assuming is dangerous

well i had some other thoughts mulling around in my mind that will come later this week but i couldn’t resist sharing a different one today after a few emails i received last night that got me all riled up.   i have friends all over the map when it comes to politics, religion, socioeconomics, age, you name it.  i love it, diversity is one of my favorite things, but i realized something yesterday that really bugged me–the assumption people make that since i am on their “email distribution list”  i must agree politically with them & appreciate their icky anti-obama emails.  i’ve gotten a few here and there over the past few weeks, but last night before i was hitting the hay two of them were in my inbox, and i think the double whammy just pushed me over the edge.  i usually hit delete but i decided to send back these replies:

hey ______, thanks for the email. i know there are lots of people against obama but i’m not one of them. i really don’t like emails like this that slam someone when we don’t know the whole story. i wouldn’t like them about john mccain, either, just saying thanks for taking me off any political email lists you send.  hope you are good, kathy

hey _____, i understand if you are against obama, but i am not really sure i appreciate the spirit of this email and the assumption that this is true.  i love to hear from you always but don’t want to get stuff related to anti-obama, it doesn’t feel good and i never, ever get anything kicking john mccain around like this. that wouldn’t feel too good either.  thanks, kathy

i am not sure if these responses were right or wrong, i am sure i could have worded them better in all kinds of ways & you can probably pick them apart. but, hey, it was midnight & i was just glad i didn’t hit delete this time.  these people are not close personal friends that i ever see or hang out with, so it’s not likely i will be sitting across the table having a conversation about it.  all’s i know is an automatic assumption is made that because i am a christian i must be voting for mccain & am not into obama.  (this came on the heels of being at a coffee shop yesterday next to the christian school my kids used to attend; i ran into a parent from the school & church who started talking about politics & religion and 100%-without-a-doubt assumed that i see things exactly like she did (she is a kind person, i am just pretty sure it never crossed her mind that i could possibly see things differently as a “christian”).

assuming is dangerous.  i think we do it all the time in weird ways and it would serve us well as christians, as people, to be very careful about it.  i am not just pointing the finger. i do it, too, but i am trying to become more aware of it because it can be hurtful, rude, insensitive, judgemental, and unloving. 

here are some of the things i have seen first-hand that we, as christians, make some dangerous assumptions about:

politics – enough said on that one.  every christian is not a republican and every democrat is not immoral, anti-military, anti-american. 

homosexuality – people sometimes assume that no one in a group or situation actually is or used to struggle with it.  some think that all christians must believe it’s the worst possible sin next to murder & one of our nation’s (& church’s) top priorities.  a few months ago someone with a very conservative faith experience was over for a visit with another friend.  in response to my comments about the big shifts in christianity currently underway he said: “the only problem is that so many churches have become so liberal that they actually embrace homosexuals.”  umm, yeah, not a good moment. especially when my dear friend who happens to be lesbian was in the next room doing her laundry at my house like she does every week.  i did my best to be kind & honest & understanding and didn’t completely freak out in the moment (although i was on the verge) because i know that is just a prevalent teaching in the church culture he comes from. (praise God jose was there, too, and sort of neutralized my potential craziness!). trust me, though, i lost it when he left & couldn’t stop crying for some reason and jose, my friend, and i processed it for a while afterward.  it rattled me more than i can say, i think because it somehow violated the safety of my house.  all because of some weird assumption that because i am a christian (and maybe a “pastor” on top of it) that i would certainly 100% agree with that statement.  it took no consideration that maybe he was talking about my child, my brother or sister, the person he just met, me, jose, you name it.  it is dangerous to assume.

mental illness & depression – in any given room, more people than we think probably struggle with it in some shape or form and are on meds for it.  just because we don’t doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t. 

abortion – well, i have been honest about this one, how horrible it feels when people start going off on the issue without any respect for the reality that a huge number of women (and men of course, too) have this in their experience.  it perpetuates the shame & ugliness & keeps people in hiding (for good reason, insensitive remarks give us good data that it’s not safe to share!)

