Monday, July 14, 2008

Review of UnChristian: Evangelicals embrace of negative stereotypes

(Part 12 of a series)

Negative group stereotypes are a sad fact of life.

Pick any group, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, English, French, Arabs, men, women, gays, Southerners, and you'll find some negative stereotype. They are criminal, dishonest, dirty, ditsy, drunkards, immoral, unintelligent, greedy, rude, scheming, or have bad teeth. (For decorum, I am not matching the stereotype to the group).

Certainly Christians have negative stereotypes about them, and that's one way of thinking about the book UnChristian--a catalog of stereotypes of Christians. These stereotypes include being hypocritical, judgmental, anti-gay, sheltered, and too political.

What's interesting is how the Christian church responds to these stereotypes (as well as to other negative characterizations). We seem to embrace them--see it as a prompting for us to do better. This is the tone of UnChristian--that these stereotypes harm the work of the church, so the church should act better to avoid the stereotypes and thus be more effective.

The problem with this approach is that there will always be negative stereotypes about the Christian church (as well as other religions and probably any other large group). Sorry, stereotypes happen, and if they aren't these seven, they'll be another seven.

Another problem with this approach is a disconnect between reality and stereotype. For example, no matter how well girls do at math, they are thought of as less inclined at math. If statistics came out today indicating that girls score higher on math (and these stats probably exist), it wouldn't change the stereotype.

As such, changing behavior to change stereotypes seems to be an unhelpful approach for the Christian church--especially since we have no idea if the stereotypes themselves are accurate.

It remains curious, however, that we embrace these stereotypes. Go tell some group that society thinks they are criminals, and that group will be outraged at the unfair characterization--rather than tell its members to be more lawful to avoid the stereotype.

In a way, Evangelicals response to negative characterizations is akin to medieval flagellantism--accepting the painful as a way of increasing godliness. If nothing else, we sure seem to like bad news about ourselves.

Part 13 in the series.


J. R. Miller said...

I think you are only saying this because you are a Christian... seriously though, good point!

kent said...

Right on the mark.

Earth Girl said...

Could it also be viewed as turning the other cheek...or perhaps not causing your brother to stumble? Is there a uniquely Christian aspect to this response? And these really are questions.

Helen said...

FYI your response to the statistic is being discussed here

I said some things on there which go beyond what I've said on your own blog - feel free to respond to my comments over there as you wish.