This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

The danger of a Christian label

We all use labels to some degree.

Like it or not, we live in a culture that uses labels to help us identify things. Sometimes this can be very helpful. As we navigate the world we live in, labels often provide us a cursory way to navigate the landscape.

However, when it comes to Christian labels, there’s a real danger that we should all be aware of: judging.

The sinful desire to judge others is at the heart and soul of a fallen human condition, because none of us are able to justly and correctly judge someone else. But like any habit, we have a difficult time breaking ourselves from it.

And so, we judge.

We determine who is in and who is out. Who is good, and who is evil. Who is worthy of our self-sacrificial love, and who is not.

If not bad enough to judge people we actually do know, we often judge people we do not know — and we use labels to do it.

Instead of a navigational tool, a Christian label becomes a way to determine who is in and who is out. Who is good and who is evil. Who is worthy of our self-sacrificial love, and who is not.

A human being, made in the image and likeness of God — and who is loved so much that Christ died for them — is reduced, judged and dismissed on the basis of a single word.

On any given day I may be on the giving end of this type of judging, or on the receiving end — as are you. Such is the overwhelming power of the desire to judge others.

The biblical prohibition on judging exists because that is singularly God’s job, and he will do it not by judging by external matters, but by judging what is unseen — the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).

The content of an individual’s heart is something we are not able to see. Instead we arrive at a boundary marker that is off limits except to God himself.

Now, if one were to kick God off his judgement seat and take over, you’d hope that such a person would at least try to do his or her job well . . . but none of us do.

Instead of attempting to search the heart as only God can do, we so often take a word, assign it our own meaning, and then pronounce swift condemnation of another image bearer. Often, we do this in the span of a few seconds.

And this is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of using a word — a label — to judge someone else: it’s a horrible tool at doing the job.

Labels (especially Christian labels) have very little worth, because we each define them differently — causing them to tell one so little about a person.

I’ve had people write me before and tell me that I was going to hell. When I’ve asked why, they’ve replied it is because I am a “progressive Christian” and that this is incompatible with Christianity. A broad label that can be used to mean so much (or so little), is used to reduce me, judge me and condemn me to hell.

But I see this same judgement flowing in the reverse as well.

Statements such as, “person X is _____ (insert judgement) because they are an ‘Evangelical,’ a ‘fundamentalist,’ ” or fill in the blank with whatever label you want. The arrow of judgement based on functionally inadequate Christian labels is an arrow that flies in every direction.

People. Human beings. Bearers of the divine image of God . . .
Reduced and judged by labels that are often so fluid, they’re relatively worthless.

The sinful desire to judge others isn’t something that only fundamentalists do . . . it’s part of the human condition and something we are all quietly addicted to in our own subtle, and sometimes less-than-subtle ways, whether we’re willing to confess it or not.

And so, my prayer for us — including myself who is the worst of all sinners — is that when we see a person and begin to feel the string to our bow pulling back to let judgement’s arrow fly, we’ll remember how functionally worthless a Christian label is when used to judge what only God can judge — the human heart.

Instead, may we resist the powerful urge to determine who is good and who is evil, who is in and who is out, and who is worthy of our self-sacrificial love and who is not, on the basis of a label. Instead, may we strive to see them — as difficult as it may be at times — the way God sees them.

As someone who was created in his image and likeness.
As someone who is loved beyond our comprehension.
As someone Christ gave his life for.
As a someone who is far, far, more than a simple and functionally inadequate “Christian label.”

Ben Corey, a speaker and minister from Auburn, Maine, is the author of Undiluted. This first appeared on his blog, Formerly Fundie, where he discusses the intersection of faith and culture from a progressive/emergent/neo-anabaptist vantage point.

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