Perspective is everything.
As I do life in Kensington and engage in my work in Camden, I am constantly challenged with how narrow a perspective I often hold. I judge and misjudge both people and scenarios on a fairly regular basis and then have to repent and reorient my heart accordingly.
Combining my introspection with observation, though, I’ve discovered that these misconceptions aren’t unique to me. They are present in the nonprofit world, in both secular and faith-based organizations, and sadly, even more so in the Church. The consistency of this faulty reasoning makes me believe that it’s simply a byproduct of our humanness.
So, why am I bothering to point them out? I mean, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, right? In a perfect world, where opinions are properly informed and not influenced by pride, I’d probably agree. But that’s not the world we live in. It’s easy to assume that we understand someone’s situation, why they are in the position they are, and make judgments based on our observations alone. For people that are concerned about justice, however, these seemingly subtle “opinions” manifest themselves in the form of ugly bias’ and prejudices that not only hinder our work, but our witness as well. When this happens, we put limits on our compassion and make short lists of who is “worthy” of our help.
Describing these ways of thinking, it’s easy to see the damage these misguided ideals can do to our work. But what we think about others often says as much about us as it does them. They point out our weaknesses and the sinfulness of our hearts. The discovery and elimination of these prejudices, then, are important not only to our ministry, but our sanctification as well.
Though I’m sure many more exist, there are three different forms of prejudice that have been the most prevalent in my observation and experience. To give ample attention to each one, I’m opting to post each one separately.
Here’s the first:
We want to help those who make us feel good about helping.
We see this come to light in a number of ways. One way is what I call the “puppies and babies syndrome”, when the targets of our good-intentioned mercy are those we find easy to love. The reality of justice ministries is that there are alot more people willing to pour themselves into orphans than inmates. I don’t want to diminish the validity of ministry to orphans in any way, so please don’t misunderstand me. But I think Christlike compassion extends itself beyond our comfort level. Brennan Manning articulates this well, in his book The Wisdom of Tenderness. He says, “The horizons of Christian concern broaden beyond the morally upright, the potential convert, and the good-natured slob.” Almost anyone can, and will, extend mercy to someone who is sweet and innocent or who will be grateful and appreciative for our sacrifice. But Christ calls us to more. In His Sermon on the Mount, He turns the prevailing understanding of charity on its head and radically exhorts His followers to love people who make it difficult. “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:46)
To truly love like Jesus, we must lay aside the Pharisaical need for affirmation that puts limits on our compassion. If we constantly seek the emotional “high” that follows acts of mercy, we will quickly be disappointed. In Generous Justice, Tim Keller points out that, ” we all want to help kind-hearted, upright people, whose poverty came upon them through no foolishness or contribution of their own, and who will respond to our aid with gratitude and joy. However, almost no one like that exists.” Christlike love gives sacrifically, with no regard to the return.
Stay tuned for Parts 2 & 3!