The Convenience and Dehumanizing Nature of Labels

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HelloMyNameIsLabels are the easy way out. They are more a matter of convenience and laziness than they are actual work at having a real and meaningful discussion. Labels shoot right over having to actually listen to someone and their unique perspective, assuming you already have them figured out. There is a certain arrogance when it comes to labels because it assumes that you are not to be labeled but it is perfectly fine to do it to anyone else you please. It is hard to label and not simultaneously be disrespectful on some level…as we demand to be understood in full but refuse to give that honor to the other.

Labels dehumanize, often very subtly. Once you put a label on someone, you can more easily dehumanize them. They aren’t a mother or a father or a child of God…they are a Legalist or a Progressive. They are a “proof texter” or someone who has “no respect for the authority of Scripture.”

If you really want to communicate with someone…to understand and be understood…it is important that we avoid approaches that don’t typically result in that actually happening.

Love and labels don’t play well together. It is hard to Love and Label at the same time because love recognizes the loveliness of the person-hood of the other person. Love has at its core a genuine desire for the well being of the other…labels do not. Labels are like a poor reflection in a mirror…once you put it between you and them you will never see them accurately again. Where there are Labels they will fail…but where there is Love there is more the possibility of knowing and being fully known. Progressive, Conservative, Legalist and all the rest will all fade away but Love will last forever for it is greater than all of these.

Last, there is a difference between describing an approach or an idea than describing a person. For example, there is such a thing as a progressive idea or legalistic approaches to the text, and all the rest. The healthier way to frame the discussion is to describe ideas with accurate terms rather than label a person as whatever is the most convenient label you can find to not have to listen to them any more.

8 Responses

  1. If one cannot “label” or “describe” an apostate, what alternative is there? Are we not charged by James to “turn back the one that strays from the truth?” And what are we to say to Jude, the Lord’s brother in the flesh, when he so “un-lovingly labels” apostates as: “Hidden Reefs”
    “Clouds without Water” “Doubly Dead Trees without Fruit” “Wild Waves of the Sea” and “Wandering Stars?” (Jude 12 – 13) One can lovingly describe the apostate in order to “bring him back.” Jude did and so should we.

    1. We can clearly say something is immoral or that someone is engaged in immorality or that someone has rejected the Lord…just make sure that really is the case before you throw stones. Instead, what I often see is people saying those things of people who are still following Jesus and devoted to Christ but who have a different view on one of a myriad of issues.

      Isn’t it interested that in all of Paul’s letters he starts off by calling the people he is writing to the “church in…”. Then you read about how messed up their worship, theology and doctrine was…and yet they were still the church. People label an apostate so quickly today…Paul would be a-pauled.

  2. I have been told that most everyone has some good in them. If that is insufficient then remember that the person is a human too. Too often the harshest labels are applied to liberals, the young, and heretics. How many people really know the definition of a liberal or a heretic? Jesus was a liberal. Plenty of Christians were declared heretics. How many truly were?

    I heard a priest explain the parable of the tares in great detail. The weeds were “false wheat” which looks and grows just like real wheat. It just won’t head.

    Be careful trying to pull out the false wheat as you’ll pull up the real wheat. He used it to say be careful of going on a witch hunt as it rarely ever gets rid of the real witches,

  3. Great article Matt. Perhaps, it is also important to avoid self labeling? I do think that sometimes the “labels” are less harsh than their alternative? Likely, the people trying to avoid calling a group or person “progressive” or “traditional” is probably going to be tempted to say worse? Idk

  4. What about those who put labels on themselves, ostensibly to politicize their assumed identity and to have something to hide behind and/or shut down the discussion? I find the use of labels in this context to be very disquieting.

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