Although it was many years ago, I can remember very vividly the first time a label was attached to me. A trusted friend of several years decided to send a letter to my elders and label me with exaggerated accusations with the intention of influencing them to fire me. The labels and explanation that went along with them were inflamed by the writings of preachers in the brotherhood who have made a living out of attacking others through books and papers. I have forgiven this good brother, but the sting was pretty deep and I haven’t forgotten that feeling.
Labels hurt because they paint with too wide a brush. When we classify people with labels we are often including traits and characteristics that are untrue of the person labeled. People are complex enough that seldom does a label really mean much.
Labels hurt even though we use them without thinking. I made reference to a ‘conservative church’ in a recent conversation. The person I was speaking with asked me what that was. I struggled a bit with a response because I realized that this term will mean different things to different people. It’s too generic to be meaningful and to use it without consideration is lazy of me … and I am sorry that it is a part of my nomenclature.
Labels hurt because they are lazy. As I just confessed, it’s easier to slap a label on someone than to get to know them. We can do this based on appearances, questions about certain doctrines, or even what religious group someone belongs to. I’ve heard people make assumptions about the lives of other people that are totally wrong. Being in my position as a minister and confidant, however, I was unable to correct their misguided attempts to classify people in unflattering ways. If they only knew the hurts that person was dealing with on a daily basis! It takes a lot more effort to get to know someone and to understand where they are coming from.
Labels hurt because they serve to divide and push away. Perhaps it is true that we can use labels as a means to camaraderie, but I think more often they are a means to say that someone is unacceptable or to be rejected because they hold a certain belief or practice. Labels do not address the whole person, and they do not address degrees of belief or behavior. As such they unnecessarily push people away.
Labels hurt because they ignore the Golden Rule. We learn the golden rule as children, but often neglect it in our grown up relationships with others.
The truth is none of us like to be labeled. It insults us because it reflects that someone has made assumptions about us that may not be true. I think if we consider how it feels to be labeled by others … that may make us pause before we label someone else. Especially a brother or sister in Christ.
Thanks for reading, John.
Some other friends wrote posts on this same subject. Check them out: