Stereotype, or Typical?

By Michael E. Brooks
crete2.jpg“One of them, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. . . They profess to know God, but in works they deny him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work” (Titus 1:12, 16 NKJV).
It is often difficult to avoid falling into the trap of stereotyping people. As one travels to different places he observes physical similarities among the inhabitants, as well as mannerisms, common interests, accents, attitudes and customs. People living in close proximity, from common heritage and in similar circumstances share a lot of characteristics. They become and appear very similar.
That is not to say they are the same. Yet sometimes the similarities become so pronounced and dominant that one can honestly observe, “That is the way the people there are.” That is not stereotyping nor is it prejudicial. It is the observation of what is truly typical of a culture or a people.
Paul was anything but prejudiced. His love for all people is well attested by his life of ministry and sacrifice. He practiced forgiveness and even tolerance. Yet he stated unequivocally about the citizens of Crete, that they were “Abominable, disobedient and disqualified for every good work.” Was every Cretan of that nature? Probably not. Was that typical of the Cretan disposition? Apparently so.
Do we help anything by refusing to say so for political correctness or out of sensitivity? Paul thought not. The first step towards solving any problem or overcoming any difficulty is to recognize it. Titus was working among the Cretans. He needed to know their character. He needed to be prepared for reality.
To stereotype someone is to prejudge them and assume things about them that may or may not be so. To recognize the typical is simply to be aware of possibilities and be prepared. There is a great deal of difference between these two attitudes.
Paul knew there were Christians on Crete. He probably had preached there himself (Titus 1:5) and likely had taught and baptized at least some there. He certainly would not have considered them to fit the description of the typical Cretan. Perhaps in the past they had, but to quote his description of other Christians, “(They) were washed, but (they) were sanctified, but (they) were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
A friend of mine, and fellow Christian is a Bangladeshi, and frequently says of some negative action by one of his people, “That’s Bangladesh!” He observes similar acts and attitudes regularly and has determined that some are typical of this culture and people. I often respond, “No, that’s human.” People elsewhere aren’t really all that different.
When you think about it, don’t most people sometimes seem to be pretty lazy, not in good control of their appetites and desires, and slow to do good things? Are they really all that different from the Cretans?
Paul suggests much the same in his discussion of the battle between will and flesh in Romans 7:13-24. “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:22-23). Even though one may wish to do good, he often falls short, serving the law of sin and the weakness of flesh. Is that not essentially being disqualified for good works?
Condemning all humans for being wicked and worthless is stereotyping, and demonstrates prejudice. Observing that all humans have a disposition toward sin and must struggle to obtain righteousness in their conduct is simply being realistic.That condition is typical of human nature.
Once we recognize it we can begin to work towards overcoming it. Let us avoid being so sensitive and correct that we are unable to see genuine problems and address real human needs. Paul did not prejudge the Cretans. He set out to understand them so as to work for them that they might be saved by the Gospel of Christ.

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