Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Us-Them Thinking

One of my pastor mentors often refers to what is called “us-them” thinking in the church. What he is referring to is the tendency to see a separation between leadership and congregants or believers and non-believers, etc, etc, etc.

Why do we do this? Sometimes it can be a form of pride or arrogance, but most often it flows from tradition or wanting to fit in. In its extreme it can be quite toxic, putting up a wall with a sign that says either “You’re not welcome” or “You’re not qualified”.

Of course it’s not just in the church where this can exist. All organizations or groups have the potential to set themselves apart. Sometimes it is quite necessary, as in the military, etc. There needs to be qualifiers. But for us in the church it can be an unwanted barrier.

I (Dave) had been raised in the church from the time I was born – but I took a long rebellious break before I returned. In the interim a lot had changed. My traditional Presbyterian experience was different from the post Jesus People movement and Pentecostalism that I encountered. I ran into a lot of new “markers”.

Markers determine who is “inside” and who is “outside”.  For example in some congregations you are outside if you wear a suit and tie. In others it is an expected uniform. Another marker is raising your hands in church. If you do then you are considered an insider, if not you are probably a guest or seeker. There is also marker language – we call it “Christianese” when we use phrases that are not typically part of everyday language, i.e.: “traveling mercies” or “angels camping around your house” etc. Those kinds of phrases can create us-them thinking.

There can even be this kind of thinking within the Christian church world itself, where one church or denomination can feel superior to another.

“We have the real truth.”
“We have a special calling from God.”
“We have the Holy Spirit operating in our midst in a unique way.”

We might call this hyper-spiritual thinking.

Or how about the “Black Church” vs. the “White Church”? That divide is so sad.

In the mental health field there can also be us-them thinking – us “mentally healthy”, them “mentally ill”. The truth is that mental health is a continuum that is constantly shifting. Some days I am much more mentally healthy than others.

Regardless, if our goal is inclusiveness and the expansion of the family of Christ, shouldn’t we be breaking down walls instead of creating them?

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