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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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05.01.2023

Subverting Stereotypes

There’s one conversation to expect at this time of year – ‘any New Year’s resolutions?’ According to one magazine, these often include losing weight, eating healthily, or changing your job. Stereotypes, no doubt.

But life is full of stereotypes: ways of simplifying the world, enabling us to respond quickly to situations based on prior experience. For the mentally lazy, perhaps.

And yet, there are positive as well as negative stereotypes. The expression as sober as a judge, for example, implies that judges are trustworthy people. As a teacher, married to a minister, people ‘of good standing’, we have signed countless passport applications.

Stereotypes can change over time. As a young woman, I assumed that policemen were safe and supportive. My daughter, living in Streatham when Sarah Everard was abducted and killed by a police officer, has no such assumptions. What changed? Sadly, there are now enough examples of policemen who are neither safe nor trustworthy.

Christians have long been stereotyped in the media. They come across as weak (Hugo – The Vicar of Dibley), ridiculous (Mrs Doyle – Father Ted), repressed (Edgar Hopperwood – Inside Man), or dangerous (Margaret – Carrie). Why is this? Is it that traditional Christian views are at odds with social change? Or because too often, Christians have been critical and unkind, failing to live with love as Jesus did? Maybe we’ve helped create the stereotype.

If perceptions can change negatively over time, though, the reverse must be true. But it takes commitment and resilience, evidenced by the painstakingly slow shift in attitudes towards marginalised groups, such as people of colour and the disabled.

As believers, we’re called to live like Jesus wherever we are: forgiving a friend who lied, going the extra mile at work, inviting a basket-carrying shopper to queue-jump my trolley (a simple act which always prompts incredulity). I can stick up for a person being criticised; admit I last used the broken photocopier.

I was recently introduced to the 6Ms of fruitfulness. If all believers embraced these, it would have a massive impact. Individuals, families, organisations and, in time, society at large, would bear the imprint of bold, authentic Christian living. Stereotypes would change too because – in time – there would be enough examples of Christians who are honest, loyal, and kind.

How about a different kind of New Year’s resolution, focusing on how we live for Christ in the everyday? Let’s pray and look for ways to be fruitful right where we are. With God, all things are possible.

Deborah Jenkins
Deborah is a freelance writer, and is the author of Braver. She blogs and teaches part-time.

Comments

  1. This is why I enjoyed the BBC series ‘Rev’ (and wish it would return). It bucked the stereotypes of a vicar and was such a popular programme. On the other hand, I know some felt it went too far the other way. Still, it showed a minister in a very human light and that was refreshing. You make a really valid point, though, about looking to ourselves and making sure we’re not actually contributing to the stereotypes of Christians as hypocritical! Arrrgh, the pressure!

    By Fran  -  6 Jan 2023
    • I know. It can feel like that! But I genuinely believe it’s the small things that make the biggest difference, over time. They don’t have to be big, generous gestures that astound the room. I also loved Rev. I think the it showed them as real people and yes, perhaps a bit much for some. But how many of our jokes at home/with family etc might occasionally be a bit much for some? It’s the spirit of that programme that I think they got right even if they were a bit ‘out there’ with some of the other things.

      By Deborah Jenkins  -  9 Jan 2023
  2. Loved this Connecting with Culture! I’ve worked in two spheres that have stereotypes – as a builder and minister – and even my colleagues at LICC reinforce the stereotype of the builder when they’re bantering with me 🙂 Challenging stereotypes is challenging but I love the idea of using the 6m’s of Fruitfulness to do this!

    There’s nothing better than when someone on my frontline says, “But you don’t seem like a typical Minister.” And most of the time that’s a positive thing!! Thanks Deborah for stimulating my New Year’s thinking this Friday! Steve

    By Steve Rouse  -  6 Jan 2023
    • Thanks for this Steve! Totally agree. It’s lovely when people say things like that, because even though their stereotypes aren’t correct (as in your ‘typical minister’ comment – there isn’t one!), it’s good to know we don’t conform to them! We may even have helped to dismantle them a cubic centimetre or so.
      Interesting re the banter thing too. So much of our humour is probably based on stereotypes etc. If we took all of that away, British humour might be a lot blander for it. Something to ponder…
      Thanks again for your comments.

      By Deborah Jenkins  -  9 Jan 2023
  3. Thought-provoking, thanks – and for the 6Ms link. Particularly challenged by the supermarket ‘act of kindness’ – will aim to emulate!

    By Bruce Gulland  -  6 Jan 2023
    • Thanks Bruce. Ah, yes, that’s a good one. Enjoy the results!

      By Deborah Jenkins  -  9 Jan 2023
  4. A fantastic think piece Deborah!

    By Ruth Leigh  -  6 Jan 2023
    • Thank you! And thanks for reading 🙂 Had you heard of the 6Ms before?

      By Deborah Jenkins  -  9 Jan 2023
  5. This is such an interesting post, Deborah, and a challenge to us to think about how we can play our own part in breaking the stereotypes. Personality type is also a significant factor here. As regards the media and also literature, what a fascinating subject: the Christian characters who make the greatest impact on us. Geraldine Granger subverted a stereotype I think – and don’t forget Hugo was only one of the motley crew of flawed Christians in The Vicar of Dibley! Positive Christian characters in fiction include Jon and Nicholas Darrow and Lewis and Alice in Susan Howatch’s St Benets Trilogy; Dilsey in The Sound and the Fury; the Chaplain in Catch 22, and many others. Hywel in Joy Margetts The Pilgrim is wonderful; I love him. I myself created a Christian character for my latest WIP novel: Seb, local priest/psychotherapist who is kind, caring, vulnerable,
    troubled, and compassionate; and the non Christian characters depend on him for his faith when they are all in a terrifying situation.

  6. Thanks for commenting Sheila. Your point about personality is interesting. What do you mean by that exactly? Yes, Geraldine Granger did indeed challenge the stereotypes particularly at that time, and I know a few female vicars who would agree. The Vicar of Dibley is full of stereotypes and, as mentioned above, our sense of humour is often triggered by these sorts of assumptions so it’s where to draw the line, I suppose.
    I love your positive examples of Christians in fiction – really enjoyed Susan Howatch’s books too. Your own Christian character also sounds fabulous. Long may those of us who write, continue to challenge the stereotypes!

    By Deborah Jenkins  -  9 Jan 2023
  7. I read something years ago that has proven true over and over. There are generally two reasons why people don’t become Christians.
    First, they don’t know any Christians or don’t realize that their friends or acquaintances are Christian, Their faith is hidden behind a worldly lifestyle and may be fake.
    Second, they know people who claim to be Christian whom they don’t want to be like. These may be legalistic, demanding, obnoxious types who drive people away.
    That has forced me over time to ask myself, “What kind of example am I to my friends and acquaintances?”

    By Frederic A Parker  -  20 Jan 2023

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