Has anyone ever evaluated you by how you look without stopping to know who you are?
It has happened to me. Years ago, in the Nashville area, I stopped by a little Baptist church for mid-week worship, and they kicked me out. One look at my my tats, my earrings, and my haircut, and the minister said, “We don’t want your type here.”
A similar but opposite reaction happened when I visited a prominent church where a legendary African-American pastor preaches. I walked in the door and immediately was shown to a section of seats roped off in the front. Everyone in that corner was white like me.
“Why do I get a special seat?” I asked the usher.
“We want the TV cameras to see you folks here,” he answered. “That way viewers will know we’re a diverse church.”
It seems that image is everything these days.
We see a Muslim cleric, and we’re sure he’s ready to plant a bomb.
A black man walks through a white neighborhood, and someone asks, “Why is that guy here?”
A white man in a black neighborhood may get the same reaction. I heard about a Caucasian fellow shot at in his car as he drove down a street where only African-Americans lived. The shooter said, “I don’t want a white guy in my neighborhood.”
In too many minds, every cop is a prejudiced, corrupt jerk. See a policeman, and they see a bigot.
I believe the church should go into image control, because the only image anyone deserves is this: every person you see today has been made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
Every homeless down-and-outer.
Every welfare cheater.
Every drug abuser.
Every corporate money-grubber.
Every candidate for President and every official already elected.
Everyone struggling with or embracing their same-sex attraction.
Every Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Jew.
Every grocery-store bagger and restaurant waiter.
Every dry cleaning clerk, bank teller, and auto mechanic.
Every senior citizen.
Every school teacher.
Everyone you meet today has been made in the image of God. Everyone you know or see deserves the same love and the same opportunity to wrestle through their faith as you have.
Everyone you know right now will flourish with your encouragement or wilt under your critical condemnation. It’s a fact that most people eventually live up—or down—to the image projected on them. If it weren’t for Jesus constantly reminding me who I am—if I weren’t strong in my faith—too often I likely would have responded to labels hurled at me by saying, “You think that’s who I am? Well, I’ll just be that way.”
Too often we protect our own self-image by perpetrating a negative, stereotypical image of others.
We refer to “the people over there.” And in the church sometimes, instead of racial or age or some other social bias, those words reveal our spiritual bias.
“The people in that church are too emotional and shallow.”
“The people in that denomination don’t believe the Bible.”
“The people on stage aren’t leading worship—they’re just showing off.”
“The people over there—the ones who just came in our front door—will never fit in our church.”
But God loves all of those people. If we can agree on that, maybe we should invest some effort to show we love them too. Maybe one of the church’s biggest challenges is one that every individual Christian can attack. Let’s agree together to work on image control.