Diplomatic Notes

The problem with labels

PLP, FNM, DNA, Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, Progressive, Independent – these are all labels we use to describe each other on the political spectrum. Some of us identify with these labels, some don’t. What do the labels actually mean and can they accurately describe the complex views of our populations? There are many diehard individuals who hold onto these labels and wear them as a badge of honor, and they take them to their grave. For many others, these labels fail to adequately capture the complex views, opinions and positions we have on issues. These labels are also used to divide and marginalize or victimize persons.

The problem with these labels is that many people I know cannot be adequately defined through these terms. My views on some issues would confuse people who have labeled me according to these boxes. I prefer not to describe myself by any label because I am not one to conform to a narrative of any group, because I have something in common or share some of a group’s beliefs. I am not saying individuals are wrong to associate themselves with a label or group. I am saying that this can be problematic and is often inaccurate. These are not the only labels we use. We use labels like Black, white, African American, Bloods, Crips, poor white trash, hood and the list goes on. A label reduces people to a single issue or characteristic and often misses the essence and diversity of people.

Labels often inhibit conversation. For example, if someone says they are democrat or liberal, the tendency is to then assume that they would be pro-abortion, non-religious, in favor of big intrusive government and so on. Republican or Conservative, they may assume are in favor of guns, very religious and not socially conscious. Yet there are many who might have been labeled with these terms who actually see things differently, which may cause some confusion and unfair categorization. I have had many conversations where people have assumed what I believe or what my position is on issues simply because they know that I am a Christian. They make the assumption that Christian, or kingdom citizen, means what they might have seen in the media or heard on a broadcast.

We should be careful of prejudging people because of a label, and listen to the content of their conversation and actually hear their thoughts before drawing conclusions. I remember having a conversation with an individual and they asked what I thought about reparations for slavery. I indicated that I was absolutely in favor of it and they proceeded to tell me that it went against my conservative beliefs. I indicated that I didn’t know I carried the label of conservative and did not know that my beliefs were ascribed to me based upon perceived association or narrative. We then went on to have a conversation based upon the merits of the conversation rather than preconceived notions. I explained that the issue was simple to me: if someone was aggrieved in the past, the offenders had an obligation to correct it if it was in their power. The atrocities of slavery were never corrected, and they should be corrected. It happened long ago – but one group was disadvantaged severely and if it was never corrected, it means that disadvantage still exists, and it needed to be examined to see what could be done to address it fairly.

This is just one example of what can happen when we use labels to put people in corners. I believe it is so important to engage before judging. When you engage, you learn; when you label and judge, you create problems that can become an impediment to fruitful dialogue, interaction and relationship. Be careful of labels and do not let labels define you or those you interact with. Be careful of adopting labels in a blanket fashion. Jesus was labeled because he hung around sinners. He had to correct the Pharisees and let them know that to reach the world, you have to be in the world. He indicated that the well do not need a doctor but the sick do; so, if the doctor does not interact with sick people, he cannot reach them. Jesus crossed cultural and religious barriers to get to the real issues and impact people’s lives in a positive way. Let’s all take a page from Jesus’ book and be careful of labels and being bound to traditions. Sure, you may be associated with a group – but don’t take on labels that people attach to you in blanket fashion. We are all individual and unique and we need to be free from the bondage of narrow labels.

• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to pastordaveburrows@hotmail.com. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.  

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