Them. That group. “Them.” They don’t pull their weight. They are no good. Someone should do something about “them.” This will be an uncomfortable column to write and equally uncomfortable to read. Objectification, Vilification, Annihilation is a documented pattern of dealing with those “other” than “us.” Objectification consists of making people faceless, less than human, individuals melting into an entity without distinguishing characteristics except an overwhelming one “we” find annoying, then repugnant , then offensive. Once a group is objectified, it is easier to speak in generalities about it, and boldly about its shortcomings. It can be a race, a class, language speakers, a team, the shapes & sizes are endless. When the “other” is not a person but an object, it is easier to assign disdain, and usually involves a lessening of the “other’s” value. Vilification occurs when the object seems to pose a threat by its very existence or proximity. We begin to find fault, flaws, shortcomings, research till we find a bad example and then extrapolate that to represent the entire group that has now become an object. Annihilation is all too often the outcome of objectification and vilification. The object is vilified to the point someone says, ‘Who’s going to get rid of this menace to “us,”’ and someone takes up the challenge, even envisioning themselves as a crusader anointed to personally exterminate the “other(s).” This pattern is becoming way too recognizable in our contemporary life. Each succeeding election cycle exceeds the previous one in assailing opponents to where issues are lost in the mud-slinging. Segments of our society are casually labeled “enemies.” Dictators have a favorite diversionary tactic to keep evil deeds hidden; they declare x or y (usually the U.S.) an enemy trying to subvert their government, create a bogeyman, and galvanize their citizens to fight this invader trying to do away with “our” beloved country. Don’t nod your head too quickly; substitute a pastor and church in that scenario, a teacher and a classroom, or a favorite politician and his/her following, and it gets uncomfortable. The classic case was Hitler: he wrote of the Jews’ inferiority and other objectified groups in Mein Kampf long before he was chancellor. When he found a receptive audience to his ideas, he utilized pseudoscience and paraded every parody imaginable of Jews in front of his followers until they were convinced Jews were a true plague that had to be eradicated. This has reared its ugly head in our country this past weekend when a baby naming ceremony at a Pittsburgh synagogue was interrupted by a man screaming all Jews deserve to die, and 11 of them did just that at his hand.
When asked who was His neighbor, Jesus replied (Lk. 10.25-37) with a story in which the central protagonist, the hero, was a “despised, disgusting half-breed Samaritan,” one of “those.” Indeed, on multiple occasions, Samaritans appear in the gospel narrative to show God’s compassion (Lk. 17.11-16) and that they could be won to Christ when treated as individuals (see the woman at the well, John 4). How do I know the disciples in the book of Acts were genuinely awestruck by a resurrected Christ? When they started preaching the gospel to Samaritans (Acts 8).
Who are your Samaritans? lazy good for nothing millennials? crazy migrants? Arabs? Christ Killers (old term for Jews)? Druggies? Democrats? Republicans? Jesus said to love my neighbor (Mt. 22.37-40)--even the ones not in my homeowners association. The exclusionary nature of Christ’s claims (no one comes to the Father but by Me) does not mean we can selectively choose to whom we preach that gospel. We are sinners mercifully saved by the grace of God, and must use every ministry avenue possible to share that grace with “them.” (reminder; we were once “them,” Eph. 2.11-22).
More love, fewer labels.