Friday, August 13, 2010

Embracing the Other

I originally wrote this on my personal blog.

Maybe it’s just me, but I keep seeing this fear of “the other” in Christianity. By “the other” I mean any outside person or group of people that’s supposedly coming to take away our freedom and outlaw our religion. Nine out of ten times its an irrational fear, but it’s still there.

For example, ever since the 9/11 attacks the American Church has taken it upon itself to declare a holy war against Muslims and Islam. Not against Islamic terrorism, mind you, but against Islam itself. Take for example the recent ruckus over the Mosque being built near Ground Zero. Newt Gingrich said there shouldn’t be a Mosque built near Ground Zero as long as there are no churches in Saudi Arabia. But there’s just one problem with that logic; Saudi Arabia (correct me if I'm wrong) is run under Islamic fundamentalist law, while here in the States we have the First Amendment which prohibits any religious discrimination.. Then there’s the church that plans to burn Korans this September. If Christians want to reach out to the Muslim community, I don’t think burning their sacred book is going to help. In fact, I think it will stir up more hatred towards the West.

Then there’s immigration. While I understand the concern about undocumented immigrants, sometimes the conversation goes beyond illegal immigrants. I don’t have enough fingers to count how many times I’ve heard Christians complain about how “the Mexicans” are taking over everything. They never say “the illegal immigrants;” they say “the Mexicans,” as if everyone from Mexico has this agenda to screw us gringos.

And then there’s the gay community. I can understand moral objections to gay marriage*, but sometimes the debate goes beyond morality and scripture. I’ve heard a lot of anti-gay marriage activists say things like, “Gay people are going to recruit your children,” “We’re going to lose our freedom of speech,” or the classic, “This will destroy the sanctification of marriage for good” (as if two strangers getting married on a reality show is perfectly alright). These arguments are based more on fear than fact.

So how should the Christian respond to “the other?” Or, to quote the old wristband, what would Jesus do?

First, we need to remember “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, NLT). Our biggest threat is not the homosexuals, or the Muslims, or the Mexicans, or the liberals, or any other group of people . . . it’s sin. Period.

Second, we must see all outsiders as human beings. "Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt” (Exodus 23:9, NIV). Plato once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I love that quote, because the more I get to know people, the more I realize it’s true.

Third, we need to remember 2 Timothy 2:24-25: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” When we disagree with people (gays, Muslims, etc.), we need to do so with gentle words and actions. We need to let them know that they are loved.

There’s a Sara Groves song I really like where she sings, “Loving a person just the way they are is no small thing/ It takes some time to see things through.” And indeed it does take time to see past our prejudices, but it’s worth it.

*Personally, to quote Judge Vaughn Walker, I think “a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples is not a proper basis for legislation.” But that’s just me.


  1. "Othering" other people - placing them at a distance so that we can mock them - is not merely a Christian problem. It is a human problem - we all have a tendency to think we're alone in the world, that we are somehow unique, and that other people don't have the same problems or experience them as intensely as we do.

    I believe, fundamentally, that is why Jesus' message of "love your neighbor as yourself" is so completely revolutionary. It calls us to go against our nature of "othering" people, recognize that they are people, and then to love them as though they were the thing closes to us, namely, our own self.

    This post is a good reminder about that though. Realizing that the person on the train next to us is also a human, with a story, thoughts and feelings all his own, is one of the most important things we can do as Christians, and is often one of the hardest.

  2. Great post - although I would agree with Dianna that separating ourselves from "others" in order to more clearly label and judge people and that which we don't understand isn't exclusive to fundamental Christians. I think the hypocrisy of uncharitable, xenophobic, and homophobic Christians just stands out more loudly because it so incredibly the opposite of what Jesus Christ preached.

    There's this great quote by Gandhi:

    "I do not reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It's just that so many of you are unlike your Christ."