‘Those people’ and the 47 percent

“There are 47 percent who are with him [Obama], who are dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims…My job is not to worry about those people.”

—   Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney got shellacked. When Romney’s fundraiser video was released bloggers, news organizations, and candidates rallied to highlight what he said. As I stewed over these words, annoyed that the potential president didn’t care about nearly half America, I realized his comments were describing the Church appropriately.

His comments about the 47 percent don’t bother me so much as his calling the 47 percent “those people.” Yet we hear this language often within our congregations. It’s a synonym for people that don’t dress, think, or worship the way we do. That phrase makes me cringe because I hear it espoused flippantly in the one place it shouldn’t be uttered.

Granted, we’re all guilty of doing it. We’ve insured that there are “those people,” in an effort to distinguish ourselves. Perhaps in a fit of annoyance or secretly taped conversations we’ve said it. But in the house of God, the house of prayer for all people is there room for “those people”? Doesn’t the wisdom of the cross call us to a different way of life?

Though many churches work to help people, to provide services and goods, too often they still remain “those people.” They aren’t apart of the fold, aren’t apart of the church’s status quo. Romney’s comments, unfortunately, are the words of many pastors and laypeople.

Romney has his own public relations team and justification for why he said what he said. The body of Christ, however, has no justification. “Those people” are children of God. “Those people,” many profess, Jesus died for. “Those people,” reflect the image of God. In the body of Christ there is no room for “those people,” only “God’s people.”

Tactfully we have aligned ourselves according to political and theological lines. We grasp our “party line,” and then castigate everyone else. Moderates, liberals, conservatives, and whoever else remains guilty of this. Yet there’s grace for us to transform, to reclaim our concern for all people, not only those sharing similar beliefs.

I fully expect politics to remain engaged with certain party lines—that’s the nature of the game. But, I expect more from the Church. I expect more from myself. To transform this world, to reveal the kingdom of God every day requires that we do not disparage “those people.” Changing the way we see people will change the way we live in our communities.

In the end, “those people” provides an exemption from personal implication. We are not forced to see that our histories and futures are bound together with our neighbors. The conservative Christian fails to see the future is bound up with the Muslim. The atheist fails to see positive possibilities with Jews. The church cannot see its future as bound with the community surrounding it.

Do I think Mitt Romney made a horrible misstep? Absolutely. Do I think we, Christians, make horrible missteps every Sunday? Yes. Until we lose the language of “those people,” and live into relationship with all of God’s people, we will be serving God less than 100 percent; in fact, the figure’s probably closer to 47 percent.

Zachary Bailes

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About the Author
Bailes holds a Master of Divinity from Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He is the Editor of Crazy Liberals and Conservatives, a website dedicated to engaging the intersection of faith and public life.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/ron.swearingen.5 Ron Swearingen

    I catch myself using it sometimes.  Generally if you use the words “those people” in an argument, you’ve already lost.

  • dodadeo

    I am truly amazed at the Political Correctness coming out of the so called educated Divinity sector. Well let me tell “you people”, PC is a God of it’s own that has been worshiped a little to much. We need to get back on our faces and pray for guidance, because the Great Divinity Teacher is really hurting having to hang on that cross of PC again. After all isn’t that what the Sanhedrin was a bunch of well educated Religious leaders worshiping at the alter of PC?
    Shame on you! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000573530974 Amol Mohan Kanojia

    yeh ek aisa channel hain jo congress ki chaploosi  ke record tod dengi. america ki ek patrica ne jab soniya gandhi ki daulat k baare mein chaapa tab  iss news channel ne usake baare mein kuch nahi bataya . lekin jab ek mahila bina saboot k gadkari k baare mein bol rahi hain toh yeh news channel uss k baare mein bada chada kar bata raha hain wah re news channel wah

  • fed-up

    You are pretty much mistaken in the way you understood or mis-understood the phrase “those people” that Mitt Romney used or most anyone else uses for that matter.  It is taken as you say a “horrible mis-step” by you and many others because that is how the media painted that picture.  It isn’t a disparaging use the phrase to qualify a sub-set of people.  Those people that vote for me or those people that vote for him. Therefore when Romney said the 47% that will vote for Obama, I can’t worry about those people, in my estimation, is perfectly ok.  However if an adjective were used, those stupid people or those (pick a race) people, maybe you would be on to something.  Those people that refuse to worship need to be helped or those people are helpless. Maybe you see a failing but I see it as recognition that there are still people that need help and those are the people you need to seek out.  Those People.

  • tenor2

    FACT:  Forty seven percent of the American people pay no federal income tax. 

    It is the polilcy of this administration to achieve a voting majority of “takers”, paid for by a minority of “payers,” thereby perpetuating themselves in power.  When/if that happens, America is lost.

    Further, I submit that Mitt Romney personally and regularly does more, gives more money, for the relief of the poor and the rest of the “47 percent” than the combined staffs of Wake Forest Divinity School,  the Associated Baptist Press and Zachary Bailes. 

    • tommy9999

      ” Further, I submit that Mitt Romney personally and regularly does more,
      gives more money, for the relief of the poor and the rest of the “47
      percent” than the combined staffs of Wake Forest Divinity School,  the
      Associated Baptist Press and Zachary Bailes. ”

      So what!!  Your comment is meaningless.  Romney is a quadrillioner!.

      • tenor2

        Add any six of your liberal heroes to that list, and yourself, and the challenge still holds.  Another fact:  Political and social conservatives as a group give far, far more to religious, charitable, humanitarian causes than do liberals.  But I’m sure you are the exception!

  • http://spiritualsidekick.com/ Tom Wideman

    You make a great point, Zachary. I work with a recovery ministry at my church and I hear those kind of comments from church members talking about “those people” in recovery. But I also must be careful not to criticize “those people” who talk about “those people.” 

    And I must add, I am dismayed by the comments to your post that can’t get past the politics. What will it take for us to get past the politics and start learning from one another? “If my people, who are called by my name, shall HUMBLE themselves…”

  • georgin

    Most people recognize that Romney was referring to voting bloc whose vote is preordained, and the vote is not for a Republican. His remark didn’t mean a lack of care for the persons within the voting bloc.  His caring and generosity to persons in need is well documented.  If the use of the word, “those”, is a red flag to you, I do understand. It is how I feel when I remember Bill Clinton staring intensely into the camera, pointing his finger and saying, ” I DID NOT have sex with THAT woman!”  Oh, yeah?  First to be involved in a relationship with a person and then demean that person with such seeming venom is despicable.  In addition, the statement would have been regarded as truth, if not for the little blue dress.  Those, that?  I think a world of difference in how the  words were used by these two men.