The Sin of Labels, Labels, Labels!

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Have you noticed both inside and outside the Church people feel this need to label each other and others?

Are you a liberal or a conservative? Are you a Democrat or Republican? What generation are you? Are you from the WWII Generation, the Silent Generation, the Boomer Generation, the X Generation (mine), the Millennial Generation?

In matters of faith are you a mainline, evangelical, emergent, post-modern, etc. etc.?

We use labels at times to try to understand others. When we know what certain people teach or believe under a certain label or what causes they stand for it is a shorthand to understanding that, when used correctly, can be of some help.

But for labels to be helpful and have meaning they have to be accurate. They have to be the label chosen by the individual or group and not a label someone else stuck them with. Labels also have to take into account individual variations and differences and the limitation that comes with such a sound byte.

Much of the time labels actually do more harm then good because many labels lead to untrue stereotypes. I’ve heard older generations say that younger generations are not productive or that they are adverse to commitment as a group. I’ve heard younger generations say of older generations that, “you just don’t get us” and you will never understand our perspective. I’ve also seen people say well those Boomers they always…. those XGen people always…. and often the generalizations are not true or only true for some people.

So what often happens with labels is that we dehumanize people we label. We make them less than the individuals God has made them to be. We can peg them with a label we don’t like and dismiss who they are as persons. We can place them in a category and marginalize their hopes, dreams, desires and goals. Labels are about making it “us” and “them” so we can ignore or demonize the “them.”

In my early years I grew up in a faith group that was going through a great deal of denominational internal fighting and turmoil. (That doesn’t even narrow it down, does it? 😉 ) I remember as a young pastor going to meetings and having people try to question me to find out what camp I was in. Whose side was I taking and what label could they put on me? It felt bad, very bad and wrong. It felt hurtful that someone was only going to care about me if I wore the same label they did. If I did not have the same label then they would dismiss me and think less of me.

Ever since I’ve been wary of labels and their dehumanizing influence, be it dehumanizing immigrants by calling them “illegals” or dehumanizing political opponents, or dehumanizing persons of a different ethnic or racial background, or the dehumanizing of someone with a different religious perspective, or dehumanizing the poor by blaming them as a class for the condition of their lives, or even dehumanizing people by classifying them and ostracizing them for their sexual orientation.

When we as Christians participate in the labeling game we forget that God through Jesus Christ loves that person or group that we are labeling. We forget that Jesus died and was raised for that person or group we are labeling. We forget that through the faith of Christ each person in this world is to be as a sister or brother to us. Yes, even that person who you just labeled and that you have decided to stereotype and dismiss as less than you because they are different than you or disagree with you.

In our understand of the sacrament of Holy Communion we regularly say in the invitation to the table, “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another.” That’s right, ALL.

I’ve always liked the way Brian McClaren labeled himself in the subtitle of his book “A Generous Orthodoxy.” Brian said that he was a “missional, evangelical, post-protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, anabaptist/anglican, methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian.”

If I created my own list it would be some what different than Brian’s list of personal labels. But it does remind us that we are all much more than one label. We are all much more than the sum of our labels. We are children of God and that should be label enough for any of us.

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