Happily ensconced within my hotel in South Bend, Indiana and with a couple hours until this evening’s reception, I have decided to avail myself of a bit of blogging. I’ll focus on responding to a key excerpt from davidstarlingm’s defense of Paul’s comments on the Cretans in Titus 1:12-13:
Paul was telling Titus to rebuke those people, who were “acting like Cretans are said to act”. This is different from Paul labeling the entire congregation as “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” and thus excusing any responsibility on Titus’s part.
Well yes and no. Paul is not claiming that all the Cretans in the congregation are acting in an equally offensive manner. That is certainly true. But for those who misbehave he is identifying the source of trouble with their ethnicity. And that is a problem.
Here’s an illustration. Imagine that you visit me at my flea market booth. A young South Asian couple walks up and begins to look closely at the jewelery I’m selling. In that moment I lean over to you and whisper: “Those East Indians sure love a deal.”
Note first that the comment has the same basic form as Paul’s insofar as it appeals to a general cultural/ethnic stereotype to explain a specific instance of behavior. In the example I am not necessarily claiming that all East Indians “love a deal” (a phrase which seems to be code for “are spendthrifts”) any more than Paul is suggesting every single Cretan in the church is a liar. But I am explaining the behavior of the couple at my booth with reference to the general stereotype just like Paul is attempting to explain the Cretans’ behavior with respect to the general stereotype.
Second, note that the actual content of my comment in the scenario is much less extreme than Paul’s comment. I say that East Indians “love a deal.” Paul claims that Cretans are liars, evil brutes and lazy gluttons.
Finally, note that the milder comment I make in the thought experiment, (which shares the same form as Paul’s comment on Cretans) is nonetheless offensive and pernicious. It is offensive to explain the shopping behavior of those who are ethnically Indian with respect to a general stereotype that Indians are spendthrifts. And it is pernicious to marginalize specific people groups in this way by tacitly feeding latent hostilities.
So in summary, the India comment shares the same form as Paul’s, is less extreme than Paul’s, and is nonetheless offensive. But then why wouldn’t we consider Paul’s statement to be at least as offensive and pernicious as my comment on Indians?
By the way, I have visited Crete, and I didn’t find any evidence that the ethnic Cretans I met were any worse than any other Greek people. (I can already anticipate somebody offering this rebuttal: “Maybe two millennia diluted the gene pool!” Yeah, that’s it. So maybe my stubborn side traces to a Cretan gene.)
The problem is that people who try to defend Paul are shouldered with defending the negative stereotyping of specific ethnicities, and that is a lose-lose scenario.
Here’s a radical idea: admit the obvious. Paul was wrong to explain the behavior of some Cretans by appealing to a vicious ethnic stereotype. Now in light of that rather obvious concession let’s read scripture anew and learn from Paul’s mistake even as we recognize it is our mistake as well.