“There are only two kinds of people in the world. Those who see the world in black and white and those who don’t.”
I am not sure if I found this quote somewhere long ago or if I made it up myself from the variety of “two kinds of people” quotes that often get tossed around for fun. But I thought of this line when I was pondering the subject matter for this week’s blog post.
Over the years I have heard those of us in Christian circles occasionally split people into two distinct categories—the churched and the unchurched. I heard it again this week and I cringed just a little because I have friends and family who would fit the “unchurched” category. Of course, if I asked them how they would identify themselves they would not say proudly, “Oh, I am unchurched!”
This post is just a reminder that if we want to have conversations with people and build relationships with them it is always better to identify them by who they ARE than by who they are NOT.
This came home to me a few years ago when I was speaking to some acquaintances who identified themselves as part of the New Age movement. As I talked with them more I heard this same cringe-worthy statement when they referred to themselves as “the enlightened” and people who still went to churches as “the unenlightened.” Funny thing, though, in all my years as a pastor I have never heard a church member say, “I am unenlightened.” Yet that is how we are referred to by some people who have split the world into two distinct camps. It seems the world is made up of two kinds of people–the unchurched and the unenlightened!
I have received an education on this the past three years as my second child, Jules, has been working through their (formerly her) gender identity. It was a rough few years as Jules was in a female body and didn’t identify as either female or male. It wasn’t until Jules was diagnosed with gender dysphoria and adopted the label “non-binary” that Jules’ movement toward identity liberation took off.
But notice the first step in Jules’ process. Liberation first came by discovering that he and she were not the only alternatives. One could also be “non-binary,” that is, neither he nor she. But Jules was describing themselves in terms of who they were NOT rather than who they WERE. This still wasn’t quite right and today Jules describes themselves by who they ARE rather than who they aren’t—trans-masculine. “Non-binary” provided some initial freedom from our usual binary thinking, but it was still a negative descriptor (“non”). “Trans-masculine” has become the affirmative positive descriptor. “This is who I am, not this is who I am not,” has become Jules’ saving identifier.
Today’s blog is just a simple reminder that if we want to have relationships with others it is better to take the time to get to know them on their terms. Terms such as churched and unchurched are easier and more convenient. Thinking in easy binary terms such as believer and unbeliever is cleaner and less complicated. But it is also lazy. The world is a little more complex than just who is in and who is out. There really are more than two types of people in the world! Purple is not just non-white. It’s purple!
People outside our church doors are not just NON-Christians or the UNchurched. They ARE Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic, spiritual, humanist, and Muslim. They are parents and children, sisters and brothers. They are the hopeful, the suffering, the joyous, and the depressed. They are the needy and desperate and the satisfied and content. They are he’s, she’s and they.
Thanks for listening. Time for my usual lunch of an un-sandwich and an Uncola! Sounds delicious, I know!
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the “Unenlightened”