We all have blind spots. Whether we are talking about driving a car or moving along in an ethnically and gender diverse culture, we all have blind spots in our vision from time to time.
Since the election, political strategists have claimed based on demographic studies that the Republican Party and conservative Evangelicals are disconnected from minority groups, including African Americans, Hispanics, and women. It has been argued that Republicans and white conservative Evangelical males do not understand the needs and perspectives of these groups and that they have little interest in trying to understand them. To the extent that these claims are true, and to the extent that Republicans and these Evangelicals want to move beyond these barriers, they will need to account for their blind spots (For reports on the Republican party, see the following: link 1, link 2, link 3. Since 78% of Evangelical voters cast a vote for Romney, Evangelicals are also going to have a “minority problem” when it comes to politics and quite possibly how it influences their work in the church and the social issues they address inside and outside the church).
We can learn a thing or two about how to deal with our ethnocentric blind spots and related cultural barriers by attending to driving.
What do you do when you know you have a blind spot when changing lanes? You use your mirrors, ask those in your vehicle with a better view and competence to judge at that angle to let you know if it is safe to change lanes, and put on your turn signal to indicate you are changing lanes while requesting permission to enter the other lane, albeit slowly. People of other ethnicities and another gender can serve as mirrors and as those voices which can help you assess whether or not it is safe to change lanes in navigating the traffic patterns in society and when to do so. Of course, if you never have to change lanes, you don’t need to ask anyone for assistance. But most of us have to change lanes from time to time for the sake of traffic flow and impediments in the way. If we don’t ask for help, we may find that we will crash into others, similar to how Republicans and white conservative Evangelical males appear to be crashing into others in our culture today in increasing frequency.
Asking people of diverse ethnicities, and another gender, open questions about life as they see it in America is important. Listening inquisitively is also important. If the music on my favorite station is playing loudly in my car or head, I cannot hear when someone is honking the horn to warn me of an impending crash when changing lanes. So too, if I have already made up my mind on things based on what this or that radio talk show host or my social club or small group/home community has said, I cannot learn from diverse others. I should not try and speak for these diverse others or be rigid in my thinking that my view on all matters is always gospel; I have my blind spots, too.
One way to not appear disingenuous is to demonstrate that you are not seeking to use them to gain their vote or their tithe. No strings or bumpers attached. Rather, if anything, you are willing to give them your vote and your tithe if they end up revealing to you that you are really blind, not just in one or two places, but across the dashboard. You are the one in need and you want to grow. You are asking for their help so as to avoid crashing into them and to cultivate an America that creates space for drivers of all walks of life to be able to travel unharmed. After all, we all have a vested interest in making sure our physical and cultural highways are safe for travel.
In the end, and here I speak to everyone, we may end up becoming more convinced of our political and religious views through the exchanges on the interchanges of life with diverse others, but at least we will come away understanding better why others vote the way they do and believe the way they do. At the very least, it will make all of us more empathic and more cautious drivers, not offensive ones.
Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths and Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church. These volumes and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.