Updated: Aug 4, 2020
Human behavior is very interesting to me. I also think 2020 will end up being one big case study of how tribal our reactions are to emotionally charged events. We confuse the difference in standing up for what's is right and completely aligning ourselves (and others) with stereotypes and assumptions. I've been doing some research on how this happens and what we can do to keep our heads on straight.
I found it no coincidence that I came across this podcast episode while I was researching this issue and I would highly recommend giving it a listen.
After watching the news and listening to this episode, I was left with this question::
What is the difference in following the crowd and building a community?
Here are the basic definitions of both according to Merriam-Webster that best fit this discussion:
crowd- a group of people having something (such as a habit, interest, or occupation) in common
community- a group linked by a common policy
I really like the definition of community! When we consider the term "policy," it insinuates a group of people that are drawn together by a set of values, plans, and goals. It's the concept of a crowd, but rooted with intentionality. When I use this framework for what's going on today, I think there is a lot of "crowding" going on. When we add "crowding" to the scary uncertainty of the United States in 2020, crowds have seemed to develop an unwritten code: to be in this crowd, one must adopt the exact attitudes and behaviors of everyone else in the crowd while also assuming anyone in any other crowd is doing the same. It is a form of categorization that is not loving.
For four years, Josh and I worked in Auburn Athletics and in attending more sporting events than we can count, I think I can adequately create a hypothetical scenario that can illustrate a few things.
Look at all the people in this crowd. They are all there for one reason: to watch the Tigers play. Beyond that, we don't really ask any other questions, right? But if you have ever been to a college football game, a concert, or any other large gathering, you know that not everyone there has the same idea of "watching the Tigers play." Think about the massive differences in experiences within this stadium. How different are the experiences of the frat guys to the equipment managers, or the band members and the athlete's parents, or even the people that sit in the sun and the people that sit in the shade? Now imagine taking an atmosphere like this and subjecting it to the "crowding" that I described earlier where only one idea of fun was allowed. Can you imagine being turned away at the gate of a football game because you weren't drunk enough? How would that fair for the people that brought small children or just wanted to watch the game or, in my case, were hosting 16 year old recruits!? What if you had to agree to viciously harass the other team? What if you were asked to leave because you had not cursed anyone out or spit on someone yet? It sounds so ridiculous but it's this kind of thinking that allows the crowds of society to say "this is what is required to show that you're with us and if you're not with us, you're against us."
What makes that statement untrue? Common sense says because there is more than one way to enjoy a sporting event/show allegiance to a team. So why do we work so hard in society to literally shove people into these categories without even bothering to ask why they are there in the first place? Why do we so easily forget that there is in fact NO group, crowd, relationship, or concept on this earth where every member agrees with everything that is said and done?
One reason is because we categorize people to better understand them and to better understand ourselves. Right? I mean, that's why I do it. Oh, you like rap music? I'm going to put you into my "never play country songs in the car" category. Oh, you like to eat healthy; filing you under "do not invite to Krispey Kreme." Is this based on fact? No, because I never asked. As humans, we like to group people based on similarities. It's the reason we have things like personality tests, aptitude scores, clubs, sports teams, Facebook groups, and church denominations. But as Satan does, there is always a slow but sure plan taking root in all things that begin harmlessly. The sin we commit here is assuming that everyone in a category embodies every element of the category. I.e. if you're a Republican, you must believe in individual economic achievement, anti-abortion, and gun ownership and if you don't you're not a real Republican. What might have started as a community turned into a crowd because 100% agreement and compliance is the cost of admission.
So what happens when there is not 100% agreement within our crowds? The answer is judgement. Why do we judge each other? I thought Jackie Hill Perry said it best in the podcast episode above...
When we start judging people, it's because we are trying to make them into the image of ourselves and not the image of God.
When we judge others, we are actually trying to justify ourselves. It's the whole "why are you talking about the speck in my eye when you have a log in yours?" thing we see in Matthew 7. We know that this is sinful behavior, but we do it anyway. In my opinion, saying that we judge people just to be petty is, well, petty in itself. I believe our judgement of other sinners is actually deeply rooted in fear and unbelief. I think we are afraid of being honest about our own sins and that we have serious unbelief that Jesus really meant what He said in Revelation 7:9. "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands." We doubt that salvation is really possible for people who aren't like us.
So let's go to concept of a community and try to make the parallel of God's kingdom. What if a community had a ridiculous rule that required everyone to be a construction worker. There are a million reasons why this wouldn't make sense. Other basic needs have to be met. A community needs people supplying grocery stores, running gas stations, delivering mail, teaching in school systems, cleaning and distributing water and electricity, and a million other things. But it also should be noted that not everyone is able or willing to do construction work. What about elderly people? What about disabled people? What about people who aren't trained in that skill? Soon a community realizes it cannot be successful if everyone is doing the same thing. Just like we wouldn't expect a baseball team to be comprised of only pitchers, we shouldn't expect our community to be made up of people like us. I wanted to lay out some things we can remember when we are trying to build a community instead of follow a crowd:
We were all created on purpose for a purpose because the purpose of the cross was for everyone. We will not look into the eyes of a single soul that Jesus wouldn't give His life for. Thus we cannot let our unbelief in who should receive salvation cause us to categorize people in ways that make them feel unloved and excluded from God.
Thriving communities welcome differences instead of run from them. Remember a community is a group that is united under policy. That policy might include something like being respectful to one another, valuing other people's opinions, etc. But if it excludes people for having dreadlocks, homeschooling their children, owning a gun, having tattoos, being rich, being young, having a GED, being unemployed, getting remarried, driving a nice car, being vegan, living with their parents, or not liking Cinnamon Toast Crunch, then we lose on a massive opportunity which is to serve the gospel to those people. The different and abnormal are nothing more than proof of God's goodness because it shows us how far the gospel can go.
A community full of different people equip us to fight the evil in the world. This is why I love the military. Our military is the most diverse entity in our nation. Every religion, race, gender, socio-economic status, state, language, political party, and blood type is represented in the U.S. Armed Forces. Is there a required level of training for the military? Yes, it's called basic training. But after that, the skills, backgrounds, and beliefs could not be more different. Our men and women in the military understand that a uniform unites them without stripping their identities. When I think about Josh's platoon, there were no two people alike. But they all loved each other and would have given up their lives for one another without hesitation. This is what the church can learn from the military: let's be too busy watching each other's backs, putting others before ourselves, and loving unconditionally to build a religion around our comfort zone. The men and women in our Armed Forces agreed to fight a common enemy. Allowing division is allowing distraction.
The 2nd Infantry Division Earthpig Platoon, May 2012. Josh is second from right on bottom row.
Last, I always think it's healthy to honestly consider how we would have reacted to Jesus if we were around when He was walking the earth. If I am honest with myself, I really think I would have been a Pharisee. I would have erred on the side of those in charge so I wouldn't rock the boat or get in trouble. I just don't think I would have taken Jesus's boldness as the truth because it would mean that what I had believed and who I believed could be wrong. Yet even though Jesus knew the skeptical hearts of people that listened to Him, He still called them to Himself. He still desired them even when they straddled the line of accepting the truth and running to what was comfortable. How can we call ourselves followers of Christ and not want salvation for everyone? Because judgement is cheaper and easier. It is easier to protect where I am than to go where you are. Well, if any of the guys in my husband's platoon thought that way about protecting one another, none of them would have made it out of Afghanistan. Just like Adam and Eve were BOTH made in the image of God, so is every nation, tribe, tongue, and gender. To know that someone that is the opposite from me in every way can still bear the image of God is proof of His fullness, His goodness, and His graciousness.
Let the Church be proof of the same.