Pushing labels, rejecting labels

We have tendencies to get people “slotted” into our categories so we decide quickly if they are “in” or “out” to us.

Are they “progressive” or “conservative.” Are they from the city or the country? Do they use plastic straws? “Pro life” or “pro choice”?

Chick-fil-A or Popeye’s?

The important stuff.

The word “evangelical” is that way. It has theological meanings but over the past few years it’s become a political hand grenade.

Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales, has a podcast I love because they will take about half the show to bat around current events and current church events and discuss them as folks who are theologically evangelical (for the most part) but reject the political handles attached to “evangelical”. Phil usually has Skye Jethani with him and then occasionally Christian Taylor. In the second half of the podcast Skye will interview someone on a current topic or recent book.

Phil is ADHD all the way so he is full of energy and slides in his particular sense of humor and make snide remarks even in a serious discussion. The discussions can be fun and serious all at the same time.

This particular podcast is worth the listen, especially in the first half, because the three of them again get into the basic timeline of Christian theological labels over the last century and what that means right now. They have their struggles with how to respond to particular issues and they will readily admit they don’t have things nailed down. I found it refreshing because it is close to how I feel a lot of the time.

Skye begins a two-part interview in the second half of the podcast that is also worth your time. It is with an author who does research and talks about the current generation and what he calls “resilient discipleship.”

I am trying to “slot” people too often. It’s an easy mental exercise and it keeps me from having to wrestle with how I treat people. It’s convenient. When I am trying to shove away labels in my own life, the great temptation is to simply slot people, which they will do with me in kind. It’s a constant battle for me and I am in constant repentance!

One particular “slot” that I have been thinking about lately is “pro life”. It’s been a wrong label for a very long time. When I say something that even sounds remotely kind about a Democrat, the old political evangelical mindset will pop up. Someone will say, “Well, that will make the pro abortion people happy.”

Labels.

The truth of the matter is when it comes to this issue, I want to be PRO life… and for me that’s a theological and ethical determination. The problem is that term is simply a political ideology. As is “pro choice.” They are political labels for hand grenades to toss in a room and let things blow up.

My ethical wrestling has to push me beyond what that means politically and the simple task of who I vote for in an election. It means I must constantly wrestle with what brings LIFE into a situation and advocate and work for that LIFE. There is no political party that gets this right 100 percent of the time so I must be willing to work across every political label to keep being truly “pro” life.

So, what I prefer is “whole life ethic” or “consistent life ethic.” It’s a concern for life from womb to tomb. It’s not just about abortion. It’s about human flourishing all along the way. It’s about the child and their living conditions and education. It’s about poverty and job conditions. It’s about immigration and how we treat the “other.” It’s about end of life issues as well. It’s about the death penalty and ending it’s use as well.

So, while I like labels in slotting others, I have to keep denying their use. It is necessary because I hate those labels in my own life. Our thinking needs to be far more complex and nuanced than the slots we create. Yet, complex thinking is what we refuse to engage in with our lives and how we treat others.

I ask forgiveness for the labels I try to slap on others. I ask for grace to keep pushing my own thinking and belief. I ask for the power of the Spirit to help me keep working on what it means to be consistent in my life ethic. In all of it, may the Lord continue to bring kingdom flourishing in me and through me.

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