Monday, July 17, 2006

Truth in Labeling

If you spend much time interacting with those who have different opinions than your own, you've no doubt been charged with "labeling." At a certain point in the discussion, someone will say, "You're just labeling me." It's meant to stop the debate, basically. How can you go on making your point and advancing your argument when you have to go down this rabbit trail and deal with this vague idea of "labeling"? In most cases, you can't.

A number of people don't like to be "labeled." They think it is somehow demeaning and a form of name-calling. It's true that some who label others may be mean and demeaning, but it doesn't have to be that way. And it doesn't have to be name-calling, either.

Why do we label? Why do we call others (or ideas) "conservative," "liberal," "fundamentalist," "post-modern," "Arminian," "Calvinist," or any number of other things? Because it's inevitable. We were created by God with the ability and responsibility of naming ("The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field" - Gen. 2:20). Another word for what Adam did is "labeling." Created in the image and likeness of God, we classify and distinguish both people and things - we can't help it, in fact. Jesus Himself labeled. In Matthew 23:13, He said, "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites."

When we label - and we will - we need to keep three points in the forefront of our thinking: 1st: Is it accurate? 2nd: Is it fair? 3rd: Is it being used to marginalize or manipulate?

I don't mind, for example, being labeled as a Calvinist. It's accurate and true. However, I do mind being called a hyper-Calvinist because it's neither accurate nor true. I also don't enjoy being labeled a Calvinist when it's used to ridicule me or dismiss me summarily. Nobody else would enjoy those things, either, so I need to be careful I don't do it. By the way, when someone charges you with "labeling," they are labeling you as a labeler, which means that they're guilty of labeling, too.

Truth and accuracy in labeling, therefore, is what we ought to shoot for before the face of God.


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