Last night I spent an hour responding to questions from a group of about fifteen 8th graders. What was a bit different for me is that they were Jewish and I am Christian. A colleague and I had planned these conversations. He is the Director of Experiential Education at a neighboring Reformed Jewish congregation. I am the Pastor at a Presbyterian Church. Our hope was (and is) to counterbalance the misinformation and stereotypes that many have about our respective faith communities. Last night I spoke to his 8th grade class. In a couple of weeks he will come to the church where I am pastor and speak with our 9th grade class.
Most of the questions that were asked was what one might expect from middle school students.
Why do Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25th?
Why do Christians put ash on their foreheads?
Why are some Christians not permitted to get married?
What is the difference between Christian and Catholic and whatever you am?
And, then there were several more serious questions.
Are all Christians really against abortion?
What do Christians believe about homosexuality?
But, it was the last question of the evening that was the most important.
He asked, “When they find out that I am Jewish, why do Christians make fun of me and my religion?”
Why do we talk like all poor people live in the inner city?
Or, why all blacks are either poor or great athletes?
Or, why are all Jews cheap?
Or, why all Christians think if you are gay you are going to hell?
Stereotypes are easy. Too easy.
And, in the end, holding onto stereotypes and repeating stereotypes and relying on stereotypes cripple us and limit any efforts we might make towards building understanding and strengthening our sense of community.
I hope my response to his question helped.
Maybe what he and I could do is to learn enough about each other and each other’s religious tradition (and other traditions, as well) that when someone makes an offensive or inaccurate comment, we can speak up and either refute the stereotype or give more accurate information. And, as hard as that sometimes is that is our responsibility.
Then, our time was up.
And the room was suddenly empty.