According the Wikipedia, throwing out the baby with the bath water is “an idiomatic expression used to suggest an avoidable error in which something good is eliminated when trying to get rid of something bad, or in other words, rejecting the essential along with the inessential.”
As many of you might know, I climbed inside a dumpster this week. No, not for fun. I was walking my dog to go get the mail after work on Monday. There was some important mail from Alex’s job along with various junk mail. On my way back home, Gracie pooped, as dogs sometimes do. I went to get a poop bag, picked it up, and then went to throw it away in the neighborhood dumpster. Well, I walked right up to the dumpster and threw all of the mail into it with force. Not a millisecond later, I realized what I had done and started to freak out. I decided that it was too tall for me to get in and out of by myself. So I ran home and put the dog inside, changed clothes, grabbed some stools and a camera (hey, if you’re going to climb in a dumpster, you might as well have some proof). I ran back outside and decided that I needed a spotter, in case I fell and cracked my head or something. I ran over to a neighbor’s house and like a good neighbor, Richard was there. He agreed to help. After that, the story loses its steam. It was very uneventful. I just used my stools to get in and out. One of the letters had some schmutz on it but that was about as exciting as it got.
I watched a movie this week called Very Young Girls. It’s a documentary interviewing clients of a non-profit called GEMS. GEMS mentors and provides shelter for teenagers who are trying to get out of prostitution. It was heart-wrenching. First, the average age for entry into prostitution is 13, which is disgusting. Some of the girls had been kidnapped essentially. They were on their way home from school or something and a guy pulls up and asks if she wants a ride. Many of the girls were escaping a horrible home life. Even though their pimps were just using them to get money and in many cases, physically and sexually abusing them, these girls had never experienced love or attention and they thought this was it. Many of them were addicted to the attention their pimps lavished on them, whether positive or negative, and they found it hard to leave “the life”. Oh, it was sad and it made me angry. Alex had been at class and he came home to a wife who was weeping and thrashing around about how sick people are. Sexual exploitation gets my blood pumping.
So, I’ve been thinking this week about how we, American society, tend to slap a label on people and then treat them that way. All homeless are mentally ill alcoholics. All prostitutes chose that lifestyle. (Not all Americans think this but) all people on food stamps are just riding the system. All Spanish-speaking immigrants are illegal and uneducated. Anyway, the documentary showed a 15 year old who was being charged with prostitution. In all actuality, she had been kidnapped and raped by 30 men in the course of 5 days but call it prostitution, if you want. I mean, her “pimp” did take money. That girl might have that on her record for the rest of her life. What are employers going to think when they see “prostitution” on her record? That she chose that because she was a bad kid who wanted to rebel and do whatever. The truth is that you probably don’t know the truth. You might see a prostitute on the street and be disgusted, but you don’t know her story- why she’s doing it, what things in her life have broken her heart.
I’ve seen this problem of labeling magnified in the Body of Christ, myself included. Christians have a tendency to become fixated on morality and “following the rules”. This leads to us focusing on people’s sin instead of their heart, which has given us the reputation of being judgmental. You see, we put people in boxes- and we have many, many boxes. Homosexual. Drunk. Adulterer. Drug addict. Slut. Hard to love. And the list goes on. The problem is that once they’re in those boxes, our only solution for them is to change their behavior to make them holy. Newsflash, the behavior is only a symptom. If they don’t change the behavior, then “they don’t want to change.” When we view people this way, it is easy to judge them instead of being compassionate or merciful.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is the Seven Woes in Matthew 23. Jesus rips into the Pharisees for being hypocrites and focusing on the wrong things. For example, he says:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. Matt 23:23
You see? The Pharisees (religious Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time) had thrown away the mail and kept the poop (Connection to the intro!). They had thrown the baby out with the bath water. They were doing all the right actions, but had completely missed the point. Part of Jesus’s message was that God doesn’t care that you are “following all the rules” if you aren’t loving people.
From what I have observed, most American Christians are doing a woefully poor job at reaching out to “sinners”. Of course, one problem is that most Christians only hang out with other Christians, but that’s for another blog. Sure, we talk about reaching out to others in our churches. We have little paths to evangelism that we memorize and tracks to hand out. But it means nothing without mercy and compassion. Christians see “prostitute” or “homosexual” or heck, even, “dirty clothes on Sunday morning” and that’s all Christians see. I think Christians get spooked by sinners, which is ironic because Christians sin too. “Evangelizing” has become such a huge looming monster that most people are freaked out by sharing their faith with someone outside the faith, when in reality all it takes is love. That’s what Jesus did. The Church would be so much more effective if we stopped defining people as their sin and started to see them as broken people, like we all are. Then compassion and mercy and God’s love would flood the streets and people would finally be able to see themselves as God sees them- not as dirty sinners but as people that God wants in His family because He loves them in an unimaginable way.
Dear Church (including myself), Please stop throwing out the baby with the bath water. Thanks, Beth
I’m trying. Promise.