You know how the gays – of whom I am one – have certain stereotypes attached to them? Like, the gay man voice. Or lesbians love plaid (I DO love plaid). Apparently, liking Sparkling Water is also a gay stereotype, maybe the only one I didn’t know about before. Well, yesterday I took the recycle out and we had FOUR empty 2-litre bottles of Santa Vittoria sparkling water and… yeah. My wife and I are really gay.
What Stereotypes Should Be
I am not advocating stereotypes, okay? They are harmful and while it has been claimed that they all contain a grain of truth, more often than not they’re just meant to be negative and insulting to certain groups. For instance – “Everyone who looks like an Arab is a terrorist.” Now, is everyone who wears a turban a terrorist? No. But that kind of thought has allowed many Muslims, Sikhs, and others to be treated abominably and has led to racial profiling in many places.
Still, there are people who “take back” stereotypes and turn them into something good. We often see this reclamation of negatives with certain slurs. “Butch” is one that I know lesbians have tried hard to reclaim, giving a positive connotation to a word that has been used insultingly for some time. “Bitch” is another one that women have turned into something good. Stereotypes can be used for good, which is perhaps what their purpose should be – making people stand up for themselves.
An Earned Stereotype
But I want to focus on one aspect of stereotypes that is sometimes ignored in this attempt to reclaim negatives or to fight profiling. I want to talk about those stereotypes that are earned.
What stereotypes exist of Christians? Googling the phrase “Christian stereotypes” yields tons of results, but to keep things simple, let me highlight only one example that I found, an article that lists “7 Marks of a Stereotypical American Christian.”
- You love to argue, fight and attack
- You practice Christianity through groups and institutions
- Your theology is borrowed
- Your online faiths doesn’t reflect reality
- You love labels
- You crave efficiency over spirituality
- You need entertainment
To what extent are these stereotypes of Christians earned? I look at these and my reaction is, “Yeah, I’ve done that.” I’m complicit in a lot of the stereotypes you may be able to think of. Don’t expect this post to be an indictment of other people. First and foremost, it is an examination of myself.
Do We Want This?
On Twitter recently the hashtag #yesallwomen tried to point out to the world how women experience men. Most of the comments were very negative towards men, which prompted some men to use the hashtag #notallmen. That is very often the reaction to a stereotype. “Hey, not all xyz are like that. I’m not like that.” We naturally don’t want to be identified with a stereotype, which is reflexively seen as a negative. When Christians look at the stereotypes of themselves, they most often respond with arguing, giving reasons and examples why they are not part of that, why the stereotype is wrong, and what the good things are that Christians have done.
Very rarely do Christians look at how they have earned the stereotype and even less rarely do they look at how to change the stereotype by changing behavior. Frankly, I find that disturbing. Christianity has been around for so long that we should be able to look at ourselves critically. We’ve had so long to get it right and obviously we haven’t. So what we should be asking ourselves is, “Do we want this? And how must we change?”
I’m So Gay
I know that I’m gay. When I get stereotyped, more often than not I nod my head and go, “Yep. That’s me.” Because it is. I love plaid. I would love plaid even if I wasn’t a lesbian, but I happen to be a lesbian, so the stereotype fits. I’m also butch. My hair is really short, I walk like a man, and I get called “sir” often. I’m okay with that. It isn’t a bad thing. I’m also a bitch. I don’t put up with being patronized or discounted, I stick up for myself, and if you’re out of line then I will probably let you know about it. I will do all that as civilly as possible, but no matter how polite I am, someone will call me a bitch and I’m at peace with that. And as a Christian, I do like to argue. I do borrow parts of my theology. And there are a lot of other stereotypes of which I am guilty. I can either change what I don’t like, or own the ones I do.
But I am disturbed by the fact that Christian history has led to some of these stereotypes. Christ didn’t attack anyone. He listened to them. He didn’t identify himself with an institution to the extent that he couldn’t function without it. He may have been Jewish, but when it came right down to action he was more often at odds with Judaism than in line. He didn’t care about labels. A Samaritan was a reviled person, but he told the story of the Good Samaritan in order to point out explicitly that stereotypes can be wrong. How much of Christ have Christians lost? I think too much.
Some stereotypes cannot be reclaimed. Some shouldn’t be. We have to wonder what we’re going to do about them, but, more importantly, what Christ himself would have us do. Following the example of Christ should be the stereotype we strive for, but too often it is the one no one calls us by – Christian.