We are all guilty of name-calling from time to time. It’s human nature when you are frustrated, angry, or have been mistreated to lash out with an insult. We like to label people too. We label people by political leaning, intelligence, attractiveness, personality, behavior…. Even our Lord had labels attached to him: glutton, drunkard, blasphemer.
But name-calling and labels aren’t helpful. In fact, a recent study showed that the way to end racial bias, for instance, is not by calling people racist. It puts people on the defensive and makes them resistant to the kind of dialogue needed for change. The results of the study seem like common sense to me, but we still do it.
The Scripture has no shortage of instruction regarding the words that flow from our lips: “No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4.29) – “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. [And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4.31-2).
And then from Jesus (and this is pretty tough): But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’* will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” (*empty headed/imbecile)
I’ve got a lot of work to do!
Even seemingly innocent labels can put people in a box when we are far more complicated than conservative/liberal or introvert/extrovert, for instance. Labels do have a way of cutting to the chase in order to make a point, but it’s good to be reminded that labels don’t tell the whole story; and in a society that is experiencing much division, it is ever more important that Christians pay attention to the precision of our speech.