Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Is It Scriptural To Stereotype Certain Cultures or Ethnicities?

Almost anyone reading this knows at least the left in the United States says it's wrong to profile or stereotype.  I wrote, "says," because they don't practice it themselves.  The left stereotypes and profiles "fly-over country" and President Obama is famous for profiling small town Pennsylvanians who "cling to their guns and religion."  Now almost the entire national police force is categorized as racist.

Former New York Times columnist, African American Bob Herbert, wrote the following in 1993:

Jesse Jackson is traveling the country with a tough anti-crime message that he is delivering to inner-city youngsters. In Chicago he said, "There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery -- then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved."

One of the most famous stereotyping rants of all time, I recalled, was in 1998 when the late pro football player, Reggie White, said the following:

When you look at the black race, black people are very gifted in what we call worship and celebration. A lot of us like to dance, and if you go to a black church, you see people jumping up and down because they really get into it. . . . White people were blessed with the gift of structure and organization. You guys do a good job with building businesses and things of that nature. And you know how to tap into money pretty much better than a lot of people around the world . . . . Hispanics were gifted in family structure. You see a Hispanic person, and they can put 20 or 30 people in one home . . . . When you look at the Asian, the Asian is very gifted in creativity and invention. If you go to Japan or any Asian country, they can turn a television set into a watch. They are very creative.

Perhaps you remember the uproar about said speech by White about which many laughed and laughed at these comments.  Should someone do this?  Or maybe better, can someone do this?  Is it even possible to be right about this type of information?  Is it helpful?  In the first chapter of Titus, the Apostle Paul was instructing Titus, whom he left on the island of Crete, on how to deal with his audience there in that culture, and listen to what he wrote in verses 10 to 13 (bold print mine):

For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake.  One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.

Paul quotes a well known Cretian, Epimenides, who stereotypes the Cretians, his own people, and Paul, having been there, says in essence that he concurs -- "This witness is true."  Epimenides was a poet and teacher in the sixth century B.C., ranked as one of the seven wise men of Greece, and originally this particular poem, a known one, characterized his people in hexameter.  Paul says this respected man is dead on, exactly right.

Epimenides and the Apostle Paul engage in some pretty serious profiling that makes Reggie White look angelic:  "alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies."  Ohhhkaay.   It's obviously helpful to do this, because Paul does it.  It's in the Bible, God's Word.  It's inspired by God. And it is written to help the people.  The world today would warn against what Paul does here, but proper profiling and stereotyping can aid in successful spiritual warfare.  He buttresses his entire strategy for dealing with them upon pegging them in an accurate way.


Farmer Brown said...

Kent, I do not think Paul is talking about the Cretian poet in that passage. I have often heard it taught the way you have explained it, but have some doubts. The antecedent to "one" (of themselves) is "They of the circumcision", isn't it? The "one" then would be a Jewish prophet.

This makes the most sense in the passage without resorting to outside sources. It is further reinforced by Paul's continuing to talk about Jewish fables. The converted (perhaps) Jews are the problem here, not the Cretians.

So the rebuke Paul is calling on Titus to deliver is a sharp rebuke to these unruly and vain talkers who are of the circumcision. Once of them even went so far as to slanderously say that the Cretians are always liars, a statement that cannot possibly be true. This is the most consistent understanding of this passage, and is in keeping with Paul's struggles.

This jingoistic and nationalistic attack by converted Jews on gentile believers was an ongoing struggle in Paul's ministry. He even had to deliver a public rebuke to Peter for this same type of behavior. Now it is infecting the Cretian churches as these self-righteous Jewish teachers are probably refusing to eat with the lazy and dishonest (allegedly) Cretians, and once again this arrogance has to be rebuked.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Farmer Brown,

There are a couple of problems that I see with this in light of the text. One is "especially" (malista), which would mean he's not talking about only the circumcision in his description. You can't have a comparative like this and have it be only Jews. So you've got to deal with that. And then second, you didn't say anything about Paul's follow-up about this witness or testimony or record being true. You are saying that it was a lie, since no one "always lies," but Paul is saying that what someone said was true. You didn't make note of that.

Without going to the history of the interpretation of this verse, or to outside material period, you've got those two things that work against what you've written.

Farmer Brown said...

