Ignorance and Empathy

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I grew up just outside of Saint Louis in a small town called Union. It was and I am sure still is a pretty blue collar town. We grew up with plenty of land to run around on and local restaurants to eat at. It wasn’t until we moved from there to North Alabama in 1992 that Union finally got a McDonalds. It was that small.

One of my memories of growing up there were the racial jokes. I won’t go into all the varieties these jokes existed in but they were numerous. What was not numerous was the number of racial minorities in the town. To the best of my memory there was one Black family in our entire school system.

Turns out, it is easy to joke about people you don’t know.

Stereotypes are abundant when exposure to diversity is scarce.

When we moved to North Alabama in 1992 I thought I was moving to a hotbed of racial prejudice. What I found was quite the opposite. What I found was that the more integrated things were the less racially insensitive jokes one heard. Turns out, it is harder to joke about people you know because you know deep down inside that the stereotypes are just not true.

I have found the same to be true in a number of other areas in my life. I grew up in a strongly Republican household. I didn’t really know that I knew any Democrats. I remember when I was 12 that someone said their dad was a Democrat and I said, “Eww!” Turns out there were a lot more Democrats out there, people I loved, that I just didn’t know their political affiliations.

This also turns out to be true of people outside Churches of Christ. It is easy to say they are all going to hell until you spend time with them. The insulation of my childhood made such exclusive soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) easy. What didn’t make that view easy was getting to know people from other “groups” who loved Jesus more than I did…who knew scripture better than I did…and whose fruit of the Spirit was more abundant than my own.

Empathy is impossible toward people you don’t spend time with. Stereotypes and harsh judgment come easy in the absence of information via real life experiences and relationships.

Last, consider these words from scripture and spend a few moments considering if there is anything you need to change in your attitude toward people who either are not like you or people you don’t really even know at all,

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” – James 1:19-21

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
    every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister...Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” – Romans 14:10-13, 19

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” – Galatians 5:22-26

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