I confess, at times I judge people by their hats.
We don’t need hats to tell us our society and our churches are plagued with divisions. Divisions are nothing new. They are as old as tribes, as old as us and them.
The first-century Corinthian church was riddled with divisions. Chloe’s people reported to Paul that people were claiming superiority by identifying with certain leaders. Some proudly wore Apollos is Superior hats. Others claimed Cephas (Peter) as the one to follow. Some declared they belonged to Paul. Still others asserted they belonged to Christ.
What can we learn from their turmoil?
In Corinth, wealth and power were important. Your prestige improved when you joined the right group. People puffed themselves up by favoring a particular leader (1 Cor. 4:6). They wanted to be somebody. Don’t we all?
We can guess that the Apollos brand was popular among the educated. In Acts, he is introduced as an eloquent Jew from Alexandria, well versed in Scripture. His fans likely were people who valued a philosophical approach.
Anabaptist scholar Reta Halteman Finger proposes that hierarchical cultural backgrounds played a role in the divisions. She suggests that “fisherman Peter’s adherents were likely lower-class, law-observant Jewish believers. Those who supported Paul may have been his original converts.” Feminist scholars suggest those who insisted on following Christ alone were women of low standing or former slaves. Jesus was their kind of person.
Whatever defined the divisions, they were ripping the church apart. Paul’s response doesn’t sound particularly kind. He sarcastically asks, “Is Christ divided?” “Was Paul crucified for you?” (1 Cor. 1:13). He sharply inquires, “What, after all, is Apollos? What is Paul? Only servants” (3:5). Paul says it’s senseless to put loyalty behind human leaders when compared to Christ. Brands and popular loyalties are fleeting. Christ is here to stay.
It’s easy to long for status and power. It’s easy to fall into factions. Like the Corinthians, we let society shape our faith. Political agendas frame today’s Christianity. Instead of being shaped by Jesus, we are twisted by competing political loyalties.
Buying into a brand is not a neutral act. Remember the Catholic students from Kentucky who were involved in an incident with an indigenous activist at the Lincoln Memorial in January? Some of us judged them by their hats: Make America Great Again. Did their hats communicate misplaced loyalty or racism? Did their hats clash with the teachings of their church? Lest we be too hard on those students, political hats have also been spotted among Mennonite students.
As I child I occasionally attended church with a Holdeman Mennonite neighbor. They called each other “sister” and “brother.” I found this strange. Now I wonder if, instead of letting our thoughts jump to worldly labels, we’d be better off thinking “sister” and “brother.” Could this prevent us from unfairly pigeonholing others?
Do we see each other as children of God, or do we lump each other into categories? Can we take time to hear the stories behind the hats and the proclamations? Can we remember we are brothers and sisters? Can we remember our overarching loyalty is to Jesus?
Now, about my hat from Joetown garage: I don’t think it’s political, unless it’s a call to support local businesses and not big corporations, which of course is the correct Christian position.
Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.