I agree he is not only talking about they of the circumcision, but he does focus on them for the next few verses, ending with the exhortation the they (the vain talkers) not give heed to Jewish fables. Also, they of the circumcision is the only group specifically described, except for the quote. It is a greater leap to have him talking about the Cretians who are at that point unmentioned by Paul.

The witness that is true is the witness that a Jewish prophet made this slanderous statement, not the content of the statement. For example, "A pastor in Florida, Peter Ruckman, has said, 'The IQ of blacks is ALWAYS lower than whites.' This witness is true" It is not true that the IQ's of "blacks" is always lower than the IQ of whites, but it is true Ruckman said that.

I agree it is not ironclad, but I cannot get past they of the circumcision being the only described group and the battle Paul has fought against Jewish zealots who look down on other nationalities. He has to write an entire book combating this, as well as address it many other times.

And what of the Cretian believers to whom Titus is being sent? They would be included in the "always". Always is always, so they have to be. To the Corinthian believers he says "And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." This is the change and state of a believer. How then could the Cretian believer still fit the quote? "Such were" he said, not "such are".

While it is not ironclad, the balance of evidence both in the passage (somewhat) and in the rest of scripture (strongly) favors my understanding.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I actually don't get your interpretation, when I read Titus 1. I know you are saying that almost everything favors your position in the context, but what you've written does not compute with me.

If someone says "The Cretians alway," does that mean they don't breath? Or they don't eat? Because alway means alway, and alway means every Cretian, you're saying. No. When Paul said what this person said was true, he wasn't saying that it was true that he said it, but that what he said was true. This is truly characteristic of the Cretians.

You would be saying that the point of my post can't be supported by Titus 1, because that isn't what it is saying. I get that, but I'm convinced, still, that what I'm saying it means, is what it means.

Farmer Brown said...

I cannot accept that "rebuke them sharply" refers to the Cretians in general and not to the vain talkers, and especially of the circumcision. They are the ones being addressed and rebuked. The "themselves" are not the Cretians, because they have yet to be introduced. The prophet is one of the vain talkers, and is they of the circumcision. They are the only "selves" thus far introduced.

To understanding your way the prophet has to be a Cretian, and the of themselves are the Cretians, but that is grammatically very difficult. Much more likely that the prophet is one if the unruly vain talkers of the circumcision. He may also be Cretian, but Paul is not yet talking about the Cretians in general, but the troublemakers, especially those of the circumcision.

The ones whose mouths he must stopped are the vain talkers especially of the circumcision. He is going to stop them by rebuking them sharply to make them sound in the faith. He is not going to make the Cretians in general strong in the faith, because the Cretians in general are not of the faith. The mouths (vs 11) being rebuked (vs 13) are the mouths of the vain talkers.

The phrasing is awkward, but no more than a proper understanding of Romans 10:13 which relies on the surrounding verses.

Regardless, if your understanding is correct, how will you practically apply it? What groups will you single out and what will you attribute to them? How will you prove the attributions? Will it be from a Biblical source or your own observations?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Let me give it a better shot. I gave a couple of grammatical points that you really haven't answered so far, but what about contextual, which you are treating as the major point here, with which I'm fine?

It reads to me that the churches at Crete had leaders characterized by qualities distinctive to the Cretians. The churches were going the way of Crete because their leaders were that way, hence new leaders necessary. They needed to be more discriminatory and Paul gives the qualifications, then explaining the issue for those. Instead of being characterized by heaven, they were characterized by Crete. They had no qualms about telling lies that would bring monetary benefits, just like their culture. They were using faux authority from their own experience and tradition to do so, since that couldn't be supported from scripture. The professing believers in churches were not distinct from the world, because they were not converted.

The false leaders there, having already infiltrated the churches, needed to be rebuked sharply and their influence removed. Their problem is one of conversion, so that they are taking on the traits of the Cretians, not of God.

I think there are many groups that are stereotyped: Judges 21:25, every man did that which was right in his own eyes, the generation before the flood in Genesis 6, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Pharisees in Matthew 23 were all stereotyped by God. God does it all the time.

Farmer Brown said...

That is a good explanation. You are saying essentially the leaders are the vain talkers and being Cretians share the traits of the Cretians. I will consider that.

However, you did not answer my last question.What is the practical application? What will be your "The ____________ are always _______________." How will you prove that statement?