On Sensitivity, Objectivity and Offense

man ignoring womanI am becoming increasingly aware that sensitivity within Christian circles tends to be met with disdain. There seems to be this notion that we should be able to address things with complete objectivity.  First, no one is without sensitivity on some level. This is part and parcel of our humanity. We are not devoid of history, experience or personality that will create sensitivity in different areas. We have these sensitivities because we are human. We will have reactions to past and present hurts, either experienced directly or collectively identified with a particular group such as ethnic or gender groups.

The idea that we can be purely objective is a myth. I love what John Frame says about that taken from this post;

Sometimes we dream fondly of a ‘purely objective’ knowledge of God–a knowledge of God of freed from the limitations of our senses, minds, experiences, preparation, and so forth. But nothing of this sort is possible, and God does not demand that of us. Rather, He condescends to dwell in and with us, as in a temple. He identifies himself in and through our thoughts, ideas, and experiences. And that identification is clear; it is adequate for Christian certainty. A ‘purely objective’ knowledge is precisely what we don’t want! Such knowledge would presuppose a denial of our creaturehood and thus a denial of God and of all truth.

While he is referring to the knowledge of God, it is nonetheless applicable to how we see our world. There is no way we can be purely objective. Now of course, we can be more objective to areas that don’t give rise to sensitivities with us. This is why 3rd party objectivity is valuable, especially when settling disputes. But that does not mean we are without some type of bias that will inform our perspective. And let’s be clear, when it comes to some topics, whether it be race, gender or life experience, there is this tendency to treat it from our own perspective and why it is important to step outside of ourselves and see the other ala Philippians 2.

The beauty of the body of Christ is that our varying perspectives can come together, blending diversity with Christian other-ness ala Philippians 2. But this diversity can go the opposite way to the extent that we disregard or hold disdain for the other based on self-centered propositions and actions.

So I raise this as an issue because of the destructive ways that the body of Christ can handle sensitivity when it arises. Having recognized that sensitivities are present and pure objectivity is not possible, we need to have a fair way of handling it when it arises for the sake of Christian harmony, keeping in mind that Jesus said his disciples will be known for the love demonstrated to one another.

There are three reactions that we really should avoid:

1. Insensitivity: I think it is helpful for us to realize that just we are not sensitive to a particular topic, it doesn’t mean that no one should be. We don’t have the right to tell another person what they can and cannot be sensitive about. You can’t relate to why blacks get upset over certain comments you might find innocent? You don’t understand why women are raise issues about devaluing comments? You think Asian-Americans should just realize that Warren didn’t mean anything by this remarks? Just because it doesn’t touch YOU doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be felt by others.

2. Dismissal: This is where we determine that someone else’s sensitivity is not valid and dismiss them and their arguments outright. Just because someone is sensitive to an issue does not make their comments or observations invalid. Dismissing statements or perspective from other brothers and sisters in Christ because you don’t get it, is not something that will engender Christ-like love.

3. Hostage: On the flip side, we can hold others hostage to our own sensitivities. This is more than just expressing how words, actions or perspectives impact us, but holding an audience captive until they acknowledge whatever pain and hurt we feel. We need to be real honest with ourselves about exactly what those triggers are and know when it is being pulled. Because this also will engender the tendency to read something into an otherwise innocent comment.

The bottom line is that we need to treat sensitivities fairly and avoid extremes, either of callously dismissing or making a federal case out of something we think everyone should understand. And this is where it is important to get a grip on our own biases and wounds. Just as we can’t have pure objectivity so we can’t have health interpersonal dialogue if we only see out of our wounds.  There has to be a place where the body comes together, which requires active engagement and sensitive listening.

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About Lisa Robinson

Servant of Christ, DTS Grad, member of Town North Presbyterian Church (PCA), non-profit professional, anti-poverty advocate, writer, thinker, explorer of ethnic food, lover of good coffee and a good laugh.
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