Fighting Our Stereotyping

It’s very simple. Do not judge by appearances; rather, lead with grace and heart. It’s simple to say and hard to live out in practice. In our fast-paced culture, we often make quick decisions and knee-jerk reactions. Efficiency and self-preservation can often become the drivers of how we live our lives rather than a generous heart. 

Aiming to treat others as we would like to be treated often slows us down. We default to stereotyping to make life easier and help us feel in control. Stereotyping protects us from having to think or care. When we default to preconceived ideas about someone or actions, we tend to lead with judgment and righteousness rather than grace and heart. We turn persons into objects and convince ourselves not to care. For most of us, it’s unintentional and often goes undetected. We chalk it up to, “that’s just the way things are.”

Most of us are not intent on doing evil. Only a tiny fraction of our world is intent on doing evil. Most of us are just trying to live our lives in the communities we reside. It’s just easier to live within the norms of behavior we grew up with. It gives us a sense of security and comfort in a world of chaos.

We are journeying through the Lenten season when Jesus most forcefully combated the norms of his day. He ate with sinners, cleansed the leper, walked with the unclean and touched the untouchable. He challenged the norm of Jewish religion, and he was judged and judged harshly. So harshly that they nailed him to the cross and executed him. Jesus did not fit the expectations of his day. He did not fit the social norms of his day, and he wasn’t afraid of difficult conversations or actions. 

Today I fear we shy away from the hard conversations about stereotyping people because it makes us uncomfortable and out of control. As I reflect on how not to succumb to my preconceived judgment, I begin with these three things. First, I try to remember Jesus’ golden rule, “love one another. Treat others the way you want to be treated or loved.” Second, I ask myself, “if the shoe were on the other foot, how I would like to be perceived at our churches, in our institutions or by our neighbors. Third, I try to listen to hear rather than listen to respond.

I’m reminded that Jesus looked down from the cross and said, “Forgive them, for they know now what they are doing.” Even in death, Jesus could see others as having incredible worth and value amid their human failings because all persons are made in the image of God.
Just imagine if each of us easily regarded all persons as made in God’s image, as persons with dignity and honor and worth. May it be so this Lenten season. Lord forgive us. We know not what we have done.

In Christ,

Bishop Bob Farr, Missouri Conference of The United Methodist Church