I think that one of the greatest disservices that we commit against one another is that of labeling each other. I understand that sometimes we need labels, especially in this culture we live in, but far too often those boxes that we label people into are boxes of judgment and stereotypes. I was born and raised as a Baptist, and up until a few years ago, I was content with that label of a Baptist. However, during that time if someone had labeled me into the same box as a Westboro Church Baptist, I would have been deeply offended, because not all Baptists wield picketing signs that read “God hates fags”.
I am guessing the same sentiment is true for my Muslim friends who are so often immediately labeled as a “Radical Islamic”, and yet we do it. Last week I saw a Facebook post that made a blanket and ugly statement about Muslim people, and I literally wept in horror. Later that evening I was talking to my husband about it, and I shared that I did not understand why I felt so much pain and responded with so much grief to what I had read. He answered, because when you read that, you picture all of your Muslim friends in Ethiopia, who you love and who you know fit none of those labels. He was right. I think that what hurts most about labels is that they mostly happen outside of a relationship. We share posts on Facebook that box people into just one way of being – we judge the heck out of someone that we do not even know and we excuse ourself from the greatest command that we were given – love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. Sometimes love looks as simple as thinking twice before we share something on social media that unjustly labels an entire group of people.
We use labels to determine who is worthy of our love and who is not – who is in and who is out. Inside the polarizing political climate that we find our country in, we are so quick to draw a box, a dividing line depending on what side we veer to. The political labels are especially divisive and hurtful, and can never really tell you the whole of a person’s heart, because labels never can. I fear that we have allowed our political leanings to give us permission to not love that neighbor. It is a sad commentary when we have reduced someone to a singular label that allows us to forget their belovedness and the fact that they were created in the image of God. It is a sad day when our politics have become our god, and the filter in which we view all of life is which political party we align with. Perhaps this generation’s biggest blindspots will trace back to our love for political labels over our love for our neighbors. I fear this as I look around me and into my own heart.
The same Jesus Who died to free us, died to free them, and loves them with the same love that He loves us. Honestly, I do not really line up anywhere on the political scale, and most days I feel like an outcast because of this. I have very swiftly been pigeon-holed into a side and labeled, but the reality is that I don’t fit on the right, and I don’t fit on the left. I am a mess of contradictions and all over the place as I try to navigate this life loving God and loving my neighbor, and maybe we were never created to be labeled into one box.
I am guessing if the people who choose to label me would instead choose to sit down and share a pot of coffee while I share my heart, they just might walk away with a different label for me or none at all. They might see that I am apprehensive about the safety of my Black children, not because I am listening to the left and believing lies and fake news, but because of real life experiences that have happened to them here in America. They might see that I have a heart for Muslim people because of the community of Muslim friends whom we did life with in Ethiopia. They might see that I am tender toward refugees, because I am a bleeding heart who knows how hard it is to live inside of a foreign country and not speak the language or understand the culture. Maybe they would understand why I am so passionate about sanctity of life, and why that reaches farther than just the unborn lives. Maybe they would walk away agreeing with me, or maybe not, but it would certainly be a better start than just boxing me into a label without knowing me. The same is true for everybody.
I believe a lot of the tension in this country could be relaxed, even just a little, over pots of coffee, steaming cups of tea and a cozy kitchen table. Maybe this will not fix everything, but it gives us a place to start. When we step into the lives of people, it is so much harder to label them into a box. People are nuanced and contradictory and unique, and worthy of our time and our love and of our listening ear. Maybe loving our neighbor should stop being political and start being practical and relational. Love is always the best, first step. When we don’t know what to do, how to think, where to go, loving someone over a cup of coffee is never wrong.