There are lots of scary words being thrown around these days, words that are used not necessarily with their original meanings attached but used merely as labels to scare us. We label what we don’t like. That means we no longer need to engage or seek understanding. Without the label we need to accept that our vision of the world may not be as neat as we might like. What we have done, instead, is to turn the dialogue into a monologue that keeps us firmly in the driver’s seat. What’s more, these words are used together with other words — words that we think we agree with — so that we automatically agree with the statement and claim that the scary word is in fact scary.
A couple of years ago I was called a “liberal Canadian pastor” by an USA-ian former classmate and FB friend. I had to laugh because the term liberal is so diverse in its meanings that the statement made no sense. Is he saying, Liberal, in the sense of being a part of the political party in Canada or liberalism in the Canadian sense? Is he saying theological liberal in the sense of having the same theology as Protestant mainline churches? Is he saying liberal in the sense of liberal democracy that he himself is also a part of? Is he saying liberal as in liberal arts, a field of study in many universities including those universities that label themselves “Christian.” Is he saying liberal as opposed to conservative? Or is he defining liberal in some USA-ian way that I don’t understand? I honestly suspect that he really didn’t know what his label meant other than “a Canadian pastor who believes something different than me and who I suspect is wrong.” Now I may be reading too much into it is but subsequent interactions with him seem to support my view. Certainly there are some aspects of the term that deserve caution but other aspects merely identify who we are as a society today.
Another scary word is actually an acronym: CRT. CRT, for those who don’t know, stands for Critical Race Theory, a theoretical framework that originated as a critique of USA laws that seem to favour one race over others. It has become a touchstone for more recent debates about race and culture in the USA particularly. Do you know what the big issue really is? It’s that there are racial discriminations underlying USA society and these are embedded in the very definition of what it means to be a USA-ian. It’s entirely a framework that is based in the USA. But lest we Canadians think these same things aren’t true for us we have another think coming. Racial discrimination is live and well in Canada, too. And it needs to be addressed. In some ways, this scary word has the least number of potential real issues associated with it.
Here’s the kicker. For many years the political party that was slightly right of centre was called “Progressive Conservative.” Isn’t that funny? How can something be both of those things? I guess I should also point out that, at least in years past, the political spectrum in Canada was primarily centrist — the massive swings we see in today’s political landscape haven’t really existed in the mainstream in Canada. Now the term progressive has been applied to Christianity. This term does have a specific meaning, and certain aspects have real issues of its own, but it is often used as another of those terms to indicate someone whose theology I disagree with. I suspect that most people have issue with it’s connection to post-modernism. (However, I would like to point out that if you are 60 years old or younger, your own personal system of thought is post-modern. Sorry.) What is even stranger, even biblical requirements of the gospel such as social peace and public justice get lumped into the term even though these issues are core to what the gospel is. What I suspect has happened is that people have blended their political ideas in with the gospel to create some kind of Frankenstein religion.
What’s the Takeaway?
So, what’s the takeaway from all these scary words? Know what words mean before I use them. Many philosophies and ideologies are difficult to define definitively — there is always nuance needed. That’s why labels don’t work because there is no nuance allowed. When I see someone who I think believes something different, it’s perhaps best to engage in dialogue rather than merely labelling and ignoring them. Who knows, I may discover that I am the one who needs adjustment. Make the world a better place for everyone.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating becoming progressive or liberal or some other such label. What I am advocating for is using labels less. For me the bottom line especially when it comes to Jesus followers is depends on how we answer the question, “Who is LORD?” If someone says, “Jesus is LORD,” then guess what? They are automatically a part of our faith community. “But what if they don’t believe the right stuff?” you may ask. My reply is that we didn’t understand the ins and outs of the scary words above but we don’t use that limitation to disqualify ourselves from Jesus family. Why then do we want to disqualify others?
What should we focus on instead?
I genuinely believe that our main task here on earth is to follow the example of God Almighty who “did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.” And I guess love is the most basic theological truth we need, isn’t it? Jesus even tells us. Twice. Matthew 22:37-39. That means doctrinal issues necessarily come second, doesn’t it? I mean, if Jesus wanted us to believe a specific statement of faith wouldn’t he have listed that instead?
I assume some of you disagree with my take on these things. If so, why not engage in some dialogue in the comment section below? Please tell me where my understanding is lacking. Let me understand your perspective. Let’s talk.
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Image Angel Luciano by on Unsplash.