struggles with porn, drugs, alcohol, food – same thing, i have been in moments where people go “well, ya know, those people who are addicted to pornography….”  again, you just never know who is in the throes of their struggle & what it does inside when people are talking about you with shame & judgement attached in the most insensitive of ways.

money – no doubt, we can never know what’s going on for a person related to money.  i know plenty of single mommies who are well put together & go to work every day and live below the poverty level.  i know other people who live in nice houses they are probably going to lose soon.  we just can’t assume we know where people are at on this one.  another thing that always bugs me in churches is when they charge for things and just assume people can pay.  yeah, to me $10 is no big deal but to another friend it is food for a few days.  i don’t have any problem asking, i just think we should be so careful about assuming that that just because we can, others can.

kids – sort of the same thing. those married with kids doing our thing need to understand & respect that there are people who can’t, never will, and what that might feel like.

bible knowledge & language & being into God – okay this is my last one, there are all kinds of people who don’t know stories of the bible or the language we christians toss around like it’s nothing.  i am in a community of straight shooters & someone from the refuge said something to me a while back that i will never forget:   “just so you know, i resent it when you go ‘well, you all know the story of david…’ and i am like ‘well, um, no i actually don’t’.  please don’t assume just because you know, i know.”   umm, yeah, i am with some really cool people who are willing to call a spade a spade!  at the same time, worship, sermons, oh all kinds of conversations assume that people are actually “into God, love him, like him, even.” that is so not so many people’s current experience & i think we need to try to take into account that all kinds of people “in and around church” are pissed off at God & are feeling guilty & confused about it.  i want to continue to develop sharper eyes & ears to what God platitudes must feel like for my friend who just lost a child or is beginning to be honest about sexual abuse or just filed bankruptcy. 

oh these are just the ones off the top of my head. i know there are so many more you can add. please know this: i don’t think we can be totally politically spiritually emotionally “correct” all the time, that would be way too exhausting.   i say stupid things all the time with no harm intended & constantly need grace, grace & more grace. 

but my point is that we need to be very careful about making assumptions & applying our experience to everyone else’s.  it is precarious ground & i just think we need to be aware of it, that’s all.  some of have heard the old adage:  “we all know what assuming does. it makes an ass out of u and me!”

yeah, assuming is dangerous.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

34 Comments

  • I really hear you. I find myself wanting to defend Obama just because he isn’t there to defend himself. I also want to crawl into a hole every time I hear someone speak with a classic “Christian” answer regarding gay people. And the assumptions about homelessness or poverty make me bonkers!
    It’s so easy for them to make these assumptions because most of the time, they have never met, let alone walked alongside, someone who might be a Christian yet believe differently. (I hope that makes sense.)

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  • This comes from one of my favourite movies “A long kiss goodnight”
    Mitch Henessey …everyone knows, when you make an assumption, you make an ass out of “u” and “umption”. 🙂

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  • When we learn to care more about people than we do about being right, the assumptions we make will be much less painful.

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  • Kathy – I love that you wrote back to the folks who sent the anti-Obama stuff instead of just deleting it. I did the same thing with a mass e-mail that was sent out to the Bible study I am a part of asking the question, “who are we to assume that we know who God wants to be President?” I just finished a great book called “Take This Bread” by Sara Miles who is a Christian and a lesbian and she really challenged all my assumptions! Having a sister who is a lesbian makes me very sensitive to this issue and I struggle with this being the “big” sin while other sins are somehow acceptable. You make me think and pray in good ways, Kathy. Thanks – Patty

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  • I don’t see how you can say “ass” and call yourself a Christian 🙂 I guess that is a Bible word though…and now I’ve said it…oh hell!

    Re: homosexuality, ran across an older post from Eugene Cho’s blog today — with 333 comments! Can’t say that I read them all, but did find some real eye opening discussions…

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  • Kathy … oh … I so hear you. I wrote on this same subject (sort of, politics, anyway) today. Love your take on assumptions. I can still hear my hs english teacher telling us “When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.” He’s right.

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  • Interesting thoughts there Kathy. If I had a mission it would be confront those assumptions. And they are everywhere.

