14 April 2009


Words have power. Names have power. The ancients understood this. Adam was shown to have power in Genesis: he named the animals. Later the naming of John is infused with the idea. When Zacharia names John, he sets his destiny in motion. Gabriel tells Mary to name her son (roughly transliterated) Yeshua because “he will save the people.” In an anti-semtic time, we Christians elected to translate Yeshua two different ways: Joshua for the Hebrew general and Jesus for our Lord. Words have power. In naming their son, Mary and Joseph set his destiny in motion for the writers and readers of Mathew and Luke.

Kids understand this too. That is why 'name calling' is so often the weapon of the child and the one that hurts. “Four eyes” when I was young got more than one person a demonstration of a rather good right hook. I could and did land it with precision.

Words have power. The idea can be horribly misused. We call that 'political correctness.' The idea that I am a “person with diabetes” not a “diabetic” is stunningly stupid. It is also a part of the ethos in some institutions especially what passes for our school system's leading lights.

All of which leads me to “liberal,” “left wing,” “revisionist,” “apostate.” “orthodox” and “progressive.” I recently got a email with an attachment from a relative. The attachment was a recording of the classic “16 tons” with new lyrics attacking the Obama budget and administration. Now I have some issues with the budget Mr. Obama has presented to Congress and I have more issues with what I fear Ms. Pellozi and her majority may do with it. But, I do not have those issues because I doubt their patriotism. I simply think their economic ideas are wrong.

Back to words. The song, like Mr. Limbaugh and his imitators, suggests that simply labeling a person, in this case the president, a liberal is enough to dismiss him. Mr. Jefferson was a liberal, Mr. Lincoln was a liberal, Theodore Roosevelt was too.

Words have power. They can be used or misused. To label to name-call is to dismiss. The lyricist can perhaps be excused, a song limits conversation and discernment after all. The talk show host, the voter, not so much. Labeling associates a set of externally imposed assumptions on a person and refuses to actually see the person. It is the exact opposite of what we are called to do as Christians.

What does the Scripture promise us? What the protestants call a “personal relationship with Jesus” is not about labeling it is about God personally knowing me, counting the (diminishing) hairs on my head, knowing my needs. Where does “oh he is a xxxx” fit in that?

Jesus calls us to do as He has done. Labeling, dismissing people is simply sin. He loved He did not dismiss. And yet we do. We call people 'apostate' or 'heretic' because they disagree with us on the interpretation of some verse or verses. Those people respond with 'homophobe' or 'reactionary.' Nothing is learned, no discernment happens when we label.

It is my thesis that labeling is not merely un-Christian, it is un-American. “E pluribus unim” our money proclaims – one from many. Writing of his observation of Americans in the 19th century, a Frenchman said that when Americans met in another country they were immediately friends, because they are Americans. That is who we were when we achieved great things. Now we insist on taxonomy – are you a conservative, a democrat or something else?

That is wrong. Wrong when Americans do it, wrong when Anglicans do it and doubly wrong when American Anglicans do it! We need to hear each other, listen to each other and yes disagree with each other. But most of all we need to be engaged, willing to consider the chance that the 'other' is important and has something to say. Otherwise we will continue to balkanize ourselves. That way lies danger.



stephan said...
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Hal said...

Yes, unfortunately "E pluribus unim" has been forgotten and "divide and conquer" put in its place.

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