These Labels Are Tearing Us Apart

Ok, I’ll be real. We’re the ones tearing ourselves apart. But the labels are a big part of how we’re doing that.

It’s funny. My generation and the generation after it seem to be all about freedom and doing away with labels and restrictions. That’s what I thought. But the reality is, the way we’ve tried to do that is by creating more labels. And we’ve decided some of these labels are good and some of them are bad.

It’s not just one side of the political spectrum that does this. And it’s not just Millennials and Zoomers. We’ve all taken up the habit. Heck, we were all already doing it. There’s just even more emotional baggage behind the labels now, and people have more of an emotional, righteously angered reaction to other people’s labels.

Before I go on, I’ll apologize. I didn’t divide this into an easy-to-read “top 5 reasons labels are bad” format. If you read to the end, you’re a true gentleman/woman (gentleperson?).

Also, in advance, I’m not trying to make a case for or against abortion or any other topic beyond labels.

I just read an article about how less than half of evangelical Christians identify as pro-life. A survey conducted by pro-life organization, Save the Stork, polled 1,000 people online. Twenty-five percent of all respondents identified as pro-life and 40 percent identified as pro-choice. Forty-seven percent of evangelicals (self-identified), 33 percent of “mainline Protestants” and 27 percent of Catholics said they were pro-life.

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All the headlines focus on this divide. But to me, the more important part is this:

“Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they were ‘neither or a mix of both,’ while 7 percent said they ‘don’t know.’…

Although the plurality of respondents that participated in the survey identified as “pro-choice,” only 27 percent said they think abortion should be legal in all cases, while 14 percent of all respondents said that abortion should be illegal in all cases.

Meanwhile, 30 percent of evangelicals, 33 percent of Catholics and 26 percent of mainline Protestants said they were “neither or a mix of both.” … -Christian Post

While many said abortion should be illegal or legal 100 percent of the time, the article goes on to say that a large percentage people who identified as one or the other said they thought abortion should be illegal or legal in “most” cases, not all.

“We throw labels around like it’s nothing when really it’s everything.”

I bring this up because this breakdown of numbers wasn’t focused on in most other articles I read about this topic. The focus was on the difference among Christians and of Christians to the rest of the world.

It’s an example of how we lump people into categories without considering where they’re really coming from. We throw labels around like it’s nothing when really it’s everything.

I’m a writer. Words are important. Language developed because we needed labels to communicate, therefore labels are important too. But language and labels are also powerful. We need to be much more careful how we use them and the kind of emotional weight we decide to ascribe to them in our personal lives and be flexible about our own biases and impressions.

“People are more complex than the labels we put on them to dehumanize them.”

And it’s important to remember, also, that labels require agreed upon definitions for them to have the weight that they do now. We need to examine those definitions in our culture now. We need to examine them in our relationships. We need to agree on those definitions. Then they need to be reapplied as appropriate. Like the terms “racist” or “evangelical” or “freedom” or even “human.” There is some effort for some of these terms, but they’re largely within confined groups and otherwise used and applied with little thought and a surplus of emotion.

Someone could say they’re pro-choice or anti-gun, but it doesn’t mean they’re a far-left evil liberal who doesn’t deserve your time, and just because someone is pro-gun and pro-life doesn’t mean they’re a right-wing bigot conservative (even if they were far right or far left, they’re still humans who need empathy and who have loved ones). People are more complex than the labels we put on them to dehumanize them. It makes them easier to dismiss so we don’t have to wrestle with hard and conflicting ideas and ways of thinking.

I’m not saying there isn’t absolute truth. I’m a Christian, of course I believe there’s absolute truth. Even the word “Christian”, however, is a label, and it’s one that pushes people to conclusions both in and outside of the church. I’ve been dealing with that my whole life, and that’s just with people inside the church trying to smash the word “Christian” and “woman” together and make a cookie-cutter ideal standard female I have to aspire to be.

“Let’s be mindful. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Let’s listen to those we disagree with.”

But in reality, humans are complex. Just because others slap a label on us, or maybe we’ve slapped it on ourselves (which is absolutely your prerogative), it doesn’t mean we can be boiled down to fit exactly into the boxes ascribed to those labels.

This is a bit of a rant post, but it won’t be the last on this topic, I’m sure.

Labels are necessary. I use them. You use them. That’s not bad. But let’s be mindful. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Let’s listen to those we disagree with, or think we disagree with. Because when we listen to that homophobic, racist conservative or that baby-killing, freedom-hating liberal you might just find they’re not those things at all. You might find a human. You might find someone who doesn’t hate the things you thought they hated or doesn’t love the things you thought they loved. Because you listened, you took the power out of the label and empowered yourself and the other person to choose love and discourse and maybe, even, solution.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” James 1:19, NIV

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