DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Labels

Written by: on March 5, 2015

Labels are interesting things. We don’t necessarily like them for ourselves, but we would lost during the course of a day, if everything else didn’t have them. Labels do primarily two things. One in large print, where they identify the object and secondly, in smaller print, it will likely tell you about their contents, that is, what has gone into producing what you see before you. A visit to the grocery story will quickly tell you that the very same big label can have multiple versions of ingredients in the smaller print. They may all look similar, but, each one is distinct. We make a mistake by assuming that the large print tells us everything.

labelingpeople2

“You’re not really talking about bringing them in here are you?! Because if you are, then I’m out!” That’s part of little conversation that took place with Ron (not his real name) about eight years ago. The message that morning was focused on identifying the people who live in the margins of our society. In addition to the generational poor, the unwed mother, embattled addict (name your addiction), we also identified those who now find themselves categorized under the LGBT label.

It’s easy to put large print labels on people; in fact it’s way easier on us as it doesn’t require time, discernment, courage, patience or love. Labels create distance. When their label changes then we can talk again. Unfortunately that’s the way many “Christians” conduct themselves and form their arms length (longer really) opinions to the detriment of the advancement of God’s Kingdom. As a result of the disconnectedness, the life of the message of God is distorted and diminished and almost gives validation to Adrian Thatcher’s statement: “Still worse problems arise when the text of Scripture is assumed to be the Word of God, even when it is clearly and offensively inconsistent with the divine Love revealed in Jesus Christ.” (Loc. 1759-1760)

What Thatcher is concerned about, in her book God, Sex and Gender: An Introduction, is not primarily about what the Word of God says, but how it is promoted from those who claim to represent it. There are inconsistencies, in conduct and character, that have unfortunately caused hurt, anger and resentment toward followers of Jesus Christ and tragically has affected the way some view God Our Father and His Word. That is to our shame and something that we need to own and for which we need to seek forgiveness. For Thatcher, the damage that has been done over hundreds of years, on a sociological level, has changed her hermeneutic, putting culture at the centre and God on the periphery of understanding what the Bible is trying to communicate to all of us. In so doing we have created even more labels for how we view each other.

My response to Ron, was simply this: “We’re not bringing anyone in here. The only reason that someone, even someone with a label you don’t like, will choose to be here, is because of the way in which you and I relate to them where they are. Right now they don’t want to here either, but we can change that because God has created them for His purposes that we have yet to discover. Won’t it be exciting to share that experience.” That response is really about refusing to be blinded by the large print labels we construct or others hide behind. Instead it involves a posture change that requires reading the small print on the back of the label. Taking time to find out what’s really inside; to listen and understand just how all the experiential ingredients of someone’s life has contributed to who they think they are and how they feel.

Is that easy? Absolutely not.

Does it accomplish our tightly constructed church growth plans? Likely not.

“Bridge building is a sustainable friendship, a relationship, a bond, camaraderie, closeness and strong confidence. Truly knowing a gay or lesbian person is learning to discover their social and spiritual selves through mutual respect and trust. Knowing GLBT people is the same as understanding their life from their perspective through their filtration system.”

                                                                – Andrew Marin, Love Is An Orientation (Loc 2440-2442)

 Then why do it, why care about those who wear different labels?

  • Because we share humanity, with a desire to be known and loved by Our God and others. (1 Corinthians 13)
  • Because we share a sin nature and don’t really deserve the love with which Our God relentlessly pursue us. (Romans 3:22-24; John 3:16)
  • Because we share this feeling that our lives are worth more than the world often tells us or that we try to achieve from it. (Ephesians 2:10)
  • Because we also struggle with the tensions between honouring God and succumbing to our own temptations. (Romans 7:15-25)
  • Because we take seriously the privilege of being ambassadors for Christ: extending the love of God, just as Jesus did, taking the time, strengthened in courage, using discernment and wisdom to genuinely, authentically love, even those who wear a different label. (2 Corinthians 5:14-19)
  • Because my label isn’t: Pastor, Teacher, Man, Husband, Father, Heterosexual or Brown Guy; my large print label is: child of God (John 1:12-13) and I want that for others too.

Fast forward a few years to a conversation which I initiated with Ron: “I’d like to thank you for being part of helping someone come to a place of healing and resolve in their relationship with God.” I then went on to tell them how this man, Kent (not his real name), came to me after losing his job and his marriage and confessing his same sex relationships. Over a period of many months we met together to examine some of the small print on his label. At a certain point, he asked if I thought it would be safe for him to come to our church service. I did and then he did. Every so often I’d see Kent, and then more regularly. Interestingly enough, he became “Sunday-morning” friendly with Ron. Godly irony to be sure as I watched this unfold over a few months. The short version is, unknowingly these two people learned to view each other, not from a distance, by the outer large print labels, but from God’s perspective and in so doing they helped each other recover something that was lost in each of them.

Not every story happens like that, to be sure. Some relationships have stopped; some have been lost; but thankfully God is also active in continuing to do this same kind of work in the lives of others in the land of large print labels.

  • What needs to change in you in order to demonstrate genuine care to those you would typically keep a large-print label distance from?

*Chapter 10 of Love is An Orientation provides excellent ways to change posture, reframe questions, and demonstrate genuine care. I’d write more if I had the time and space.

