Rules of Discernment, Rule 3: Diversity
Have you ever really thought about how wildly different in appearance human beings are? With the exception of dogs, animals of the same species will share a narrow range of colors, size, and appearances. But humans can have hair that is orange or white or black, skin from the palest whites to the darkest black, noses that are flat or bulbous or wide or narrow. Our lips come in sizes from billowy to so thin as to be practically non-existent. We can have huge bubble butts and flat behinds that look like they hurt to sit on. We may be rail-thin or carry enough fat to jiggle with every move. There are women who are over 7 feet tall and men who fail to hit 4 feet. If we were birds, we would have lost our ability to procreate with each other ages back and formed a dizzying array of subspecies, yet there’s nothing other than personal preference that could have stopped Shaquille O’Neil and Rea Pearlman from reproducing together.
Of course, the diversity of human beings doesn’t end with physical appearances. Some humans are smart enough to understand ideas that unlock the structure of the universe while others believe that ectopic pregnancies can be reimplanted. There are people who experience sound as colors and people who are colorblind. Some people are loud and aggressive and some are quiet and withdrawn. Some can run a 5 minute mile while others push themselves to cover the same distance in 20 minutes. Some people love being scared, some people get freaked trying to navigate a parking lot. Some people talk incessantly and others lack the capacity entirely. Some people are lighthearted to the point of irresponsibility while others are careful and cautious to the point of paralysis.
Obviously, I could go on forever giving examples of ways that humans are different from one another. It’s practically limitless. We have different personalities and temperaments that are often discernable at birth. We like different things. We have different priorities, drives, and desires. On and on and on – humans and variety go hand and hand. It’s a fundamental part of how God created us. He WANTS us to be different. He wants to have some people who are aggressive and some people who are gentle. Some people who laugh at everything and others who cry at everything. It is his design for us that he looked at and called “very good.” Which leads me to my 3rd Rule for Discernment:
Do not follow or trust any teacher or leader who insists that there is a right or wrong way to be human.
God literally made humans to be wildly diverse so quite obviously, a teacher who says that good and proper humans must conform to a narrow set of behaviors, styles, personalities, interests and so on are showing a flagrant disregard for God’s ways. In fact, they are literally arguing against God’s ways in favor of their own personal preferences. Which isn’t actually something a good teacher or shepherd would do.
Inside the church we probably see this error among teachers and shepherds most clearly when it comes to men and women. Typically, women are supposed to be gentle, quiet, demure, agreeable and relationship-oriented. Men are supposed to be aggressive, forceful, leaders, decisive and goal-oriented. Men and women who aren’t naturally inclined to such things are encouraged to seek God’s help in changing from the person he created them to be into something more to the leader’s liking. They are told that the personality God gave them, their natural preferences, what feels good and right to them is wrong and needs to be repented of. It’s oppressive, mentally and emotionally harmful and warps entire families and communities in ways that prevent human flourishing.
Now, I joke around a lot, but I want to make really clear the seriousness of what we’re talking about here. Some of the false teachers and bad shepherds may not quite realize that the things they believe make for a good, godly person are personal preferences rather than some sort of God-given judgment on what sort of people we’re supposed to be. But others are literally creating a world that works according to and in service to their own selfish desires. There are lots and lots of examples, but the clearest example of how destructive and malicious this behavior is found in a man named Bill Gothard.
Some of you know all too well who Bill Gothard is but some of you are more blessed than that and have probably never heard of the man. He is a highly influential figure among IFB – Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. Independent Fundamentalist Baptists are extreme Christian fundamentalists whose adherents include the Duggar Family of 19 Kids and Counting fame. Now, perhaps you have noticed that all of the Duggar girls, including the mom, style themselves in very similar ways. They wear their hair long, with loose curls, have milky complexions with rosy cheeks, are slim, wear skirts that go to the ankles and clothing that minimizes the appearance of breasts. The reason for this is that they followed the teachings of Bill Gothard who taught that this was the appearance girls and young women should have. This is what is desirable for a woman, pleasing to God and showed good character. As it turns out, Bill Gothard is a sexual predator who personally prefers young women with that particular appearance. Like a lot of predators, he had a “type” and he was using his position to surround himself with potential victims whose appearance appealed to him.
That case is extreme, but one of my basic rules of thumb is that any dynamic or system which can easily be put to use by predators is not of God. God’s ways don’t rely on the goodness of men to produce good fruit but have a power all their own. Even if it were possible for a mere mortal to know as much as God about how he intends people to be, giving a leader the power to tell people who they are supposed to be requires that leader to be a genuinely good person. The existence of Bill Gothard and others like him is proof positive that having leaders tell people what kind of people they should be is not God’s way of doing things because it relies on the goodness of humans to avoid devolving into a sexual predator enabling nightmare. And the toll it takes on families, individuals and children, in particular, to be subjected to someone telling them that who they are is wrong and displeasing to God is enormous.
All of which is to say that if you run into a teacher or leader who has strong opinions about how people are supposed to be, run. Nothing good comes from exposing yourself to someone who has rejected such a basic aspect of how God designed human beings. A good teacher won’t try to narrow down the types of people God finds pleasing, but will celebrate the diversity that God created within the human race and help us learn to look on those who are different than ourselves with eyes of love that look for beauty and God’s fingerprints.
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