An outlier is a person or thing differing from all other members of a particular group or set.
When I was fairly little, I would hear a lot of sermons about being a Christian in general – gifts of the Holy Spirit, Fruit of the Holy Spirit, as well as the teachings of Jesus such as the Sermon on the Mount. But as I grew older, the messages, and the emphasis changed. I began to hear a lot of sermons about being a Christian more specifically in the family unit – biblical manhood and womanhood as well as gender roles. It didn’t take long before I got into the habit of ignoring what was being said – after all, the general teachings are for everyone no matter what stage they are in life; but what can you do if the specific teachings do not fit your current stage in life? Most of the time the usual answer was: “You will need to know this stuff when you are married, so you ought to learn it even though you’re single.”
An outlier is a person or thing situated away or detached from the main body or system.
Jesus was something of an outlier – the debate goes on as to whether or not he ever married, but tradition holds that he was single. He didn’t do what other rabbis of his day and age did; he didn’t wait for disciples to ask him let them to follow him, instead he called and chose his disciples even if they weren’t exactly disciple material (learned men from wealthier families.) His ministry was not to the rabbis, teachers of the law, scribes, Saducees, or Pharisees – but to everyone else, the poor, the prisoners, the outcasts, the ill, and to everyone else who would listen. Jesus was an outlier who ministered to the outliers; yet the religion named for him often marginalizes it’s own outliers for failing to live up to their expectations.
The thing is – what you believe shapes how you treat people. If you believe that the fullest expression of Christianity is as a spouse and parent, then anyone who chooses not to to live as a spouse and parent is not living out the fullest expression of Christianity. Do they merit the same treatment as those who do? While Christianity teaches that everyone is equal and ought to be treated with dignity, it doesn’t always work out that way. Quite a few people complain about being given the third-degree about their relationships from Christians who then give them resources on how to live biblically so that they can fix whatever went wrong. This is the attempt to push outliers back into the mainstream experience; by getting them married (or re-married) so that they can live out that fullest expression of Christianity. Do they every stop to ask of that’s what’s best for the individual? No. To them, living out the fullest expression of Christianity is best for absolutely everyone and there are no exceptions.
Rachel Held Evans once wrote: ““Yes, but Jesus STARTED with the ‘outliers … If it doesn’t work for them, it doesn’t work.”” I think we have to admit that there’s a lot about Christianity that just doesn’t work for the never-married singles, single parents, widows, widowers, and divorced people especially with the specific emphasis on gender roles and biblical manhood and womanhood. However, the general teachings – gifts of the Holy Spirit, fruit of the Holy Spirit, and the Sermon on the Mount work for everyone. We need to recover Jesus’ message that works for the outliers and the mainstream believers in the church. We need to stop separating out people according to life experience and gender. We need a Christianity that works … for everyone.
An outlier is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. People who are outliers are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of the population. Via Malcolm Gladwell.