Why is it always them?

By Arthur Brown

As I have looked at various news articles over the last few weeks, it has struck me, yet again, how good we all are at apportioning blame on others whilst neglecting to ask questions about our own faults. Have you ever noticed that the trouble with ‘our society’ – and ‘our society’ could be anywhere –  is more often than not, the result of, young people, immigrants, homosexuals, the sex industry, the poor, or some other category of people that ‘we’ or ‘I’ am not a part of.  Heaven forbid that I could ever accept any responsibility for the multitude ills of my community or the world. It regularly seems that it is those who are already at the margins of society, who already feel excluded, that become the ‘easy targets’, the cause of social disintegration, the scapegoats.

The situation seems to get worse when, as a group, we develop an identity based on what we are not, rather than on what or who we are. When we bring religious beliefs into this equation it becomes even more easy to justify attacks on those already marginalised or different, as we say ‘we are doing this for God’, which essentially seems to mean we have carte blanch to attack as much as we like.  Whether it be denomination, religion, political allegiance, pro-choice/pro-life etc. it seems that the most common course of action is to create an enemy, and seek to justify our negative view toward them by allocating blame.

On a global scale recent events resulting from the offensive movie about the Prophet Muhammed that led to one group attacking another based on their view of what is sacred, i.e. the ‘defense of God’ with little value given to His creation – namely human life – vs. the seemingly limitless ‘freedom of expression’ without any sense of social responsibility – again with little consideration given to the potential for fatal consequences. This, by the way, is one of the topics we will be covering in next years Middle East Conference here in Beirut, 17-21 June 2013.

On a national scale this approach is often used to justify military attacks, as pre-emptive acts of ‘self-defense’.  Self-critique tends not to be high up the list of most politicians skill-sets. At a more localised level it often means media condemnation or government legislation that targets minorities.  Take for example the recent human rights abuses carried out against members of the gay community in Lebanon, who were subjected to anal inspections by the authorities, in order to ascertain their sexuality, and as a result criminalize them. Whatever ones view on homosexuality, the fact remains that a small minority of any population [maybe 5%?] does not pose anywhere near as much as a threat to the rest of society as do, for example rampant greed and consumerism, vitriolic attacks on political or religious rivals or violence done by men towards their wives or children. And yet, it seems, often the larger issues are left unchecked, because we, the majority, may be complicit, and therefore unwilling to ask ourselves the tough questions that would cause us to recognise our own faults.  And yet we are willing, and perfectly able to target others. It’s the easy option that does not call for our own transformation. It’s always them that need to change, and never me.

The words of Jesus in Matthew 7 ring out in my mind.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”.

The ability to engage in self-critique is one that I have discovered to be particularly important for people entering foreign cultures.  As a westerner living in the Middle East it is all too easy to be critical of elements of this culture. However I must also be willing to be critical of my own culture when it does not meet the standards set by the King. But again, it is easy to wear such tinted glasses to come up with our own, comfortable version of what that Kingdom may actually look like. If people believe in the same way we do, behave in the same way as we do, then perhaps, if they are lucky, we will accept that they could potentially belong with us. However we always reserve the right to exclude, as by doing so we affirm our own position of superiority.  Would it not be refreshing to be known for what we stand for, in positive terms, rather than what or who we stand against?

As a church, we should be the ones who’s primary concern is for those at the margins of society, the other, rather than our own self-preservation. Rather than focusing on ‘our rights’ maybe we should first consider our responsibilities to ensure the rights of others, others also created in the image of the One God.

IMES’ Middle East Conference 2013 will address the subject of ‘Your Rights and My Responsibilities: Christian and Muslim perspectives on Human Rights’. As well as the ‘freedom of expression issue’ we will explore religious rights and freedoms, the role of human rights within the Arab Uprisings, as well as human trafficking as an issue of human rights.  Stay posted for more in this over the coming months.

17 thoughts on “Why is it always them?

  1. In the old American cowboy movies the good cowboys wore white hats and the bad cowboys wore black hats. This made it easier for the audience to identify the “good guys.” Both groups rode around on horses and shot people so it was important to understand which group was “good.”

    Are we like this? Do we justify the actions we take because we are “good” while condemning exactly the same actions in our “enemies?” I think so.

    The debate over torture is a prime example. How many westerners would defend a militant Islamic group for torturing a soldier to get information that might save (their) lives? Yet, that is exactly the argument put forward in many discussions to justify its use by the US.

  2. We tend to blame others to justify ourselves. It is a denfense mechanism we use to convince ourselves, then the world, that we are righteous, and to ease the guilt we feel. It’s always easier to throw the blame on someone who is defenseless, but only the strong can face themselves admitting their faults and sins as a way to heal and grow. Thanks, Arthur.

  3. What a tough lesson to live out and yet so inseparable to the concept of discipleship and fellowship with Christ. Bonhoeffer spends a whole article in his classic “The Cost of Discipleship” dissecting this paradigm, he says:
    Disciple and non-disciple can never encounter each other as free men, directly exchanging their views and judging one another by objective criteria. No, the disciple can meet the non-disciple only as a man to whom Jesus comes. Here alone Christ’s fight for the soul of the unbeliever, his call, his love, his grace and his judgement comes into its own. Discipleship does not afford us a point of vantage from which to attack others; we come to them with an unconditional offer of fellowship, with the single mindedness of the love Jesus. (…) If we love we can never observe the other person with detachment, for he is always and at every moment a living claim to our love and service. (p. 204).
    Thanks Arthur for such a timely wake up call!

