By Andy Kachel



Two phrases that the evangelical community would do well to familiarize themselves with are “othering” and “the other.” Understanding both ideas, which are really one and the same, can allow any tight-knit group to better understand what it’s like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. “The other” is someone who is not like us; they may not look like us, talk like us, originate from the same part of the world as us, love like us, or worship like us. “Othering” is when a tight-knit group of people applies these points of difference to an outsider as negative qualities to make them out as being less worthy.


You may be asking yourself, if this is something I should know about as a Christian then why haven’t I heard of it? You have. When Philip announces Jesus to Nathanael, in John 1:43-46, Nathanael responds, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael’s disgust is evidence that two thousand years ago you could grow up in the same country and still be considered unworthy because you’re from the opposite side of the tracks. Pair Nathanael’s question with 2015 presidential candidate Donald Trump’s statement about Mexicans— “They are not our friend, believe me . . . They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people”—and it’s clear that some falsely believe that if you are from a “good” locale then you will also be good. Never mind a person’s character, or in Jesus’s case, his Godhood. [1]



“Othering” in Fear


In this time of political upheaval in America, “the other” is built into much of our political discourse and the policy we see implemented by our leaders. Whether it is the separation of children from parents at the borders or the ban on immigrants from Muslim countries—all of this has been done in anxiety and to prevent scarcity. Haven’t our “Christian” leaders read their Bibles? We are called to a higher way of being in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Obviously, fear and anxiety are poor states of mind to be making decisions, and many go willingly in support of keeping the other out.


John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College, writes:


Despite God’s commands to trust him in times of despair, evangelicals have always been very fearful people, and they have built their understanding of political engagement around the anxiety they have felt amid times of social change. [2]


This is from Fea’s book, Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. And he identifies this sweeping change, more recently, as the legalization of gay marriage and the Obama healthcare mandate for businesses. The strong reaction against this cultural change has at its roots a spirit of fear: if we don’t act now, our country will no longer be a “Christian nation” because the other will replace us.


Fear of the other belies what it means to be a Christian, which Paul identifies in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul argues that the identity we are born with, our origin, is swept aside, and all people are invited to the table of Christ. All means all; this is beautiful. However, as evidenced by the text, this is a deeply cultural statement that Paul is making, and somewhat outdated by the fact that it was not intended to confront slavery. Too bad that along the way, we Christians have often been on the wrong side of history and have caused deep cultural wounds or been complicit in them.



Moving Forward


If we move forward in history, C.S. Lewis echoes Galatians 3:28 when he writes: “Christianity has not and does not profess to have a detailed political programme...It is meant for all men at all times and the particular programme which suited one place or time would not suit another.” [3] Notice how Lewis’s choice of wording is still exclusive— “all men”—despite him talking about the universal purpose of Christianity, inclusivity. Paul and Lewis are from a particular time when people kept slaves and women did not have the same rights as men, respectively. While both men speak of deep spiritual truths, the way in which they speak of them is not timely. There is never any risk of losing these truths if we heighten our awareness of “the other” to make sure our actions or words are not exclusionary.


History plows forward and it is necessary that acts of “othering” are shed for the sake of a better society to ensure that all people have a place at the communion table. Evangelical Christians would do well to reflect on this. Sadly, at this point in time, there seems to be little reflection. Fea writes:


...Instead of doing the hard work necessary for engaging a more diverse society with the claims of Christian orthodoxy, evangelicals have become intellectually lazy, preferring to respond to cultural change by trying to reclaim a world that is rapidly disappearing and has little chance of ever coming back. [2]


What is the hard work that needs to be accomplished?


The answer can be found in the many sayings of Jesus. “Judge not, and you will not be judged,” Jesus said. [4] That’s the first place to start. When you come across someone different than yourself, don’t judge them by what’s on the outside. Learn to see people as having rich, complex inner lives. “...and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either,” Jesus said. [5] There are many that see outsiders, others, immigrants as being a drain on American resources. Learn to see people as being more important than things. After all, you don’t get to take it with you when you die. “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you,” Jesus said. [6] Everyone wants to belong and no one wants to be left out. Belonging is the heart of Christ and the centerpiece of our communion with God. In the eyes of God, who are we to say who belongs and who does not?


1. Schwartz, Ian. “Trump: Mexico Not Sending Us Their Best.” June 16, 2015.
Accessed September 29, 2018. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2015/06/16/
2. Fea, John. Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. Grand Rapids: William
B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018.
3. Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. London: HarperCollins Publ., 2001.
4. Lk 6:37 ESV
5. Lk 6:29 ESV
6. Lk 6:31 NIV



Andy Kachel is a writer and editor in the Boston, Massachusetts area. Outside of work, he enjoys hiking, perusing the local comic book store, spending time with his wife, and reading.


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