    I almost quit the UK Lawyers Christian Fellowship when they organized opposition to legislation banning discrimination against gays/lesbians. As if such discrimination was some sort of Christian duty…

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  • Timely post for me, Kathy. I’ve been getting those same emails and now when I respond I can also point them to this post for a more detailed explanation. You’ve just saved me a whole of effort!

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  • Are you guys having a Presidential election?

    You did a GREAT job of selecting your present Commander in Chief. The world applauds you (well) – I’m assuming the world is applauding you.

    All I can say is – BETTER LUCK THIS TIME!!!

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  • Too often people assume I am smart, I am stupid, I can hear, I am deaf, I am capable, I can’t do anything, I can speak, I can’t read, I understand, I am confused, I’m shy, I’m an obnoxious loud mouth, I’m emotional, I’m put together… Sometimes it gets downright funny. Other times, it can have very seriously scary consequences. I get sick of it.

    A couple of weeks ago someone in a government office said about me (in front of me) “Well if she can’t hear, then how can she read?” and followed it up with “I can’t communicate with someone like her.” I assumed he was a jerk. Turns out he is actually pretty nice (and had some seriously wrong assumptions about someone who sometimes can’t hear and needs things writen down sometimes.) I’m glad we were wrong about each other. : )

    trying to not make an ass of myself,

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  • yeah…I don’t really like talking politics anymore. Almost anything can be spun out of control and make the canidate you (third person) favor look like he’s going to ruin the world. My experience with anti-obama literature is that the person knows I like him and wants to makes sure I have all the facts to weigh them equally. I doubt that is really their motivation. In my experience talking politics results in one of three outcomes: 1.) I like the same candidate as the other person and we are sharing what we believe is that person’s strength 2.) the other person has a bunch of “facts” that prove what a loser the candidate I like is, or they have a bunch of “facts” proving what a great guy their candidate is. 3.) The other person thinks one of the canidates is a man of God, and that the other candidate is not. Whichever candidate has the backing of Focus on the Family usually wins their heart. Whatever. I’d rather curl up with a good book. I think most individuals have already made up their minds. I know I have.

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  • “i don’t think we can be totally politically spiritually emotionally “correct” all the time, that would be way too exhausting. i say stupid things all the time with no harm intended & constantly need grace, grace & more grace.”

    So do I! Phew. Thanks for letting me know it’s not just me…

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  • wow. Your post pretty much summed up what I’ve been feeling the last two days. I’ve been in all day meetings with my department at the evangelical university where I’m on staff. Most of the time I’m comfortable being here despite my quite drastically different opinions on a lot of the issues you listed. But these past two days have felt so stifling, because of the assumption that everyone in our department is on the same page spiritually, understands who God is the same way and lives out their faith by the same principles.

    I loved what you said about being aware of the people around us who may not even like God at the moment, but are still journeying spiritually. I’m sort of in that boat myself, I can’t relate to the experience of truly loving God at this point. I’m interested, curious, wanting to know more and open to the possibility of a loving relationship, but I can’t honestly say I love God right now.

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  • hey, thanks for the post.

    i really appreciate your words and thoughts. it is a definite reminder that when we interact with individuals; we never know their story and the words that we say/use can push people away and build up walls.

    on a side note, i hate emails … i get plenty of obama .. the ones that drove me crazy recently was “the golden compass” ones …. on that, i fired them (emails) back stating, i read the books, saw the movie and *gasp* took youth church kids to the movie …….

    *sighs*

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  • BTW – the only Emails I get, EVERYDAY!!! – have to do with dysfunction and I’m not voting for him!!! No, sir.

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  • Usher: Hey Deak, great stuff

    Deacon: I know, I know – I overheard a conversation the other day talking about someone in a bible study of a close friend. This person claims he has explicit videos of this guy and his wife in deviate acts. 10 years ago I would have had a conversation with the friend who runs the bible study.

    Usher: So what will you do today?

