Can I be honest? I’m frustrated with the labels hoisted upon me. I have always sought to be a person who embraces the beautiful complexity of humanity. I try not to be pinned down to one camp or agenda; I believe wholeheartedly that the community of faith necessarily includes my opposite. Thus, I am wary of attaching labels to my faith or my ministry. Jesus is bigger than our labels and I try to follow His example. Sadly, I continually find that others try to force me into certain theological boxes. Without consultation or question, labels are put on me. Two instances stand out.
I participate in an online forum with other spiritual writers. In one conversation, the moderator stated how he enjoyed our fellowship “as progressive Christians.” This statement halted me. In that moment I found myself asking a series of questions: Why did that label have to be inserted? Would I be welcomed if I were not a progressive Christian? My biggest question was, “Can’t we just love Jesus together?” I asked these questions because “progressive” is not a label I use for myself. Thus, it stung when someone attempted to force this label upon me. I felt unseen. I felt as if my voice, and the nuance of my faith, was both unvalidated and unwelcome.
The second instance occurred a few days later. I was speaking with friends about matters of theology when it was remarked that my “evangelical sensibilities” were at odds with my denomination. I’m sorry, my what? Like I did a week earlier, I bristled at the label so carelessly plastered over me. Who decides what sensibility characterises my viewpoints? Like “progressive” the term “evangelical” is not one I use to describe myself. I find it to be a loaded term, one that carries theological baggage I wish not to associate myself with. Today, the term commonly refers to the type of Christianity mired in nationalism, racism, and intolerance. Of course, that wasn’t what my friend meant – which proves the point. Labels, ultimately, have no value.
Labels are a fickle thing. They do not describe what, or whom, they are intended to describe. Instead, they speak only of preconceptions, assumptions, and judgements. Is anyone truly the label they are associated with? If I’m not progressive enough for the progressives, or evangelical enough for the evangelicals, what does that make me?
Labels create divisions. They drive us away from one another. They make us believe that the Kingdom of God is reserved for the like-minded. This is not faithfulness, it is pride. Labels force us into simplistic classifications designed only to list who is “in” and who is “out.” Labels demean and dehumanise. Whenever we label someone, we deny Christ’s image within them.
To label another, therefore, is to step outside the way of Jesus. After all, Jesus defied all labels and called his followers to do so as well. The kingdom is always bigger than how we classify it. A Roman centurion can be a person of faith; a blind beggar may see more clearly than others; a pharisee may be far from the kingdom; the king of heaven rules from a cross. The way of Jesus is the way of un-labelling.
Can we look past the selfish attempt to pigeonhole each other? I hope so. The community of faith will never survive if labels form the basis of our fellowship. As Paul remind us, the community that follows Christ is one where “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything” (Galatians 6:15). If we were to extend Paul’s argument today, we might add that neither are the monikers of liberal or conservative, progressive, or evangelical; all are vain and pointless in Christ’s kingdom. What matters is the new creation. The only thing that counts is faith in Jesus, and love for one another. May this be the road we all walk together.
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