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I appreciate labels.  Since being diagnosed with celiac, I’m a label freak.  I carefully examine labels on everything from food to face soap. My health depends on it.

So, I should clarify.  I appreciate the proper place of labels.

Labels belong on products. Not people.  On products, labels are helpful.  On people, labels are hurtful.  On which side of “label slapping” have you been? I’ve been on both – giving and receiving.

On the receiving side, the label of choice was “liberal.”  “Phillip is just a liberal,” so it was said.

I don’t like people labels. Here are a few reasons why:

* Labels don’t do much to enhance the conversation.  Fact is, labeling seems to stop any conversation. Someone has said (experts are still looking for the source), “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Ouch.

* Once we label someone, we start to see only the label.  We look for information that confirms the label that we have placed on a person.

Want a “for instance”?  President Ford was a great athlete, playing for two championship football teams at the University of Michigan, and being selected an All-American.   Yet, after he took a tumble or two on the ski slopes and then slipped one rainy day coming down the stairs of Air Force One, he developed the reputation of being a klutz.  Then when Chevy Chase impersonated Ford as a klutz on SNL, the label stuck.  The joke was that VP Rockefeller was just a banana peel away from the Presidency.

Or this example:
Stephen Colbert interviewed Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer:
Stephen Colbert: “Would it be safe to say you’re a liberal?”

Con. Blumenauer: “It depends on the issue.  Because I’m also working with some of my more conservative friends to try to eliminate sugar subsidies.  Is that liberal or conservative?”

Stephen Colbert: “It’s liberal.”

Con. Blumenauer: “You think?”

Stephen Colbert: “I do.”

Con. Blumenauer: “Why?”

Stephen Colbert: Cause you support it.”

People will literally ignore anything that isn’t in line with the label they have given to a person.

It’s tough to live outside of the label.

Maybe living with a liberal label isn’t so bad.  Some of the evangelical world’s most respected and quoted leaders hold views that would, by some people, earn them the same label.

Tim Keller, “I think Genesis 1 has the earmarks of poetry and is therefore a song about the wonder and meaning of God’s creation…There will always be debates about how to interpret some passages – including Genesis 1.  But it is false logic to argue that if one part of Scripture can’t be taken literally then  none of it can be.” Tim Keller

C.S. Lewis, “There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.  For example a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain points.  Many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth may been in this position.”  Mere Christianity

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Bible remains a book like other books.  One must be ready to accept the concealment within history and therefore let historical criticism run its course.  But it is through the Bible, with all its flaws, that the risen one encounters us.” Christ the Center  

Wow.  These guys have made some statements that certainly lie outside the boundaries of some theological systems. In some circles they’d be labeled liberals. Yet, we give their books to people sruggling with their faith. We quote them extensively. We hold them up as examples of Christian maturity and devotion.  I’m all for it. I’m glad we do.  But it begs the question: Why do these guys get a pass and others don’t?