    • Thank you for sharing this powerful quote, Jonno! You are so right to point out that this false “us”/”them” paradigm sadly persists even to the level of Christian discipleship. I wonder if the heart of it relates back to the alienation we as human beings feel as a result of the fall… How powerful by comparison that Christ became one of us, and that we worship a trinitarian God who is in constant, perfect fellowship with Himself!

  4. It will always be them! Unless change happens in our way of thinking and they are not “them” and we are not “us” anymore. Labeling and judging is so easily done, without thinking, and unfortunately even in our own churches and organizations. We have lost many people because of that; specially those that are not ‘good enough’ to be part of our church or those that are still trying to make sense of their new experience with Jesus and are not fitting yet into the ‘mold’ we have created, just like the Pharisees in Matthew 7. We, and I, want them to change quickly and become super Christians like us! Grace is what is needed. Grace!

    I got disgusted and bothered when I heard about what the police did to the homosexuals last week. This will marginalize them even more. I felt pity. I felt anger. I felt injustice!

    But what is our role as the body of Christ? I always ask the question how many of our churches have homosexuals; prostitutes and other marginalized people in their congregations who are sinners just like us? I rarely get an answer.

    Thank you Arthur for this article, it helped me put things into perspective especially regarding “them” and “us”, for we are the same, sinful, and both in need of a Savior, who loves us unconditionally…

    • Very true, Maher. In a society that cares so much about image and appearances,the cultural sin of labeling and judging entered our churches. It’s sad.

    • I agree, and was also bothered by the report of the abuse of homosexuals. It is in just these cases that the Church has opportunities to distance ourselves from this kind of action and instead promote the love of Jesus for those who are marginalized.

  5. Good challenge and likewise encouragement Arthur. This article hits on a delicate point that we as Christ followers are called to be focused primarily on our own needs of grace (Math 7) while also being focused primarily on engaging in a hurting world. It’s the two primaries that can seem to contradict. One says look inside and one says looks outside. This is only possible when we look up. As a newlywed I’m learning how easy it is to error on looking too much inwards (my needs, insecurities, desires) or too much out (her weaknesses, shortcomings or faults). If it is so easy to error in marriage, how much more in the church’s relationship with a messy world. What comfort it is to know as believers that we can all find the right balance by setting our eyes on heaven.

  6. Thank you so much Mr Brown for sharing these reflections on the blog. What I liked the most was the excerpts from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7. As followers of Jesus, we need to keep up the High Standards He set, look at the world through His eyes and be ready to preach the Good News of Salvation to everybody around us!

    .

  7. Today – October 13 – is the International Day for Disaster Reduction with a special emphasis on Women and Girls:(In)visible force of resilience. Mostly the term “Disaster Reduction” is used in natural disasters or wars, however, it can also apply to society and more particularly to inter-faith relations. Listening/learning to/about each other and self-critique are practical tools to reduce conflicts and promote respect. Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary General says: “We cannot eliminate disaster, but we can mitigate risk, we can reduce damage and we can save more lives”. A Christians we live in a complex world, but we have a mighty God and His Word is appropriate for this time and current reality, Let us be aware of our rights and responsibities and live these out! The sub theme of the International Day for Disaster Reduction is “Women and Girls:(In)visible force of resilence” – let us pray for this invisible force of resilence, also with regards to Chistian Muslim relations.

    • I agree with you adelhaas that we have a Mighty God Who is upholding all things by the word of His Power! Thank you for reminding us of this Wonderful truth!

  8. Thank you Arthur for this. We are told by Jesus in Matt 22 verses 37-39, that the greatest commandment is to love God and our neighbour. Why then as Christians are we known more for our vocal condemnation of others than our support of those who are mistreated? In the Bible Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery and healed the daughter of a Roman soldier, an enemy of the Jewish people. Would it not be more Christ like if we Christians became known for being friends of sinners?

    • It’s very true Louise that if we would be Christ like we will befriend sinners, the first thing we need to learn from Christ is self-denial and humbling ourselves, but are we willing to go through forgetting our egos and putting the well being of the other ahead of ours like Christ did? If we succeed to introspect ourselves and practice self – critique as Arthur has mentioned with accomplishing a self change, I believe then we would be able to love our enemies and the sinners!

      • I agree with you Louise, the more we become friends of sinners the more we become like Jesus. He has spent all his time with sinners. He loved them, discipled them and died for them. And His disciples followed his steps and did the same, befriending sinners. I wonder sometimes why don’t I do that? Or am I doing that enough?

  9. Arthur- thank you for this insightful and convicting reflection. Your words remind me of a particularly challenging chapter in World Vision president, Richard Stearns’ book, The Hole in Our Gospel. Stearns laments that, “…we [as Christians] have become defined by those things we are against rather than those we are for” (Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 229). He then goes on to contrast this attitude of retribution based on a long list of “don’ts” to the life and example of Christ:

    The first-century world was amazed by Christ because of what He did: Jesus healed the sick, loved the poor, touched the leper, stood up for the down-and-out, forgave the sinner, condemned the religious hypocrites, dined with prostitutes and corrupt tax collectors, challenged the wealthy and powerful, fought for justice for the oppressed, defied His culture, renounced materialism, demonstrated that greatness is found in serving- and then died that others might live. These actions- performed by one man- changed the world.

    These same actions, when carried out by His followers, still change the world today (Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel, 230).

    O that we might be a people defined by our acts of compassion and reconciliation rather than our self-righteous judgment! Perhaps the first step is repentance for the lack thereof…

  10. Thank you. What I love about following organizations like IMES is that it because of the contrast of where your ministry lives, it makes the issues that we who do not live on the margins all easier to see. There is great truth in the fact that one’s ability to engage in self-critique is very important when people enter a foreign culture. In reading the blog, I reflected on life with my family, friends, church and realize that it is equally important there. Thank you.

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