily assembled, one-size-fits-all, derogatory labels to them (Liberal, Fundie, Progressive, Conservative, to name some of the kinder ones), we immediately create distance between us; a chasm that is almost too wide for them to reach across even if they wished to. We force the other into a defense posture, one where they feel compelled to fight back in order to refute our mischaracterizations or correct our assumptions. And once they do offer any such rebuttal, they invariably and unwittingly feed our decided-upon perception and reinforce our self-righteousness regarding our own position.
Friends, when engaging someone with a different theological perspective than your own, it’s critical but incredibly difficult to realize how similar you both likely are in two important ways:
Firstly, most people have reached their religious convictions after a lifetime of searching and seeking and studying. Their faith and politics are the result of their individual road and the specific experiences they’ve had along the way. They could no more change that road than you could your own. You each are a product of your specific journey, and in this way you and the other are quite the same. Despite your passion, you’re never rolling out objective truth—you’re sharing your best guess based on what you can see from where you’re standing.
And secondly, as people of faith, even if you differ vastly on the particular conclusions you’ve both come to ultimately you and the other share the same motivation.
In my daily travels, even the most conservative, orthodox believer who might be incredibly resistant or respond quite violently to something I write or say, is still likely doing exactly what I am trying to do: understand God as clearly as they can and respond faithfully to what they believe to be true. Whether I agree with them or not, isn’t as important as remembering that our intent is the same. We’re both responding earnestly in faith. I can’t afford to forget this.
If we are Christians, we don’t merely jump between two theological camps, simply trading one complete set of rigid rules for another. Each of us occupies a very specific place along the great continuum of belief and speaks solely from that spot.
As my writing has reached a wider, louder, more vocally supportive audience (and an equally wide, loud, vocally critical one), I’ve been saddened to see how quick those on either side are to pigeonhole the other; how easily we dismisses one another, often without a much bigger body of work than a few sentences. Conversation is far less common, replaced by a series of competing monologues in search of a kill shot, a public contest in shade-throwing. I am hardly exempt in this but am repenting daily.
Lately I’m wondering if this is our lot in this spiritual life or whether we can strain to find something more. I’m praying the latter.
It may be a pipe dream, but I want better for all of us as we wrestle with the deepest things of this life. I certainly want more for my writing and my efforts as a minister.
I don’t want to be the kind of Christian who only loves those who love me first, or those who appear most lovable from a distance. (Jesus was pretty clear about all that.)
I have no interest in being a pastor who preaches only to the applauding choir of those who agree with him. I want to speak to the greater congregation, even if it means getting shouted down sometimes.
I aspire to a faith that sets a wide open table and truly welcomes the full diversity of perspectives there, seeing it all as valid and beautiful. I’m hopeful for theological discussions where no one’s dignity is lost.
This is the only way forward for me that makes any sense. It’s the prayer I have for you and for me, even if we don’t align in any number of ways.
Friends, if we let someone’s theological perspective or spiritual convictions or life choices or political leanings obscure their intrinsic value from us, we are the ones most guilty in the exchange regardless of what we may think. If we can’t or won’t take the time to see people individually (and only as variations on a theme that we’ve determined exists), we’ve forfeited our own humanity and ignored theirs.
And in that moment, even if we feel we’ve won an argument—we’ve lost something far greater.
Fundamentalists (and Progressives) are people too.
Strive to treat them that way.