Have people ever assumed something about you because of who you associate with or what your interests are? Usually it’s harmless. There is after all such a thing as a fair assumption. There times though that it’s not harmless, when an association becomes a label and assumptions cause unnecessary division and pain. This happens a lot in the realm of Christianity.
The word “Christian” comes with some fair assumptions. If someone is a Christian it is fair to assume that they believe in Jesus, hold the Bible at least a little higher than most books, and have some concern for others. If a “Christian” doesn’t hold any of these values they should not be offended in explaining their views in light of these things. These days, though, the word “Christian” comes with a lot of unfair assumptions most of which are not groundless because there are Christians who represent them. There are some Christians, however few they may be, who have spoken with a loud enough voice to become representatives of the Christian faith and yet they do not share the views of most Christians. They are often very extreme versions of what most Christians believe. For example, enough Christians have spoken out against homosexuality to create an unfair assumption about all Christians; Christians hate gays. In fact, not all Christians even believe homosexuality is wrong let alone hate gays. There is a large movement of Christians defending gay rights and from a biblical perspective as well. But wherever they go it will be assumed of them, as long as they claim Christ, that they hate gays. Another example would be abortion. Enough Christians have spoken out against abortion in inappropriate ways that Christians are assumed to have hatred toward people who would get an abortion. Christians have protested outside of abortion clinics, held photos of dead babies outside of public events, and some have even gone as far as to bomb abortion clinics. There are in fact Christians who have stood up for women’s choice on these matters. But wherever they go it will be assumed of them, as long as they claim Christ, that they hate abortion.
The other day my sister who is back home for the summer said to me “it’s ok to be gay… no matter what they teach you at that Christian school.” Now there are several assumptions being made. First, that my school has taught me that homosexuality is wrong. Second, that that education is bias and therefore is wrong. Third, that I have accepted what my school has attempted to teach me. Now if you’ve read my blog before you know that I have convictions about homosexuality. But I have not neglected to think thoroughly through the issue and my convictions about how the Church has treated the gay community are far heavier than my convictions about homosexuality itself. This issue is close to my heart and to be labeled so quickly as an opponent to homosexuality without being heard on the subject was hurtful. Now there is a barrier between us grounded on misunderstanding. And that is just what a label does. It produces barriers and misunderstanding. Why would she want to hear what I really think about the issue if she believes she already knows what I think? It is this kind of assumption which has brought us to such a time as the present; where Christians are labeled opponents of homosexuality. This is a very small example.
Christians are not just being labeled… they’re doing their own labeling. Christians pick and choose their enemies labeling each one. Anything that comes from a “secular” (this is a label in itself) source is labeled as unreliable. If a Buddhist, a Mormon, a Pagan, a Muslim, a Jew or anyone else who doesn’t claim Christ has any wisdom to provide Christians are taught to avoid it or question it more critically than something that comes from a Christian. Perhaps it is the Christian source which should be questioned more critically simply because of the nature of the Christian faith. It can be so comforting and yet at the same time it can also be manipulative. Truth is that nothing should be taken uncritically. We need to think through every truth we choose to embrace as well as the lies we choose to deny. If a song writer writes a song and it doesn’t carry a “Christian” label then all potential wisdom it caries or creativity involved is left unappreciated by Christians. And just as Christians are being labeled in regards to abortion they are doing some labeling of their own. Anyone who would consider getting an abortion is labeled a murderer. It doesn’t matter what kind of circumstances led to their pregnancy or will come from them having the baby; weather they were raped, or if their parents will disown them, or if their father will kill the man responsible. The suffering and emotional instability of the woman faced with this difficult choice is disregarded because she has already been labeled. Again, this kind of blanketing assumption only causes pain.
I was reading an online book review for Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis and I came across a negative review. The reviewer started by saying that Christians should “have a problem with this book.” And his main reason was “just look at the footnotes.” He said that because Rob Bell was quoting the wisdom of a Buddhist monk and so-called “liberal theologians” that his book wasn’t worth reading and that it was “reaching” (whatever that means). As you know Rob Bell has been a great influence on me and I love his book so needless to say this review kinda pissed me off. Rob Bell is taking truth found outside of Christianity and bringing it inside Christianity as we should do with all truth. After all, nothing that’s true should stay outside of Christianity. We need to affirm truth wherever it is and be compassionate toward everyone. Compassion involves hearing people out without labeling or making assumptions.
Is there any place in your life where you have labeled someone or made assumptions which have created separation and broken relationship? Is there a whole group of people whom you would be unlikely to associate with simply because you have labeled them as unreliable or even dangerous? Does your voice cause pain or restoration?
May your labels all be shattered and may you be free from the labels which bind you.