Recently, I was invited to speak on a friend’s YouTube channel about Christian values versus American values: are they the same? It was an interesting discussion. Yet, it left me saddened because there is a lost Christian virtue that used to be an American one: other-mindedness.
This is a simple concept. It basically means to consider others in everything you do: from how you treat one another to how your actions affect people. What has replaced this virtue is an emphasis on the self, or what many have called a “me-first” attitude. With a huge educational emphasis on self-esteem, it shouldn’t surprise us that some of those good intentions morphed into self-centeredness and, in the more extreme cases, narcissism.
But as Christians, we are supposed to be counter-cultural. In other words, we should not assume worldly values that oppose Christian values. We are supposed to be different, to go against the flow, swim up-steam, or not get pulled into the current of modern thinking that goes against Christian values.
In the book of Philippians written by the Apostle Paul, he tells Christians what they are to be like:
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Phil. 2:3-4 (ESV)We are supposed to count others “MORE significant” than ourselves? Yeah. You read that right. Click To Tweet
That is exactly the opposite of what American culture often teaches. Today, it’s all about our rights: the right to pursue my own personal happiness, my own expressive individualism… it’s “my way or the highway!”
That’s not being humble at all. Humility is something we all can grow in, and yet our culture celebrates pride. We are not to be full of pride.
Everything we have has been ultimately given to us, even the air that we breathe. Yes, we can work hard to accomplish things in our careers, but even the ability to work hard is a gift. Every good thing comes from God, the giver of it all. We would do well to remember that.
We are also to look to the interests of others. How does that play out practically, in everyday life? How about holding the door open for someone, allowing someone to cut ahead of you in the grocery store line (who only has a couple of items compared to your grocery cart full of stuff), helping an elderly person when needed, and yes, even wearing a mask in public places when you don’t like it or think it’s not effective. (If you can’t wear one due to health reasons, that is okay.) If it makes another person feel safer, then that’s the motivation – it’s the Christian value of looking to the interests of others.
Yet, there are some who refuse to wear a mask or practice social distancing. These people think it is all hogwash. Everyone has a right to their own opinion, but during a pandemic, do we have the right to infringe on another person’s space? There was an unmasked person who forced a hug onto someone else at church, and it was obvious they did not want a hug. The other person stiffened up and tried to pull away unsuccessfully, attempting to practice the safer-distancing guidelines but was unable to because the other person violated that space. Christians—we need to respect other people’s boundaries! If you want to hug someone, ask if it’s okay first.
Let’s go back to what the Apostle Paul said about “counting others more significant.” This virtue is not being practiced in many areas of the country, as the American ideal has replaced this Christian virtue with: “it’s all about my rights!”
Cultural psychologist and author, Michele Gelfand writes: “Our nation’s conflicted responses to the pandemic reflect a broader cultural phenomenon. In a loose culture like the United States, people are simply not used to tightly coordinating their social action toward a common goal and, compared with other nations, we’re more ambivalent about sacrificing our freedom for strict rules that constrain our choices.”
Here’s the point – Christians are Christ-followers first, not Americans. Our actions should be guided by the New Testament. There are no exact guidelines to the specific, modern circumstances we face today, but we can infer how to act by understanding the basic commandments.
“In the midst of this cultural conflict, Christians should adopt Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) as a guiding principle,” stated Dr. Jim Denison, theologian. “Here’s how I understand this command to relate to the pandemic: I always wear a mask whenever I am around non-family members. I am persuaded by the science that says masks protect others and myself, and I want to do nothing to harm my neighbor. If there is even a chance that not wearing a mask could infect others, I choose not to take that chance. And I choose not to give offense to my neighbor (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:32) who believes that my mask-wearing protects them.”
This is being other-minded.
This whole mask-wearing thing is a temporary inconvenience. I don’t like it any more than anyone else, but I will wear one to respect those around me. Remember that “this, too, shall pass.” Once Covid-19 runs its course, the mask-wearing, safe-distancing days of our present time will be behind us, thank God. Meanwhile, please practice the lost Christian virtue of ‘other-mindedness’ as a counter-cultural witness to a ‘me-first’ America.
How are some ways that you practice being ‘other-minded’ in today’s culture?
 Dr. Jim Denison’s daily cultural commentary at www.denisonforum.org. Jim Denison, Ph.D., is a cultural apologist, building a bridge between faith and culture by engaging contemporary issues with biblical truth.