From time to time I may use more words than necessary.
Case and point this 1200+ word post.
I have this tendency to repeat, reiterate and rephrase something a number of times.
A few have said I just like to hear myself talk. They may not be wrong.
I try really hard to choose my words carefully. To be precise and use the word that means exactly what I want.
I don’t often spend much time trying to reduce my word count as it were. Of late, I’ve been finding myself using even more words. Being specific about my motives and expressing my internal assumptions. Being sure that I don’t expect people to just know where I’m coming from but to say it. It’s been a part of me identifying my own privilege and understanding the impact this privilege has on every part of my life.
And in light of all of that, I’ve been thinking A LOT about labels.
Specifically, how we label our faith and how we label Christians.
At times, labels can be helpful, especially when we get to choose our label. When we get to identify who we are and what the means to us. I think labels can be empowering when a group can choose how it wants others to speak about it. It’s a way to give power to people.
Sometimes labels are practical. To identify and give voice to the groups that need attention. Much like the #blacklivematter doesn’t say all lives don’t matter, but that we need to pay special attention to how the black community is being treated.
I often struggle to label myself. I’m a Christian. I am stumbling my way through trying to live a life that, in often small but ever increasing ways, looks like Christ’s. I worry often that I generally suck at it.
So sometimes I say I’m a bad Christian. Because I don’t read my bible enough, don’t have enough faith, or trust God enough, or lean on Jesus enough or any number of other Christian sayings that if I’m entirely honest I don’t know what they mean, other than to know I don’t do them well.
Sometimes I say it as some sort of badge of honour. Distancing myself from “those” Christians. To say in clear terms I’m not like the other Christians you know. If they are “good” Christians than I’m “bad” and hope you think its positive I’m not like them.
And that’s where labels begin to create problems, when I place that label on someone else. When they didn’t’ choose it. When it’s not a practical tool to speak to a give a voice to a group.
Labels are entirely different when that label is placed on someone. When I label others as “those Christians” or if I’m honest far worse. When I’m worried someone will put me in their camp so I make sure to label and distance myself from them. I’m only not just a Christian when I’m making a statement that I’m not one of them.
When someone’s Christian identity is usurped and crafted by someone else, when their identity is defined by a label someone else chooses for them. When I am first a label and second a Christian.
That’s when I really get uncomfortable.
I read posts about Liberal Christians and Conservative Christians, fundamentalists and feminists.
Then I read posts about gay Christians and transgender Christians.
And I’ll let you in on a secret, far too many of these blogs have little positive to say if there is a label before Christian.
Then I wonder why we have so many labels.
Then I think that these labels do more to divide than to unit.
Then I worry that the only unity these labels bring is in making sure to exclude someone else.
Then I worry that we are using our language, intentionally or otherwise, to make a statement about whose in and whose out.
Then I worry that by ensuring we say things like gay Christian rather than just Christian we are being intentional about keeping up barriers.
Then I see us calling out conservative Christians as though they aren’t family.
Then I see us blaming liberal Christians for all the ills of our world.
Then my heart breaks because we fight over these labels.
Then I’m grieved because we start to define the other by the traits we hate most and refuse to see them first and foremost a Christian brother and sister.
We see them as sinful, dangerous, unworthy and we make sure that it comes first, before their identity in Christ. We craft our language to continue to exert power over people. To dehumanize and to ostracize them. The label becomes so much more important than the identity. It doesn’t matter that you’re a Christian, it matters what type.
Because, in the back of my mind, in the depths I let few into, by putting that type in front I can say “we aren’t family. You aren’t like me. We aren’t the same.”
I’m not identified in my church as a “straight Christina”, or any type of Christian for that matter, just as a Christian. Because I’m in. I fit. But you gay/ transgendered/ liberal/ conservative/ progressive/ divorced/ feminist Christian? I’m not sure yet. You don’t get to be just a Christian, not yet. We haven’t let you in just yet.
And I have to stop myself. Because it just seems to make sense. It seems to be important. I want to keep my labels for others. I want to say I am just a Christian, but to hold onto the labels I like placing on other people. I look at a far less than definitive list:
And I think “we need to stop using label x, y, and z” but in my mind see the value and want to keep label a, b, and c.
And as I reflect I see that it’s label a, b, and c that I find myself not identifying with. Those are the others I don’t want as family. Those are the people I want to make sure I’m not identified with.
The ones I judge.
That don’t make my cut.
That in some dark and wholly un-Christ like way want out of the family if they won’t change and be more like me.
If a group that has been missed, oppressed, marginalized and purposefully left out chooses to be identified a particular way, I have zero problem with that. Its label based rhetoric, placed on not chosen that I can’t stand. You can just feel the contempt and judgement in so much of it.
If you want to not simply call your brothers and sisters Christians but insist it needs to be “x Christians”, fine. If it’s important for you and I to pick the part we dislike about someone and make sure we add it to their identity, to put a label we intend to be divisive and to make a statement that’s ok. But I think it’s equally fair for them to believe we are trying to act as Christ and we are actively trying to treat others how we would like to be treated. So they should be affirmed and supported in calling us by what they see as your biggest sin and failing. Perhaps “unloving Christians”, “judgemental Christians”, “oppressive Christians” or “bigoted Christians.”
It’s not so great when we don’t have the power in a situation. It’s not so great when someone else gets to speak about, label and define who we are without our involvement whatsoever.
It’s almost as though labels are only great for the powerful.