I was at a meeting a while ago where someone was talking about the situation that prompted the meeting and made a comment concerning her understanding of how the problem developed. Essentially, she was pretty sure that older pastors had caused the problem. I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the comment because I was trying to focus on the problem at hand which was and is more complex than any of us realized–and besides, I have been working on this particular problem for a long time and had no sense that I had actually caused it.
However, a friend was sitting nearby and was quite upset by the comment. He has been in ministry almost as long as me and I heard his mutter something like, “I am tired of being blamed for everything that happened in the past.” He had heard the words and took them personally–and when I looked at it from his perspective, I understood his hurt.
We tend to make sweeping statements that inaccurately and unfairly include a wider group of people that we realize. Part of that comes from falling into a psychological trap that I learned about early in my university days. Some psychology book or professor referred to something called the “Halo Effect”. This effect has nothing to do with the contemporary computer game and had no theological base. It refers what happens when we assume person with one characteristic has several other characteristics.
So, the speaker at the meeting recognized that the problem we were dealing with was often associated with older pastors–and was suggesting that anyone possessing the characteristic of being an older pastor was therefore also responsible for creating the problem. Since my friend has been involved in trying to fix this particular problem almost as long as I have, he felt upset at being “haloed” into the other group.
There are a great many people who do bad, evil, stupid and wrong things. Some of them fall into neatly defined categories. Older white males have managed to create some serious problems over the years. But to assume that all older white males are equally guilty of all the offenses that have been committed by some older white males is really no different than assuming that all people of a certain colour or ethnic background or age or gender or sexual orientation are guilty of whatever current evil some members of the defined group are accused of committing.
But it is easier to make use of the halo effect than it is to be honest and discerning. It is easier to make blanket statements than it is to sort out the real causes and perpetrators and issues. It is simpler to tar a whole group than it is to deal with the reality that people are different and unique and that one polka-dotted individual who secretly pulls the tags off mattresses isn’t a sign that the whole group does the same thing.
It seems to me that our western culture is moving in two directions, neither of which is overly helpful. While we are becoming increasingly individualistic and demanding, we are also becoming increasing unwilling to see others as individuals. While we want our personal rights and freedoms to be given sacred status, we are increasingly willing as a culture to say and act as if “their” rights should be limited because “they” all do that.
Fortunately for all of us, God doesn’t lump us into groups and treat the group the same based on some characteristic of one or some of the group. He is aware that although my friend (and I) are older pastors, we didn’t actually create the problem and have actually been working hard to change the problem. God sees us as individuals; God loves us as individuals; God responds to us as individuals; God rescues us as individuals.
God, in fact, created us with individuality in mind–the fact that I am left-handed doesn’t make me exactly the same as all left-handed people. The fact that I am an older pastor doesn’t make me the same as all older pastors. The fact that I am colour blind might make me wear strange combinations now and then but it still doesn’t make me the same as all colour-blind people.
God celebrates our diversity and doesn’t use the halo effect–thank God for that.
May the peace of God be with you.