    Deacon: Nothing – God can take care of it however he sees fit – it ain’t my business and I ain’t going to make it my business – What if the guy has struggles and I say something and then he’ll simply leave. People don’t bring other people to repentance, God does. Let God deal with it.

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  • well i am so behind, sorry for the late responses to these comments! kiddos go back to school next week so it’s a crazy juggle of last minute fun, typical refuge nuttiness & jose actually being home like a normal person! anyway, i always appreciate the comments, thanks, and would love for this blog to become more conversational between people in the fall…meanwhile:

    abmo – nice to hear from you here. i didn’t know it was from that movie..

    blake – i agree, when a caring relationship is there, it shifts everything.

    jamie – welcome. yeah, i think you hit it on the head, so many have become so insulated in a world where every christian really “must agree” that it becomes completely foreign to think maybe we could see it differently. i love what shane claiborne said at ‘jesus for president’ in denver: “we vote based on what we see out of our front window.” my front window has changed so much in the past 10 years. we used to only be surrounded by christian intact families with nice houses & two cars. now we have friends who live in housing, trailer parks, have never owned a car, and make less than people pay for a car payment…it truly does change the way we see the world, the kingdom.

    jeff – 🙂

    patty – i love that you went for it and asked such a great question back to the emailers!!! and yes, things change when those we love are the targets of ickiness & judgement. i hope we can hang out with you guys one of these days soon. it’s been a long time, maybe a denver west hookup? i hope the EF crew can maybe come down to off the map?

    steve b. – yes, my faith might seriously be in question if we connect cussing to salvation!!! 🙂 i remember eugene cho’s post & i followed it through about comment 85, wow 300+. i will have to check it out to see what got stirred up later. so interesting to me how certain issues become the hottest of topics.

    sonja – i’m with you.

    steve c. – oh i can see & hear those conversations & honestly it makes me so sad. christ-followers, peace-makers, spreaders of love, spending time & energy & ugliness trying to ensure that some are continually discriminated against. hmmm, something is so wrong with that picture.

    tracy – 🙂

    mark – yeah, should be interesting. we are sure in a mess.

    eb – thanks so much for your continued honest words. you always hit it on the head.

    lisa – i think the one that always gets to me is that people get the market cornered on God–so this guy is the one who is “godly” or “a man of God”. what does that mean for the other one and how do you know anyway? curling up with a good book instead sounds lovely. ps: yes, i submitted our stuff for accceptance speech seats, we’ll see if we get them! did you?

    grace – welcome! umm, yeah, you’re definitely not alone on that one!

    jessica – oh boy, you are in the throes of it, it is so hard when your eyes are opened to the craziness & you are in a system that perpetuates it. i will be thinking of you this semester…thanks for your honesty here about where you are at with God, too.

    jeff – yeah, we just never know where people are at and what’s going on underneath. that is why relationship is so important before we just launch in on our opinions. oh, i remember those golden compass ones, too. it is so funny how people get so riled up about the dumbest things without even seeing it for themselves! how’d your care group teaching go? i am not sure when you were doing it?

    deacon – thanks for your creative thoughts!

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  • Referring to the Golden Compass thread, I read the book and didn’t have a problem with it. I can see how everyone having “daemons” could be a problem, but I didn’t associate them with evil. To me, they seemed to symbolize a part of each individual’s soul. They were like a pet, or an imaginary friend, or an extension of the individual’s subconscious.

    On another note, I remember how Harry Potter was deemed ‘evil’ and all of my ‘good’ christian friends didn’t want to see the movies or read the books. Recently I saw a book on the shelf about Christian Symbolism in Harry Potter:) That made me laugh. It seems like most things come full circle eventually.

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  • I’ve received several similar e-mails lately and recently posted on them as well. Must be getting closer to election time!

    One of the things that bothers me the most is that people are so willing to send on e-mails that trash someone’s character, assuming the information is true just because they don’t like the candidate. It seems so odd that people who claim to know the Truth, are so willing to pass on information that has not been verified. My chagrin is held in check by the knowledge that there are often times that I do the same thing, just in a different circumstance.

