We hear it continually.
It pervades the social atmosphere.
Seeping in like an odorless gas, it invades every crevice.
Its toxicity eats away at our collective conscience.
And Its destructive symptoms cause us to spew more bile substance – its contagiousness spreading like a plague from one victim to the next.
None of us are asymptomatic, because if you listen closely, you’ll see it on social media, in headlines and articles, on news sites, on college campuses, in office hallways, in churches, mosques and synagogues, at dinner table conversations, during protest marches, and in just plain everyday speech.
An insidious use of a word – with a mortality rate that threatens to destroy us all.
I’m talking about the use of the word “they.”
It’s not the word itself but the way it’s often used.
It’s what’s at the heart.
A single actor makes an outrageous statement, and immediately it becomes about everyone who works in the entertainment business.
“Those Hollywood Elitists, THEY are trying to destroy America with their radicalized agenda!”
A church leader fails.
“Those Christian hypocrites, THEY are all just charlatans, getting rich off deluding ignorant followers!”
A group of protesters resorts to vandalism and looting.
“All those BLM protestors, THEY want to tear down our cities and enforce marxism!”
An immoral police officer commits an unimaginable crime.
“Those pigs, THEY are all racist and corrupt!”
A reporter lets her bias show.
“The liberal mainstream media, THEY report only fake news and are conspiring to keep you from finding out the truth!”
A conservative podcaster, suggests verifiably false information.
“Those right-wingers, all THEY do is peddle in conspiracies in order to get attention and power!”
By stitching together the failures of a few, and tossing aside the positive contributions of the many, we construct an imaginative giant monster for everyone to fear and hate.
Like a playground bully, we assemble our own powerful gang of “us” at the expense of those with whom we disagree by employing the potent weapon of “they” followed by insult, exaggeration, and mockery. Only this isn’t just a game played by kids.
It is the ultimate redirect – an attempt to throw off attention from our own perceived deficiencies by pointing to the failings of others. As long as a conglomerate “they” exists, we can smugly proclaim our own goodness, righteousness, and superiority.
As long as “they” exist, we can instill fear and hate in order to pull people toward our side.
If you listen closely, you’ll begin to hear it almost everywhere.
“THEY are trying to take away freedom of religion.”
“THEY are trying to force their religion upon us.”
“THEY want open borders.”
“THEY want to put people in cages.”
“THEY are conspiring to destroy the economy.”
“THEY are conspiring on behalf of big business.
“THEY want to murder babies.”
“THEY want to control my body.”
“THEY want to take away our guns.”
“THEY care more about their guns than safety.”
“THEY are smug and elitist.”
“THEY are deplorable and uneducated.”
“THEY want to indoctrinate our kids with the gay agenda.”
“THEY are all homophobic.”
“THEY are just lazy and entitled.”
“THEY just want to line their own pockets.”
“THEY want to erase our history.”
“THEY want to return to our racist past.”
“THEY are Marxist thugs who support vandalism and violence.”
“THEY are Fascists who support authoritarianism.”
“THEY want to take away our freedoms.”
“THEY don’t care about other people’s lives.”
Not all are phrased exactly as above and sometimes “they” is substituted with words like “them” or “their,” but it all has the same underlying drive – to build walls of power by alerting fellow citizens to the numerous enemies at the gate.
Often you will find it preceded with “the” or “those” and a descriptor: the radical left, the far right, the MSM, the 1%, those snowflakes, those Nazi’s, those protesters, those supremacists, those Christians, those Jews, those blacks, those gays, those homophobes, those misogynists, those Karens, those femi-nazis, those Demon-crats, those Trumpsters, and on and on.
Lost in all this, amidst the “they’s” and “them’s” and “those,” is all the individual “I’s” – individual people with their own experiences, own ideas, own hopes and dreams – people made in the image of God.
Sure, some of them may have gone off in various ways and squandered the gifts they were given. Yet, the Father eagerly awaits them still – each and every one – ready with open arms.
All the while, we stand in the place of the sanctimonious older brother, self-righteously making it clear “they” have no place at the table.
Rather than reflecting the heart of God, we take on the form of the Accuser. Thus, our use of “they,” is not simply misplaced or misinformed, but dare I say, often downright evil.
Before anyone accuses me of being self-righteous myself, let me just say that the “we” I have been referring to includes “me” as well.
And the only way to fix the problem of “they” is to pluck out the overwhelming planks that keep me from seeing the things that need to change in me first.
As we approach this Christmas season and celebrate the birth of Jesus, I cannot help but reflect on who that child grew up to become: someone who taught us to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile and actually love our enemies.
And what does that kind of love look like?
As he hung upon the cross, Jesus had a very different take on “they.”
“Father, forgive them, for THEY know not what THEY do.”
Forgive them – an expression of love toward the very people who persecuted him…
“Monsters” who beat him, pierced him, denied him and betrayed him.
It was the ultimate redirect.
In that moment of sacrifice, he humbly directed all the attention of humankind’s failings onto himself and asked that the Father see those “monsters” as righteous and good.
Do we even know how to practice that kind of love?
Can I see them as individuals, perhaps imperfect but individuals nonetheless, made specially in the image of God and deemed worthy of love.
Or do I continue to live in my own self-righteous proclamations, while casting stones at the people I call “they?”
Father, forgive us – forgive me – for we know not what we do.