Types and Factions
“And here fresh from her performance in Dark of the Moon is our own Christine, type cast as the “Dark Witch!”
A burst of laughter erupted from the high school students I knew so well. The thought I would be considered a true “Dark Witch” was beyond them. They had known me for years and would never believe I could change so drastically after just a few months away at college. This joke, coming from my beloved drama teacher, produced my expected response of mock indignation.
In all of my experiences onstage, my favorite characters to play were those that went “against type,” the ones with which I could take on an alter ego and let fly all sorts of annoying words and actions. When people commented on my realistic “evil nature,” I’d take it as a compliment on my acting skills.
One of my favorite actors in Downton Abbey said, “I don’t believe in types. I believe in people.” I totally agree! That’s probably why I could never embrace the discipline of sociology and its focus on groups and groupings.
Of course it’s our human tendency to fall in together with like-minded people, people we have things in common with. It’s our nature. It’s our comfort zone. But when those groups become exclusionary cliques and factions, all sorts of ugly behavior emerges.
In the workplace there can be no room for factions. In Scripture, factions and jealousy are almost always paired together. Factions create jealousy and ill will (James 3:14, 16 ASV; 1 Corinthians 3:3 TLB).
As leaders who have the ability to set the tone in a company, organization, church or family, we also must guard against our own tendencies to see types instead of individuals. Because someone is a member of a certain group, be it based on gender, ethnicity, age, or some other descriptor, doesn’t give us the right to put our perceived expectations on them as to their behavior or values. When we hire, promote or engage with people, we should focus on individuals and not “type cast” them, predetermining who they are or what they will be like.
It is a struggle, however, to not categorize, not label, not assume, not judge, not conform to the labels of this world. When we give into this temptation, we are encouraging others to do the same. And we contribute to the climate of factions and friction.
By taking a step back, and by stepping into Scripture, perhaps we can find the help we need to combat these tendencies. The apostle Paul would definitely understand our plight. He warned the Corinthians about groups and factions (2 Corinthians 12:19-20) and the strife it causes. His answer to these early Christians was his reminder that because of Christ, we are all one in God’s eyes (Romans 3:29-31; 10:11-13; Galatians 3:28).
Paul knew there was an even greater danger with factions based on ideology apart from the message of the Gospel and Christ Jesus crucified and risen. He warned those who shut others out and thought their little group had the corner on truth. He told the Romans to stop thinking they knew it all (Romans 12:16 TLB). And he accused the Galatians of feeling everyone else was wrong except the ones in their own group (Galatians 5:20 TLB).
If we question our ability to battle against factions, we can look to our Lord Jesus and follow His example. He focused on individuals, not groups.
When the Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus and wanted to stone her, they saw an adulteress. Jesus saw a woman who needed compassion, forgiveness, and a second chance (John 8:1-11).
And when His disciples started criticizing the actions of someone because that person wasn’t one of their “group,” Jesus told them to knock it off (Luke 9:49-50)!
When reading the words of Jesus about being the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-16), I found this commentary in The Lutheran Study Bible: “His [Jesus’] words teach each generation of believers to follow the Good Shepherd instead of contenting themselves with the idea that they walk with the right sheep” (p. 1785) Ah, the right sheep. The right group.
How as leaders do we end divisions, factions? How do we create harmony when there is dissent and jealousy? It took Jesus’ death to reconcile us to His Father, and also to end the division between opposing factions, making them part of Himself and therefore one (Ephesians 2:14-15). We can’t possibly go to the level of that extreme sacrifice, but we can do more than complain and wring our hands. It is our calling as Christian leaders to watch out for factions that can destroy an organization or company or even a family. People will watch how we conduct ourselves when we are facing those challenges.
When we lead by example, we create the strongest case for avoiding factions. We don’t foster distrust and suspicion. We associate with everyone. Of course we can’t be everyone’s close buddy, but neither do we avoid the company of certain people because of their status. We show an interest in finding out the person behind the type. We encourage others to be at one with each other, to be in one group that moves forward.
After all, we are all part of one group, the same faction, whether we like it or not. We’re all sinners.
Jesus certainly knew He wasn’t part of this group. What could His reaction to us have been? He could have been dismissive, knowing we are repeat offenders. He definitely had every right to be disgusted with us, those sinners who can’t pull our lives together and stop making mistakes.
But that wasn’t the case. He sacrificed Himself for us, for all of our factions and failings. He became the peace that unites those who were separated from God and from each other (Ephesians 2:13-14). And when we bring Our Lord Jesus into our group, when He is the center of that group, there is peace and there is joy.
Leaving my guilt at the cross,
(First published at Lead Like Jesus October 2020)