Day 11 Devotional & Discussion – March 17, 2014

Titus 1:5-13

How can you tell if a Cretan is lying?  When his lips move.  That’s what one of the Cretan prophets said.  And the Apostle Paul seemed to agree.  Really?  ALL Cretans?  Every last one of them?  Statements like this lead to the creation of stereotypes which in turn lead to behaviors of mistrust and mistreatment.  Left unchallenged, stereotypes can lead to policies of institutional discrimination and marginalization.  Given the generalized beliefs about the character of Cretans, how do you think they were treated in the church?

We have a long history of creating stereotypes of ethnic and racial minorities—stereotypes that have lead to institutional discrimination both in the church and society at large.  In large part, the accepted stereotype that African-Americans males are criminals has resulted in aggressive policing of minority communities, race profiling, and an over-representation in our correctional system.  Minorities are suspected of criminal behavior long before any crime occurs.  Minorities receive harsher sentences than non-minorities for the same crime.  There are scores of high-profile cases where people of color were treated like criminals for doing nothing such as Harvard professor, Luis Gates, trying to enter his own home after locking himself out.

How have you been influenced by the stereotypes of African American males?  What other stereotypes influence how you relate to people who are different from yourself?  How can you, as a person of faith, challenge the stereotypes?

2 comments

  1. I find today’s devotional ironic since it’s St. Patrick’s Day and the Irish have been stereotyped as stupid drunks. Today, I thank God for my Irish brothers and sisters who evangelized Europe, saved civilization and gave us some great music and great beer along the way. I have struggled with this passage given the implicit racism beneath the surface. Sure, it was “one of their own” that made the statement, but that doesn’t mean that the church should treat Cretans more harshly. I can imagine that this was quoted frequently as a way of justifying limits around Cretans becoming leaders in the church or maintaining a different standard for Cretans who want to become members of the church. Any time we use “all” statements to define a group of people, we walk on dangerous ground.

    When the Blue Line was being extended from Jefferson Park station to O’Hare, there were many people who opposed the plan–including church leaders. The reason: the extended train line would give “the elements” access to their neighborhood. That statement came from a fellow pastor. When pressed, the pastor identified “the elements” as people of color. As an urban pastor, I have worked with amazing community and spiritual leaders–many of them Latino and African American. Yet, in the estimation of my fellow pastor, they were all just “elements” to be kept out of their environment.

    When we dehumanize people, we can treat them with disrespect. If we have no trouble keeping people out of a neighborhood on the basis of stereotypes, it is likely that we have no trouble putting them in cages under guard.

    However, I have to admit that I too have been influenced significantly by the caricatures that have been drawn for me. Whether it be African American males (criminal), Latinos (illegal), Muslim (terrorist) or Gypsy (thief), the stereotypes are embedded in the dominant Anglo-saxon culture, I have struggled with treating people on the basis of the categories. Before I can challenge the stereotype, I have to honestly look at how I’ve been influenced, renounce it for what it is (sin) and intentionally get to know people that are different from me. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to live and work in a place that has enabled me to learn that stereotypes are really lies we’ve been told.

  2. Good questions about the potential stereotyping that could have stemmed from Paul’s inclusion of that very negative phrase about Cretans. There are times when I cringe at Paul’s words. My study bible notes tell me that quote was from the poet Epimenides, written some 600 years before. Amazing that a quote hung around that long, and that Paul thought it was still applicable. Can we blame Epimenides as well?

    On the other hand, it does seem to me that Paul’s instructions to Titus, particularly about the kind of people Titus should select as leaders, tell us that there was a lot more going on in Paul’s heart and mind than just being a bigot. Clearly he saw the potential for leaders in the church of Crete, people who were very different than liars, brutes and gluttons. Though he does give the impression that he thought Crete was a wild and wooly place, he also has great hopes that Titus will be able to appoint leaders who are wonderful people (verses 6-10).

    A thought just struck me. Would it be better to say that Paul is just describing a situation as he sees it? Could that be a bit different than perpetuating a stereotype? I do agree that using the Epimenides quote is unnecessary. Why not just say “People, what you’re doing is wrong.” Don’t tie it into a previous stereotype that casts them as inherently flawed. Then provide a corrective.

    I don’t have much exposure to stereotyping of African-American males, so I don’t know that I could speak to that. During my year in Jamaica, I was often called “White man”, but it never seemed to be a negative thing. It was just descriptive. Still, it felt odd. Definitely gave me the chance to think personally about what it is like to be part of an ethnic minority. The difference was that by and large, the tiny white minority in Jamaica is wealthy. I have no personal experience with being an ethnic minority that is marginalized and oppressed. I think a person of faith needs to do what we learned about on Day 10, speak up for the marginalized and oppressed. Teach the bigots. Help create bonds of friendship between people. I sense this is at the heart of what Paul was going for in Titus. Cretans had a bad rap. But look what he says in verse 6. Elders must be “not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” Verse 7: “not overbearing, quick-tempered, drunk, violent, dishonest.” Verse 8: “Must be self-controlled, upright, holy, disciplined.” It was Titus’ responsibility to help people who were known to be out of control to come under the control of the Spirit.

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