About the Author

mm

Deve Persad

8 responses to “Labels”

  1. Deve…
    So … here is the invitation and the space (by replying) to write more …. (sneaky how I did that, right?).

    But before you hit the reply button, I want to express how much I appreciate your insight on labels, both the big and the small ones we put on people. You asked about change (you always have great questions, by the way), what needs to change to demonstrate genuine care? One of the things needed in change is an example of what you have provided, the foundation you are cultivating in your story of “Ron.” It reminds me of what Marin talked about concerning fear. Fear is crippling. He suggests the way around fear is to ask and listen (162). It requires listening to our own fears and how we might project those fears toward others and how we might be responding out of fear.

    So about that writing more….. I am listening 🙂

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Thanks for the invitation Carol…these readings are obviously addressing issues that challenge some deeply held beliefs which have likely had very little opportunity to be deliberated or refined. It’s actually surprising to me, how many different people have written about the fact that sex, sexuality and gender were subjects no discussed at home or at church. What that leads me to believe is that we’ve been told what to think rather than taught how to think – and the results have not been favourable. Now, I’m fairly far over on the conservative side of my beliefs, however, the Lord has taught me the benefits of listening and learning from the perspectives of others – there is so much to be gained. What I have come to realize in most conservative circles however, is that there is reluctance or resistance to voicing those opposing views. As it relates to this subject area, one of the other conversations that “Ron” and I had was about my proposal to have a “Wear Your Sin” Day – a day when everyone would wear a sign and on the sign would be written the label of the sin you are struggling with or hiding. It was a joke, but it make a point. …Anyways, there a little more, thanks for the opening…

  2. Deve,

    This is your best post yet! And they are all excellent!

    The labels we put on people are indeed important. But the ones we take the time to read, especially the fine print, are essential if we are to ever understand and love as God does. The problem is that often we don’t take the time to read anything since we are so busy writing labels for everyone!

    I always read your posts as pastoral epistles. This one was especially helpful. I love the stories of Ron and Kent. Yes, God’s irony — that is beautiful. Thanks for sharing that story.

    I have been in process on this topic for a long time, battling with what the Scriptures say and what love says. This week’s reading was very helpful for me. It helped solidify some important decisions that my wife and I need to make about church. I will talk about that more at another time, maybe in person in Hong Kong. Suffice it to say for now that this week’s readings and your post have been instrumental in helping us make some very important decisions. Thank you, my friend!

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      The sad truth is just what you’ve stated, Professor – we don’t take the time to read because we’re too busy writing labels for others. There are some parameters where love and holiness are concerned that, as followers of Jesus, we must be diligent about upholding. However, those parameters didn’t prevent Jesus from engaging all facets of His community. The task is not easy, but it is increasingly important in our rush to judgment world. I look forward to talking with you again about these and other matters.

  3. mm John Woodward says:

    Deve, a beautifully written and highly encouraging post on a challenging (and often messy) topic. I especially appreciate your “defense” biblically for caring for people with a different label…which really seems to me such basic Christianity. I just completed a training session for a group going to Romania, and I always hit hard the idea of loving each other (within their team) as one of their greatest witnesses as they work overseas (people will be watching). As we ready 1 John and other passages, it always strikes me that the simplest and most straight forward teachings of the Bible (love each other, accept others as God accepted you, forgive, etc.) are the least practiced by most Christians. How then do move Christ-followers to not only take time to look beyond labels but practice “basic Christianity”? If we can’t be faithful in the small things (basic love), how will we ever get to dealing with really loving others who are not like me? God has a lot of work to do on His people!
    Thanks Deve for a wonderful post!

  4. mm Deve Persad says:

    I really like what you’re doing with your mission teams, John, and the emphasis that you’re placing on loving each other. I’d be interested in seeing some of that material, if you’re able to share it. The issue of “love” is so complex that we often abuse it to fit our own needs; to look afresh at it from God’s perspective would do whole congregations well, not just their mission teams. Increasingly our society is become a “mission field” around us and we need to re-learn how to engage it purposefully.

  5. mm rhbaker275 says:

    Deve,
    Thanks, I always have some great take-away from from your posts.

    Your thoughts on labels speak to the truth of the injustice that is so often perpetrated through labeling. Labels is a part of our consumerism – we read the big label without really looking at the content. Unfortunately, the labels placed or people have been placed there by others often through bigoted bias. You make a great comment, “Labels create distance.” Very insightful! I had not thought of that concept, but it is true; because of labels we often don not get close enough to experience the relationship that is possible. Labels are exclusive; we need to learn to “read” people through inclusive, open relationships.

    You ask, “What needs to change in you in order to demonstrate genuine care to those you would typically keep a large-print label distance from?” We are challenging our congregation to care for another – outside any possibility of an exclusiveness that is looking within ourselves or our “little-tight-knit” fellowship. To do so we seek to go where others don’t go and position ourselves where others do not.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Thanks for the input Ron. I like the sounds of what your congregation is looking to do: seeking “to go where others don’t go and position ourselves where others do not.” That kind of approach sounds very similar to some of the emphasis that we have been challenged with as well. The upside is in, as we increase our vision, beyond the walls of the our buildings into the community, we place ourselves within God’s promise that He will take care of “building the Church”. I’ll look forward to hearing how this unfolds in our congregation and will be praying for lives to changed as a result.

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