It was in Ms. Beverly Postell’s psychology class at Ringgold High School in northwest Georgia that I first learned the concept of “projection.” This psychological defense mechanism was easy to understand.
The most common example was that of someone coming home from work, after being berated by his boss and then kicking the dog or yelling at a loved one. It was an improper way of redirecting anger from the actual source to an innocent but convenient target.
Never could I have imagined, however, that projection would shape the white evangelical church and larger American society to such a significant degree more than four and a half decades later. But it has and continues to do so.
Life, even when it’s good, doesn’t turn out exactly like we once idealized it. Rarely are expectations fully met.
Relationships break down, aging shows up sooner and in ways we never assumed, career and financial goals aren’t always realized, and emotional losses mount in ways that may leave us feeling cheated.
The easier salve than lowering idealized expectations and seeking the joy amid the disappointment is to simply find someone to blame for whatever we feel is lacking in our lives. And there are those willing to help us identify some easy targets.
Women and Blacks were blamed for taking jobs from white men during my developing years. Now it’s Mexicans and other immigrants – even though many work at jobs not highly desired, yet ones that help drive the economy.
Stereotypes about Muslims, LGBTQ persons and others are thrown in the mix – along with silly accusations of creeping socialism or whatever else might excuse our fears and redirect responsibility from our shoulders to something or someone “out there.”
Hunting easy-to-blame bogeymen is quite the popular projection sport.
Such projections allow for demeaning those who are unlike us and wrongly justifying efforts to abuse or even eliminate them. They are perceived as threats to “my/our way of life.”
Therefore, their lives are devalued and considered expendable in an ongoing search for a sense of security and success.
The countering words of Philippians 2:4-5 seem to ring hollow for many American evangelicals today. “Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interest of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus did.”
The constant flow of hostile rhetoric on talk radio, cable television and fact-less social media fuels this ill-defined anger and misdirected resentment and wrongly justifies the projection of blame.
Fear-driven anxiety – that often becomes hatred – grows while any traces of love, peace and empathy diminish.
For many Christians, the life and teachings of Jesus are willingly pushed aside, aiding a redefinition of “Christianity” as merely a political ideology of self-preservation that prefers bitterness, pettiness and projection to reflection, confession and compassion.
The goal is reduced to finding a risk-free, low-cost and comfortable way to live with a sense of security and importance while still bearing the “Christian” label.
The wealth of available resources to counter this tragic shift – including factual information and multiple, clear biblical directives – gets rejected quickly. Otherwise, it would dismantle every well-constructed fort of self-interest and self-pity.
For many, there is a comfortable discomfort to living in this continuing state of quick-to-blame escapism from life’s realities and pleasures. Such living is deeply rooted in anxiety over any possible future that doesn’t resemble a familiar past filled with social favoritism.
All light is snuffed out that might correct this self-defeating approach to life. Even that which is factually provable – if threatening to one’s personal projection project – gets rejected as “fake.”
Truth is considered a worthy sacrifice. It is traded with ease for anything that helps in placing the blame – for whatever emotional state one might be in – on someone or something else. Grief and grievances get reinforced while goodness and growth are stunted.
This is precisely where we are at this moment, with masses of aggrieved white Christians reshaping our churches and impacting the nation. All the while they are pointing accusing fingers at scapegoated mirages.
They sing in unison, “Poor, poor, pitiful me,” rather than “Take my life and let it be.”
Self-victimization and falsely claimed persecution – that cast redirected blame onto easy, vulnerable targets – always result in failed faithfulness to the one whose coming into this world we are to so joyfully celebrate.
He “did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life…” (Matthew 20:28)
It’s time for a different, better tune. Who’s willing to stand and sing?
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.