One of the hardest things for me during my time at Conservative Christian College, was how often I heard people rely on stereotypes. If I had a dollar for every time someone said something to the effect of "Girls are like that," "Well, you know how those people are," or "Boys will be boys," well, let's just say I wouldn't still be paying off my student loans. But by far, the most hurtful one I heard was one directed at me.
My freshman year of college, I was talking with a group of friends and acquaintances. There was a girl there that I had never met before. I didn't even know her name. As we were all talking, I said something that tipped her off to the fact that my parents are divorced. This sad pitiful look filled her eyes as she reached out to tenderly touch my arm and stated "Awww...so I guess you never really knew your father, huh?" If you know me, you probably understand why such a statement upset me. If looks could kill, the one I shot her would probably do the trick. I curtly replied "Actually, my dad is a great father and I saw him nearly every day growing up." The look in her eyes upon hearing that wasn't just surprise, but also confusion. It was as if the idea that divorce didn't always have to mean that you never saw one parent had never crossed her mind. It seemed that the only picture of divorce she'd heard of included stressed out single moms, delinquent or depressed kids, and dead beat dads.
I guess when you seek to paint the world in harsh strokes of black and white that will ultimately support your own worldview, it's easier to rely on stereotypes. If you believe that homosexuality is a grave sin, it's easier to equate all gay people to pedophiles than acknowledge that many are kind, responsible, loving parents. If you believe that God doesn't want anyone to get divorced, it easier to point to dead beat dads than to families that learned how to love each other and function better without the strain of a failing marriage. If you believe that the only godly way to vote is to vote Republican, it's easier to label all all Democrats as godless heathens than to admit that there is a long history of social justice Democrats within various churches. If you believe God intended for women to be subservient to men, it's easier to claim that they have some sort of genetic disposition to such a role than to wrestle with your wife's/girlfriend's/daughter's/etc dreams and ambitions, as well as the obstacles to achieving them. It's easier to paint the poor as lazy addicts than to admit that God has commanded you to help and care for them. In essence, reliance on stereotypes lets you off the hook when it comes to loving these people, because rather than viewing them as human beings, it allows you to see them as the source of society's problems. It's the easiest way to dehumanize those around us. When we take the chance to get to know people stereotypes usually fade away. I wasn't raised under the assumption that you could easily classify people based on stereotypes. If anything, I was taught that if you relied on stereotypes you were probably missing the mark. In terms of the work most churches set out to do, it's a lot easier to love and care for a person than it is for a stereotype.