Do one-size blanket statements really fit all?
Shortly after my wife and I tied the knot, the number of blankets in our home increased exponentially. What began as my single coffee-stained blanket from college became a collection of fuzzy and warm articles of comfort filling our home.
However, I have reached the point when snatching a blanket off the mountain of folded blankets in our living room and snuggling up on the couch after dinner is the highlight of my day.
Occasionally, though, a blanket is grabbed with the worst possible design flaw for a person of height; the blanket is too short to cover my feet. I grumble and try to readjust every time I notice the frozen tundra my toes are experiencing outside the warm comforts found beneath the blanket, but to no avail.
The blanket has not covered me wholly, and I become aware of my frigid appendages enough to emerge begrudgingly from my cocoon to retrieve a more suitable fit. Unfortunately, the damage has been done, and I am left with an imbalance of warm body and chilly toes, all wrapped under the same piece of cloth.
How easily does the complacency of ill-fitting blanket statements emerge from the mouths of Christians?
Recently, I attended a men’s Bible study. After a soundly delivered sermon on the Book of Amos, we were sifted into small groups and armed with a volley of open-ended questions about the text.
I found myself with a group of older gentlemen. No sooner had the question been posed, “What were the sins of Israel?” and the conversation devolved into a high-spirited discussion about the sins of American political parties.
I remained silent as these well-intended men spread their blankets of belief over every candidate, political ideology, socioeconomic background, race, gender and religious belief. In my silence, I listened as these men became more aggressive with each passing statement about the laziness of individuals, the need for entire groups of people to change their ways, and the state of the nation because of “those people.”
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The blanket statements were rampant, and few people outside of the speaker’s individual beliefs remained unscathed in the process.
Before we cast blame on these men, though, it is important to slow down and understand we all bring biases to the table. Every individual has his or her own experience, and with this comes a system of beliefs, shaped and molded by those experiences and the people encountered.
The ways in which we use our words and actions to express our beliefs is where the danger lies, especially for those within the body of Christ.
Think for a moment about the life we are called to as Christians. Paul notes in Colossians: “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:8-10, NIV).
When we boil down the root of blanket statements, especially about groups of people with backgrounds different from our own, where is the heart of these statements?
It may be possible our sweeping statements are coming from a place of anger about how we perceive someone else, an unfounded truth we are attempting to exert in order to elevate ourselves, or even a boldfaced lie intended to hurt an opposing party. These are not the statements we are called to toss around as believers.
Paul is explicit. Rid yourself of anger, malice and filthy language. Do not lie to each other. We have put on a new self as believers, which is being renewed in knowledge of Christ and his attributes.
Rather than exerting our truth from a place of insecurity or frustration, we should take a moment to be wise with our words. Do not cover everything with a blanket of complacent and hurtful ignorance. Our words have a weight behind them, and when we claim to be followers of Christ, our words can have an impact on others in a far more constructive or destructive capacity than we are aware.
I don’t intend to chastise these men for their words. God knows I have made my fair share of incorrect assumptions and false accusations toward others in my own life.
In the moment, however, I responded to their blankets of frustration by attempting to pull back the covers and reveal some of the people beneath their assumptions.
I told stories of individual people I’ve had the privilege to work with over the years from impoverished communities, broken families, abusive relationships and different backgrounds than my own.
I shared about how, even in the midst of some of their struggles, they found ways to keep getting off their knees and care for others, even others who would ignore them daily if given the chance.
The demeanor of the men began to shift as they heard stories of real people who should have fit under their blankets but were defying their beliefs regardless. By the end of our time together, one man even changed his tune, noting his own lack of understanding about the experiences of others about which, moments before, he had claimed expertise.
The complacent blanket statements were peeled away, and the individuals clumped together underneath were seen, even if for a moment.
As Christians, we have an opportunity to pull away these poor-fitting blankets. We have the opportunity to notice the frozen toes of people sticking out from underneath harmful and rampant societal assumptions and care enough to see others as whole individuals, loved by God and ready to be wrapped in the warmth of an actively listening and learning church.
Heath Holland is a graduate of Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work and George W. Truett Theological Seminary. He is a longtime member of a Baptist church in Texas and is interested in pastoral care and mental health work with first responders. The views expressed are those solely of the author.