Each morning, we awaken to another day living in “upside down world.” Few things make sense anymore and you can’t trust much of what you see with your own eyes.
It’s now obvious that a silent war rages over human solidarity.
On one hand, people are incessantly bombarded by efforts to divide us. Nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, sexuality, discriminated groups, minorities, political allegiance, vaccination status, and on and on it goes.
Despite these efforts, people are increasingly realizing they’ve been duped and manipulated. Unifying causes draw ever-increasing supporters, such as: love of country; moral values; defense for those who need help, such as the unborn, elderly, disabled, abused, and trafficked; and justice against those who have harmed others.
Only a few years ago, many of these topics would have felt on the fringe, if not entirely outside the scope of my focus area of Christian living. Some will probably get angry and leave because they don’t like what I’m saying. But I assure you, this is squarely a post about Christian living.
Today, it has become obvious that these individual topics are not merely independent interests that coincidentally produce a similar dividing effect. It is time we wake up and see that division itself is the goal of those who wish us harm.
Everybody knows the saying: “United we stand, divided we fall.” Christians know that Jesus said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Division weakens. The weak are easily defeated.
When Jesus sent out the 70, He told them:
16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
(Matthew 10:16 NKJV)
When it comes to awareness of the human-coordinated evil that surrounds us today, I’ve been as wise as a rock.
Label Love Your Neighbor
Consider afresh the general effect that labels have.
The purpose of labels is to categorize—to group together like items. But categories also divide from the whole.
When we apply a label to a person / people, we are (perhaps unintentionally) dividing them from the whole of all people.
“He’s gay” separates the person from the collection of all humans. “She’s latino.” “The democrats…” “He’s a communist.”
“I’m a Calvinist.”
Whether we agree or disagree with the practice, when society honors specific categories of people (labels), we are simultaneously dividing them from everyone else. For instance, “Black History Month” divides by ethnicity. (There is only one race: human.) At face value, during the selected time period, the practice honors the stories and contributions of people who were born with dark skin. But consequentially, for the selected time period, it separates and deemphasizes the lives and contributions of all who were not born with dark skin.
I’m not belittling or bemoaning Black History Month. I’m merely pointing out that its labeled nature inherently divides.
In many debased cultures, June is now similarly “devoted” to “honoring” LBGTQ people. This has the same dividing effect.
While labels are not inherently bad, they do inherently divide.
Labels → Assumptions
Labels are often used to succinctly describe beliefs, purposes, or doctrines.
This is particularly true regarding religious groups.
I already cited Calvinists. Other examples include:
We could continue forever.
Sometimes, people label themselves. Often, we label others without their permission.
In addition to the inherent division, religious labels create at least two additional big problems:
- We tend to make assumptions about what a person thinks or believes.
- Our assumptions hinder discovery, discussion, and debate about individuals’ specific beliefs.
For example, when someone says they’re a Catholic, we (tend to) automatically and often subconsciously assume they believe a certain set of things. Because we think we know this set of things, we make decisions about what to say or not say, discuss or avoid, ask or not ask.
Because we don’t want to be confrontational or come across as a jerk, we steer clear of discussing topics that may create disagreement.
Conversation → Unity
Whereas labels categorize and divide and discourage dialog, conversation and questions build relationships.
Generally speaking, the more we get to know another person, the better we understand them. We learn about their past and how they arrived at where they are today.
Understanding creates sympathy and empathy. We sympathize and empathize with their struggles. We gain insight into how they view the world based upon their personality and past experiences.
Sympathy, empathy, and understanding create compassion. Compassion creates agape love, desiring what is in the individual’s best interest.
By learning about a person’s background and personality, we often identify similarities between them and ourselves. This often leads to friendship.
All of these things contribute towards a greater bond and camaraderie, sometimes even unity.
How This Works, Practically
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. The principles and philosophy is great, but it only matters when we put it into practice.
Step #1: Retrain yourself to catch labels as they arise.
We’re inundated with labels throughout our day. Watch for them. Have your radar out to detect them, so to speak.
Be mindful that there are people who wish us harm. Watch for their slick moves and mentally catch them. Refuse to play along.
Again, labels aren’t evil, but they’re dangerous if we don’t recognize them.
Step #2: Minimize your labeling of others.
As you practice mindfulness about catching when others use labels, also practice your own judicious labeling of others, as well.
Let your mindset be one that seeks to unify and bring together rather than to separate and divide.
Step #3: Be mindful of the effects of labels.
As you catch labels being used, train yourself to pay attention to their impact upon the situation. Do they help or harm? What might be the person’s motives for applying the label?
Incorporate these observations into your thinking and behavior.
(What I’m NOT Saying)
I’ll close by clarifying what I am not saying, here. I am not saying that labels are useless or evil. They have a purpose and can be helpful.
I am not saying:
- we should accept everyone and anyone as a Christian brother/sister,
- we should ignore or embrace sin,
- there are other paths to GOD besides through Jesus,
- people outside of Jesus aren’t in serious danger of GOD’s wrath.
What I am saying is:
- we need to be attentive to how labels are often used without realizing their impact,
- we tend to make unhealthy assumptions because of labels,
- labels can hinder healthy relationships and discussion,
- we should be cautious and intentional when using labels for people.