“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.