Recently, Pastor Tim Brown wrote an article “Five Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn’t Say” about how he despises the use of the word “Christian” as an adjective (e.g. “That’s not Christian!”). I whole-heartedly agree with that as well as with his overall thesis in the article which generally addresses how many modern Christians use their faith to exclude and dismiss broad groups of people and practices from relevancy in their lives. Extrapolating to something I believe about all world religions, when followers of any spiritual path extract specific beliefs and teachings and focus on those components in absence of the greater belief-system as a whole, they cease to be true followers of their faith, and in most cases, end up drawing errant and misguided conclusions. When, as Pastor Brown discusses, they use those “conclusions” to belittle and make “other” of their fellow man (especially considering the hubris and condescension inherent in such an action) the only result is further division of mankind, which if left unchecked, manifests, as we have seen in the middle east, into theocracy and, eventually, literal religious warfare.
Getting back to parts of speech, to Pastor Brown’s plea of ceasing to use Christian as an adjective, I would like to add, we need to be well aware of the use of the word “other” as a verb. When someone uses one of those errant conclusions discussed above to draw distinctions between his or her own spiritual beliefs and practices and the spiritual beliefs and practices of someone else, he or she “others” the person in question. True, there are clear differences among the world’s dominant spiritual belief systems. Recognizing those variances without judgment is simple educated awareness, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The “othering” occurs only when an errant conclusion has been used to label and separate one’s own beliefs and practices in distinction from those of people practicing different faiths. Borrowing again from Pastor Brown’s article, here’s an example of “othering” in action.
Pastor Brown writes, “I once told a person that I meditated. They responded, ‘Well, that’s not Christian you know…’ Sigh. See, the problem with that line of thinking is that it narrows what can be identified with living a life in Christ.” In this example, both the practice of meditation, and by extension, Pastor Brown himself, were “othered out of Christianity” by the person claiming meditation was “not Christian.” Realizing that meditation is more traditional among eastern religions is, again, simple educated awareness. “If the person in this example had instead responded, “I’ve only heard of meditation being used in Buddhism and other eastern religions. Can you tell me more about how you apply its practice to Christianity?” that would not have constituted othering, and could in fact, have lead to an intellectual and spiritual discussion bringing two people closer together. Unfortunately, that person, instead, chose to focus on the fact that meditation is not extensively used in Christian practice, and ignore the numerous references to meditation in the Bible, such as Psalms 1:2, Psalms 48:9, etc. to draw and errant conclusion which he or she then used to other Pastor Brown.
Some would argue that the person making the claim was not trying to exclude Pastor Brown himself, but only persuade him to reexamine his use of meditation which that person didn’t feel fit into a “Christian lifestyle.” Pastor Brown makes another important and valid point in response to that assertion when he discusses the ridiculous catch-phrase, “Love the sinner – hate the sin.” He writes:
I’ve only heard it used when people are talking about identity.
“I love gay people, I just hate that they act on their homosexual orientation…”
There we go. There’s an honest statement. And an unhelpful one. It’s unhelpful because, you can’t love me apart from my sexuality. I really don’t think you can. It’s part of what makes me who I am, even if it’s not the whole of my definition. So, if you were to say to me, “I love you, but I hate that you’re heterosexual…” I would probably stop listening right then and there because, well, I wouldn’t believe you. You can’t love me and yet hate an essential part of me. This phrase is disingenuous.
Othering is quite rampant in the U.S. We have but to look at the political wars raging over the issue of homosexual marriage. Some politicians citing their “Christian beliefs: (and I put the words in quotes, because there are plenty of true Christians who do not choose to extract specific Bible passages (1Corinthians 6:9-10, Leviticus 18:22, etc.) interpreted as forbidding homosexuality and ignore the rest of the Bible which clearly directs them to love their fellow man as themselves (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:36-40, etc.) and keep their faith out of the political arena (Matthew 22:21)) are working feverishly to make sure no two men or two women in their state or in this country really, will ever be able to take advantage of a secular, government sanctioned marriage partnership. These politicians extract those particular Bible passages mentioned above from the entirety of the Bible and try to use the inherently misguided conclusions they’ve drawn from focusing on a single piece of a whole belief system to other an entire group of people. This is no less than an attempt at theocracy!
But it’s important that this not become a conversation only about gay marriage or the current political struggle over what should never have become a political issue. Othering happens daily, hourly, minute by minute, and it’s passed down through generations. Just as Pastor Brown says, when you other someone, you narrow the definition of what it is to be good person and indeed a person at all. We all need a moral compass, but a Christian choosing to meditate or a person born Jewish choosing to get baptized should not cause the slightest tremor in that needle. The truth is you don’t know what kind of relationship that person has with the practices or teachings of their chosen belief system, so you should not comment on it. There’s no need to other the practice or the person. In every case, othering is hurtful and it’s harmful.
And it’s hateful. And it’s unbecoming to any belief system when its followers stray from its sum total in pursuit of focus on a single extracted idea. It is malpractice of the faith! We may fail in the attempt to revoke adjective status to the word “Christian.” And if you look through history, extreme othering is an inextricable part of it with examples such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust and the atrocities happening all over the world today, but must we continue to make it a part of our future? For my part, I’m praying for unity among mankind.