[forthright] Stereotype, or Typical?

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From: Forthright Magazine <forthrightmag@...>
Date: Sat, 22 Nov 2008 07:51:08 -0800 (PST)
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COLUMN:FIELD NOTES

Stereotype, or Typical? 
 by Michael E. Brooks

"One of them, a prophet of their own, said, 'Cretans
are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons… They
profess to know God, but in works they deny him, being
abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every
good work" (Titus 1:12, 16 NKJV).

It is often difficult to avoid falling into the trap of
stereotyping people. As one travels to different places
he observes physical similarities among the
inhabitants, as well as mannerisms, common interests,
accents, attitudes and customs. People living in close
proximity, from common heritage and in similar
circumstances share a lot of characteristics. They
become and appear very similar.

That is not to say they are the same. Yet sometimes the
similarities become so pronounced and dominant that one
can honestly observe, “That is the way the people there
are.” That is not stereotyping nor is it prejudicial.
It is the observation of what is truly typical of a
culture or a people.

Paul was anything but prejudiced. His love for all
people is well attested by his life of ministry and
sacrifice. He practiced forgiveness and even tolerance.
Yet he stated unequivocally about the citizens of
Crete, that they were "Abominable, disobedient and
disqualified for every good work." Was every Cretan of
that nature? Probably not. Was that typical of the
Cretan disposition? Apparently so.

Do we help anything by refusing to say so for political
correctness or out of sensitivity? Paul thought not.
The first step towards solving any problem or
overcoming any difficulty is to recognize it. Titus was
working among the Cretans. He needed to know their
character. He needed to be prepared for reality.

To stereotype someone is to prejudge them and assume
things about them that may or may not be so. To
recognize the typical is simply to be aware of
possibilities and be prepared. There is a great deal of
difference between these two attitudes.

Paul knew there were Christians on Crete. He probably
had preached there himself (Titus 1:5) and likely had
taught and baptized at least some there. He certainly
would not have considered them to fit the description
of the typical Cretan. Perhaps in the past they had,
but to quote his description of other Christians,
"(They) were washed, but (they) were sanctified, but
(they) were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and
by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11).

A friend of mine, and fellow Christian is a
Bangladeshi, and frequently says of some negative
action by one of his people, "That's Bangladesh!" He
observes similar acts and attitudes regularly and has
determined that some are typical of this culture and
people. I often respond, "No, that's human." People
elsewhere aren’t really all that different.

When you think about it, don't most people sometimes
seem to be pretty lazy, not in good control of their
appetites and desires, and slow to do good things? Are
they really all that different from the Cretans?

Paul suggests much the same in his discussion of the
battle between will and flesh in Romans 7:13-24. "For I
delight in the law of God according to the inward man.
But I see another law in my members, warring against
the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to
the law of sin which is in my members" (Romans 7:22-
23). Even though one may wish to do good, he often
falls short, serving the law of sin and the weakness of
flesh. Is that not essentially being disqualified for
good works?

Condemning all humans for being wicked and worthless is
stereotyping, and demonstrates prejudice. Observing
that all humans have a disposition toward sin and must
struggle to obtain righteousness in their conduct is
simply being realistic.That condition is typical of
human nature.

Once we recognize it we can begin to work towards
overcoming it. Let us avoid being so sensitive and
correct that we are unable to see genuine problems and
address real human needs. Paul did not prejudge the
Cretans. He set out to understand them so as to work
for them that they might be saved by the Gospel of
Christ.

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