Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Why Are Christians So Easily Blinded?

Are doctors of divinity blind, or are they hypocrites? I suppose some are the one, and some are the other; but if they felt the interest in the poor and the lowly, that they ought to feel, they would not be so easily blinded.

Harriet Jacobs
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Chapter XIII The Church and Slavery

Harriet Ann Jacobs, public domain picture
Harriet Jacobs is describing the disturbing relationship between Christianity and the practice of slavery in the above quote.

The quote can apply to any of us in any situation.

Jacobs hits the nail on the head: It is perfectly understandable that we will fall short of what the Gospel demands of us. But is it really understandable that so many of us fall short so easily?

If the poor and lowly were first on our minds, as the Gospels demand, would we say and do the same things that we currently say and do?

Take the situation with immigrants and refugees today in America. We preach a Gospel of hospitality but practice exclusion on a hairpin trigger. Few of us really know what immigrants and refugees have gone through. Fewer still take the time to investigate. Yes, there may be some rare times when we may have to say "No" and build a wall and exclude. But... why are we so quick to do that? Why is that our first response? On top of that, many Christians get angry if anyone even suggests they consider doing something other than excluding people.

The same holds true for race relations in America. Many in the black community tell us that racism is an ongoing, destructive element in society. Before someone even finishes saying, "Black lives matter," another person will cut them off shouting, "All lives matter!" It's a clear sign the second person doesn't want to hear what the first person is saying. Why are so many people so quick to get angry and turn away? The least we can do is listen to what each other has to say before rushing to any conclusions. After talking to each other, we may not totally agree on every point, but why are people so quick to be defensive before actually listening?

In Jacobs' time, the practice of slavery was in full swing. Today, we can all recognize instantly how evil and awful it was. But as Jacob points out, there were many Christians who found it all too easy to shrug their shoulders and dismiss it. They said things like: "Maybe it's not as bad as it seems," or, "Maybe it's actually a good thing deep down," or, "Well, it's complicated," or some other excuse. Those are the same excuses we hear today about contemporary issues. There was a mountain of evidence screaming that slavery was evil, but folks allowed themselves to be so easily distracted by any perspective or anecdote, no matter how small, that reassured them that slavery might not be so bad after all.

There was plenty of fake news about slavery in the early 1800s. For example, some people investigated the conditions of slavery and said that the slaves seemed happy and prosperous. Many people in the North allowed themselves to be so easily deceived by stories that made no sense and were obviously staged. Likewise, they would hear 99 stories of the horrors of slavery and then one story surfaced where the conditions we not quite so bad, and they allowed that one story to blind them to the 99. People today are deceived by the same things. Many Christians are so quick to believe lies about immigrants, refugees, the African-American community, Native Americans and any other group that raises their voices demanding justice and mercy. One questionable incident may discredit a mountain of evidence on the other side.

When slaves escaped, many people in the North helped re-capture them. They would say a nineteenth-century version of: "What part of 'illegal' don't you understand?" After all, it was against the law for a slave to escape and for someone to assist them. Today, we realize that the entire system of slavery was immoral and we regard the people who gave them sanctuary as heroes. The entire system needed to be changed. Many immigrants today wallow in detention centers and many refugees suffer in camps all because "it's the law."

It is easy for most of us to look back on slavery and instantly recognize the evil it was. But what are the issues today that we are allowing ourselves to be deceived about?  HINT: It is probably when we are unwilling to calmly hear what someone else has to say. Our quick, defensive reaction is usually a sure sign of our own shortcomings and blind spots. It is our duty at those moments to take the time to understand why we are so quick to shout over someone else and block out what they are saying. Why are we resisting what they are saying?

The Gospels instruct us to think first of the poor and lowly. That message is on almost every page of Scripture in one form or another. It's in every parable and sermon of Jesus. We all do a poor job of putting into practice the awesome vision described by Jesus of Nazareth--the Beatitudes and the Greatest Commandment are both mind-blowing and revolutionary. To say we fall short is an understatement. We know that. It's a given. It just goes with the territory of the Gospel.

We also know there are times when we are all also hypocrites. We preach a Gospel that we fail to emulate. This is also somewhat understandable. The Gospels are so bold that it is a foregone conclusion that we will fail putting them into practice in such a broken, fallen world.

But this is no excuse for the fact that each of us can, in fact, do better.

The message of Harriet Jacobs haunts me: Why are we so easily blinded?

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