Pigeonhole (definition): “A neat category which usually fails to reflect actual complexities” (Webster’s 9th Collegiate Dictionary).
I was in a gathering once at which two young ladies were comparing their traumatic experiences. Both had been robbed or held up. I forget the circumstances, but I do remember something that struck me as strange in their descriptions. The first had been robbed, but the second had been robbed by a “black” man. Now I don’t mean to make light of their horrible experiences, but it struck me as strange that being robbed by a black man seemed to add to the trauma.
We “pigeonhole” people; it is comfortable. We can instantly draw certain conclusions about people we meet if we know what category or categories to place them in. It saves having to get to know them. We’ve all done it and we all do it. Sometimes it is helpful; often it is not.
And pigeonholing is not done solely according to race, although that is a favorite, probably because it is easy to spot a person’s skin color. We categorize people by their age, place of birth, height (Remember the song about “Short People”?), occupation, financial status, education, political party, religious affiliation, etc., etc. The list is endless.
I’ve been pigeonholed. “You think that way because you’re a Yankee” (I’ve lived in Texas 40 years). If I state my opinion on a particular political issue, I’m immediately told that I hold the opinion because I’m a Democrat or a “liberal” or, even occasionally, a Republican.
Once, when I was a pastor, the accusation was leveled against me: “You don’t preach the gospel!” The reason given was that I taught the doctrine of election, (I had preached on the 9th chapter of Romans) “and if you preach election, then you’re a Calvinist, and if you’re Calvinist then you can’t preach the gospel!” My pigeonholer had placed me in a category and then placed every one in that category in a tighter category. My protests (just because Calvin and I agree on some biblical issues doesn’t make me a Calvinist) were of no avail.
Another way of categorizing people is by personality or temperament categories. If a person has certain personality traits, he or she is a “phlegmatic,” or a “choleric” or some other. Then, because that person is now pigeonholed, we can expect certain behaviors from them.
As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t find Jesus thinking or acting like this. His circle of followers and friends was broad and included persons of various ethnic, political and religious backgrounds. He dealt with people as individuals, not as members of any particular group.
The only exception that I can find is the religious people – the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:13-33). But even here it was their behavior, not their “denomination” that Jesus condemned. They held to a high religious code externally, and demanded strict adherence to the code from their followers, yet they themselves inwardly were disobedient to that code. They were hypocrites, though in this group Jesus did find some individuals to commend. He even told one scribe, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34) and had Pharisees as disciples (John 19:38, 39).
Jesus told us not to judge, or we will ourselves be judged by the same standard (Matthew 7:1-5). Though there’s much more to this passage, I believe that our pigeonholing of others is often nothing more than sinful judgment!
Perhaps one of the reasons we pigeonhole others is that we fit comfortably in our own pigeonholes. We can use them as excuses for not changing our behavior. I believe there is one category that we should seek to be placed in: the category of a disciple of Jesus Christ (John 13:35).