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.
“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.