Let’s Stop Playing Guilt-by-Association Games

If we are called to love our enemies, how much more should we love people with whom we have strong disagreements?

He talks about racism a lot lately and has bought into this ‘cultural Marxism’ nonsense.”

“She’s raised some concerns about the social justice movement. She must be a white supremacist.”

“He liked that author’s Facebook status. I think he’s walking away from his faith.”

“Her books are sold in airports, and I’m skeptical about books sold in airports.”

I have seen these and similar statements made and labels hurled online (yes, even the last one about airport books). Since the election of 2016, guilt-by-association tactics like these have only worsened. “Guilt by association” occurs when guilt is ascribed to someone not because of evidence but because of his or her association (real or perceived) with a person or group.

Associations are not always bad. Psychologists use the word “schema” to “refer to patterns of thoughts and behaviors, built up over time, that people use to process information quickly and effortlessly as they interact with the world,” as Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff write in The Coddling of the American Mind.

God gives us wisdom and discernment to form accurate associations when a person’s consistent words and behavior over time reveal those associations to be true. (In the words of Maya Angelou, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”)

Jesus talked about such consistency in terms of fruit: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matt. 7:15-16). Associations are fair …

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