One of the profound nuances of Flannery O’Connor‘s writing is the way she labels characters. Through the perspective of one of the main characters, the other people are identified by their skin color or economic condition. Repeatedly in her stories, people are simply known as “white trash” or “negro.” Rather than doing this to belittle people, she does it to expose our tendency to label people rather than understand them.
We are arrogant and do not take the time to truly know people. Far too often we are content with identifying people by their outward appearance and beliefs rather than as people made in the image of an immortal God.
We label people in a variety of ways; below are three prominent ones:
1. We label people based on their political beliefs.
Unlike many people, I absolutely love politics. I find it invigorating to watch debates and come to an understanding of different people’s viewpoints. This also causes me to be passionate about what I believe is right and wrong.
Used wisely, this can translate into action which benefits mankind. Used foolishly, this breeds contempt and hatred for those who disagree with me.
Do you relate?
For example, if someone advocates universal healthcare we assume they are a “communist liberal.” If someone advocates ownership of guns, we assume they are an intoxicated redneck shooting beer cans.
Rather than labeling people based on their political beliefs, seek to understand the story of that person. View them as a beautiful creation of God with an intellect; even if you disagree with them!
2. We label people based on their sexuality.
This is a BIG one in our culture today. We use derogatory comments to describe people who identify with a different sexuality – especially homosexuality. This brings tremendous destruction as people begin to feel as if they are identified primarily by their sexuality.
Even if you disagree with the lifestyle of a certain person, their primary identity is not the gender they are attracted to. Their identity comes from the God who made them, loves them, and gave His life as an offering of peace for them.
Rather than holding signs and screaming at “these” people, let’s embrace them with the love of Jesus Christ.
3. We label people based on their religion.
I’m a follower of Jesus. I really do believe Jesus is the only way to the Father. Nevertheless, when I encounter people who believe differently, I should love them. I plan on attending a Mosque this summer with a friend of mine who is Muslim (he’s also from Syria… if that offends you, I don’t care).
This does not mean I believe Muslims worship the same God. It DOES mean that Muslims are created in God’s image and Jesus absolutely loves them. Rather than labeling them as terrorists, let’s see them as people. The vast majority of Muslims are far more hospitable and welcoming than many Christians I meet… This is to our shame.
I encourage you to reach out with the Gospel to “those people”and begin to see them as “our people.” Your angry rant on Facebook doesn’t transform people, only the Gospel shared in love does that.