    I replied to the e-mails asking that as people who call ourselves followers of the Truth, that we complete due diligence on our information before sending on and that in all things remember love is central.

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  • Good blog. I have a life-long friend who struggles with homosexuality. He will always be my friend, even if his struggles have taken him away from the church. I heartily agree that assumptions are dangerous.

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  • this has been the weirdest week, for some freaky reason i keep running into people i know who are assuming all kinds of things related to what good christians must believe. i told jose today “i can’t take it anymore!” i think i have been going to too many coffee shops & restaurants too close to the most conservative school & church in our area! i am going to skip towns this week.

    lisa – always so funny, the world of weird contradictions & how everyone can find a marketing angle!

    amy – yeah, i read your post about this so you so know the feeling! the trashing is what bothers me so much, too, and i love what you are saying about the crazy contradiction between truth & gossip/lies/slander. hmmmm.

    laurie – i so wish that certain struggles & life situations & experiences didn’t draw people away from church but rather to it. that was always the idea of the gospel, in my opinion.

    jeff – will be thinking of you. hope you have fun up there!

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  • Well, late as usual but we had a county fair and that takes all the time I can spare. Last one of the children so in a couple of years wife and I will have to adopt some 4-H kids just to stay sane.
    I will keep this post in my archives for reference as the jsudgememnt thing seems way to prevalant for me.
    I struggle with judgement of others as some weird twist Satan (if you believe in an evil force) puts up to the church to keep us from actually doing anything positive.
    I have my beliefs and thoughts about all that stuff and most of the time it doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things. I need to love and minisnter to all who are God created whether they are confused or if I am confused.
    I think it was John Wayne who summed up the current flair with “Off with their heads and let God sort them out”
    WaynO

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  • Interesting, assumptions can be really dangerous. very interesting way of putting it when you have done it before. Is that kind of hypicritical? To me it is. Just another form of opinion

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  • hey wayne – always great to hear from you here. yeah, we are all in the same boat. judgementalism is such an easy default. i feel it all of the time. it is not something that i believe is masterable, i am sure that is why Jesus spoke about it in the sermon on the mount & why we need his continued grace and help and example over and over and over again.

    anonymous – yep, done it before. do it all the time. no question, i can be a hypocrite, although i do believe when we are honest about our struggle, are trying to live differently, and soft in our hearts, it shifts things a bit (not that we get off the hook). hypocrisy is when we are pointing the finger at others & refuse to look at ourselves, our part, and move toward any kind of change.

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  • Yeah, I think if we’re all honest with ourselves, we are hypocrites. Many times though, I find that I’m simply an inconsistent human being with conflicting feelings. I used to try to “make” my life consistent by denying the way I felt and not asking questions about what was going on around me. Trying so hard to be consistent lead me down a path that I regret in many ways. Feelings/Emotions are confusing. One day I feel one thing, the next day I feel another. This is one of the things I am learning to accept about myself and about others. True friends will listen to the confusion and understand that I’m just trying to work it out. Neither feeling is truth for me.

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  • Personally I get very queezy with all the talk of politicians being the ones to save us. Maybe its b/c I am over 30, but I remember the excitement of Bill Clinton, the hope Bush would return Christian ethics, and now I hear how O will change it all.

    It does fascinate me how in your list the political one is most attached to by the responses. Even the political rhetoric can sound “Christ-like” at times. Jesus was very quick not to take on any type of political position and quick to give to “Caesar what is Ceaser’s”. I could be wrong, but the jubilant today could be sorely disappointed a year from now. Faith in politicians has rarely if ever been rewarded.

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  • lisa – i am with you “if we’re all honest with ourselves, we are hypocrites” and at the same time, we are just human beings doing the best we can.

    roan – thanks for commenting here, i am with you on concern that any politician could save us. it is tricky this year, i think, because so many are so discouraged with our current system for all kinds of reasons. of course, there are just as many who are quite happy with the way things are, too. i resonate with a lot of the thoughts in “jesus for president” primarily because i think that corporately & personally as christ-followers we have a responsibility to follow the ways of Jesus which are utterly contrary to power structures that promote oppression.

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