I remember when my father got his first label maker. It was a long time ago and the labels it produced were the thick plastic kind with raised letters. Unlike contemporary label makers that actually print, this maker was really a crimper. The label was produced by crimping the plastic band to produce raised letters. In the process the coloration of the plastic was removed on the letters – thus raised white letters on a colored band. At the time it really was cool. Fortunately, my father resisted the temptation to label everything… though he did label a lot of things… a lot of things.
Labeling has a certain function of course. It allows things to be identified easily. We label a file so that its contents can be known at a glance. We label a bin so that we can know what’s in it without opening it. Some people label shelves or cabinets to prevent others from placing things in them that are forbidden. We label things to identify their owner.
Labels are potentially useful, very useful.
They can also be very useful in categorizing people. Followers of Jesus were first labeled Christians in Antioch. This was because the church there was comprised of mostly Gentiles who had embraced Jesus as Lord and Messiah – calling them Jews would not work. A new label needed to be created, and it stuck. Labels are very useful in identifying and categorizing; Christian, Liberal, Gay, Calvinist, Egalitarian… are labels.
Labels are also potentially dangerous, very dangerous.
They can be very dangerous in categorizing people when those assigning the label wield them – not as a shortcut, but as a weapon; when they are assigned out of laziness; when they are assigned based on secondary or even tertiary issues. Labeling is the ally to all who practice Guilt by Association.
We all do it. We all label. Sometimes we do it correctly, sometimes we do it incorrectly. Some however are more consistent in their misuse of labeling than others. Some excel at weapon-labeling and for them it is not a tool as much as it is a first step… a step from which all other steps must proceed.
This was recently illustrated to perfection through two different exchanges between select writers here and self-proclaimed discerners, both of which took place on the sites of the latter. I say self-proclaimed so as to be clear this is not a label I have assigned to them, they have done so themselves.
The thing that was interesting about both of these cases, even though the labelers come from wildly different scenarios, was the consistency of using labels as weapons, the lack of logic, lack of thought and… well lack true discernment. This is where I venture into speculation – I speculate that labeling has become short-hand because it is easier than actual thought, it is easier than actual research. It is easier to connect the dots of guilt by association (even if such association does not really exist), then label. And once the label has been applied – it matters not what the person actually says, does, or believes. The label has been applied – the case is closed. Don’t bother with what is actually in the bin or folder, just label it. Don’t bother discussing or researching or getting to know what a person believes or does – just label them.
For example: In one of the conversations I was labeled as unsaved, Emergent, a follower of a false Jesus and anti-Semitic. There are more, but these will suffice.
I am anti-Semitic because I advocate a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine.
Never mind that I never said anything against any Semite and even affirmed Israel’s right to exist.
I am unsaved because I disagree with someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit.
Never mind my profession of faith, my reliance on God’s grace, my repentance, my faith experience of God’s grace… all were summarily dismissed – the Holy Spirit never disagrees with himself, and we disagreed, therefore I have not the Holy Spirit. I must admit I admire the logic: “I am filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit never disagrees with himself. Therefore, by disagreeing with me you prove you have not the Holy Spirit.”
Apply label – unsaved!
I am Emergent because I referenced a common faith, a faith shared with said Holy Spirit believer.
This I found comical, since the reference was not to some interreligious experience, or even interdenominational ecumenicalism – it was a reference to the shared faith between the discerner and me. I was attempting to establish common ground in Christ. The use of the phrase “common faith” was enough for me to be labeled.
I follow a different Jesus because I refused to label someone else as “Not a Christian.”
This became the crux of the matter. Even though I laid out exactly what I believe, even though my beliefs are thoroughly orthodox and biblical, even though these beliefs were never addressed or disagreed with – I follow a different Jesus based on guilt by association, based on connecting the dots, based on being labeled. Never mind that all I did was refuse to label someone else, who I do not even know.
We also practice hypnotism.
Never did figure out what that was based on.
When I pressed for an answer as to which of my very detailed beliefs the discerner found lacking… I was referred to the story of the disciples brushing the dust from their feet. This and other examples of the misuse of Scripture in the labeling process could easily be another post in and of itself. This tactic is used because discernment is not the goal, answers are not the goal, knowing is not the goal – the label is. Above all else, the label must be defended.
Other writers experienced similar labeling, mostly based on equally shallow, tangential, and irrelevant criteria. I chalk it up to laziness, joy in hostility, and a false-discerning attitude.
The point is this. Labels are very useful tools; when applied properly and with a little thought and research. They can also be hurtful, inaccurate and sin; when they are applied flippantly and in spite of reality.
Labels are useful in defining the contents of a bin or folder; they are useful in categorizing and identifying people. But they are worthless and worse when one applies a label without looking into the folder or bin first. They are even worse when they are applied in direct contradiction to the contents of the same.
Let us all learn from the abuse of labels and use them wisely and apply them accurately.
I have left out the names of the discerners and their sites because they are not the point. I prefer it remains that way.
UPDATE: Since this has run its course, and it was pointed out that without links the facts cannot be checked I am updating the post: the sites that labeled us using shallow, tangential, and irrelevant criteria are Rapture Ready. and Discerning the World.