How Labeling People Makes Us Less Like Christ

“What kind of person are you?” It was a seemingly innocent question, if a bit confusing. “Well…umm…I love Jesus and I am a husband and a father of two…” I responded a bit unsure of what he wanted. “No, no…I mean what category do you fit in?” I was totally lost in this conversation but the questioner persisted, “What kind of music do you listen to, that will tell all.” “Well I’ve really been enjoying Mumford and Sons lately,” I responded. “I’ve never heard of them, who else.” His responses were short and quick as if he were growing impatient with this conversation, or more precisely with me. “Well, I’ve always loved Weezer.” “Weezer…oh, so that makes you a punk rocker, right?” My first reaction was that to qualify Weezer as punk rock seemed absurd, but, secondly, the thought of being an almost 30 year old husband raising two kids and serving as a pastor and still calling myself a “punk-rocker” seemed ridiculous. But this is exactly what this young man insisted I must be, and that is what he was after. He needed some manner in which to classify me so he could, presumably, understand me. After all this is what we have been taught: people are all one-dimensional creatures who fit a predetermined mold and to “know” someone is to know from what mold they are pulled.

This is of course totally ludicrous but it’s the way our culture seems to operate. High school perpetuates the problem. You fit into a specific group in high school and only that group. You are either the nerd, the drama kid, the athlete, or the goth kid…right? I mean not really but that’s what we’re told. You either like being the quaterback of the football team or you like being the lead in the school musical, but you do not like both (no matter what Glee says).

Post-high school it continues. Shows like The Real World cast roles based on predetermined models. The producers are looking for the next “gay guy,” “African American who thinks everything is a racial issue,” ditzy blonde with … umm, loads of endowment,” “the backwards thinking morally strict Christian,” and “the self-absorbed jock.” If you don’t fit that mold you don’t make the cut. Of course people aren’t really like this and so editing has to help with shows like The Real World. But this concept of “one-dimensional” people persits. part of the reason it does, I believe, is that it makes our job of establishing relationships seemingly easier.

When you meet someone you usually attempt to categorize them within the first few minutes of the meeting, sometimes this happens before a word is even spoken, based on someone’s appearance. Immediately this allows us to determine if we think this is someone we want to befriend or not. It saves us the trouble of having to build relationships and “get to know” someone. Instead we categorize them and then based on our presumed knowledge of what people in that category are like we know whether to make an effort or not “waste” our time.

The problem with this approach is that it in no way demonstrates love. We tend to befriend only people who are like us. Only those people who like the same music as us, have the same hobbies, watch the same shows, etc. are good companions. But we miss out on so much by only befriending those who meet our standards. We miss out on learning about new experiences, new ways of thinking, new lifestyles, and, furthermore, we may assume that our lifestyle is always healthy and right because we only hang around those who live like us. These shortcomings limit our lives so very much, but there is a great issue at stake as well: the issue of love.

Christ demonstrates well that love of those vastly different from yourself is a noble thing. Christ loved the ungodly. Christ entered the world to rescue, save, and indeed love those who were most unlike Him. When our love is restricted to only those who walk like us, talk like us, like what we like, etc. we are may be shorting the world an impression of the love of Jesus. That is not to say that you won’t naturally befriend certain people, or that you should always seek out those most unlike you to befriend. But it should mean considering carefully how you view relationships and more importantly how you view people.

The reality is that people are not all one-dimensional. Some people like British folk music and American post-hardcore. Some people read poetry and vampire novels. Some people vote Democrat and read the Bible. You just never know what a person is like until you invest in them and befriend them. The Gospel teaches us not to judge people by appearances, but to love those who are seemingly nothing like us. After all, that’s what Jesus did.

About Dave Dunham

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