Putting Away the Labels to Hear/See Each Other

Under it’s new editor, Matt Malone, S.J., America Magazine is doing a very good thing:

America aspires to nothing more than to live up to the fullest meaning of our motto, to pursue the truth in love, for as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has written,

“The only strength with which Christianity can make its influence felt publicly is ultimately the strength of its intrinsic truth.” The fundamental truth of Christianity is personal, the person of Jesus Christ, the one for whom love and forgiveness and justice are the only standards of human action. The political witness of Christians, then, is the witness of sinners who are loved and forgiven and are ever ready to love and to forgive in turn. Only in this way is Christianity “credible.”

If you ask us, therefore, whether America is a philosophical or theological journal, we will answer: “We are Christians.” If you ask us whether America is modern or postmodern, we will answer: “We are Christians.” If you ask whether we are liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, we will answer: “We are Christians.” If you ask whether we have really said anything at all, we will answer: “We have said everything.”

“Love manifests itself more in deeds than in words.” America makes the following commitments:

1. Church. The church in the United States must overcome the problem of factionalism. This begins by re-examining our language. America will no longer use the terms “liberal,” “conservative” or “moderate” when referring to our fellow Catholics in an ecclesiastical context. [emphasis mine - admin]

Read the whole thing; it’s superb.

I am so glad! Reading this in America is (for me personally) a kind of happy affirmation that I was on the right track, when I wrote this, a few months ago, in First Things:

When we label anyone, we immediately do them an injustice—even if the label seems accurate. We shortchange their story. We open them up to caricature and to the misunderstanding that comes with it. Labels reduce all of our complexities and beautiful human nuances into easily negated “types” and turn our efforts to communicate with each other into punchlines. Or outright swipes.

I wish I could say that in my online writing I have managed to resist the temptation to label others and thus turn them into discredited, ghostly cartoons that have little to do with their human realities, but alas, I have trod that path all too happily, only stepping off it when one of my sons challenged me to define the “thems” and “theys” of my rants. I could not, of course, but in making the attempt I discovered how readily—even eagerly—I had been discounting human beings about whom I actually knew nothing, and that my pre-judging of them meant that I was, yes, prejudiced.

. . .I have been trying to break that habit of broad denunciation; I have come to detest words like “progressive” and “liberal” and “conservative” and “lefty” and “right-winger” and the ease with which we throw these divisive labels about for the express purpose of insta-discrediting one another. Our propensity to label-and-dismiss each other is quickly leading our nation and our Church toward dangerous cliffs, and though we have gleefully turned each other into cartoons, we will not be able to reclaim solid ground from the thin air, once we’re launched. I accuse myself of assisting in this careening madness, and I want off. . . In seeking balance, I think it most accurately reflects those of us who are imperfectly striving to move beyond any label but “Catholic.”

It is not easy to break the habit of labeling; it forces us to find another, more accurate and more respectful, way in which to reference each other; it retrains us to a willingness to more fully hear and see those espousing other viewpoints.

It requires, among other things, re-embracing assumptions of good faith — giving the other guy the charitable “benefit of a doubt.”

It means not jumping on the use of the word “beauty” because the writer has not used the word “truth” (as I saw today on Facebook) and then using that observation like a battering ram against the other, in order to either foment mistrust or to whip his meaning into something you can use to bolster and advance your own spiritual-political ideology.

We Catholics have to do better with each other, or we will not be able to do anything for the world. I like what Malone says in this interview with Michelle Boorstein:

If you are forced to say: “Some of my fellow Catholics think such-and-such,” instead of “Conservative Catholics think,” there’s not only a semantic shift but a spiritual shift and a theological shift.

It is a theological shift toward 1 Corinthians 12:27, and Mark 9:40, and perhaps just in time. What the Jesuit Post calls “The Cost of Denunciation” may well be too dear, especially when, as Lauren says so well, here we are duty-bound to find a sound and united voice with which to teach:

. . .all these people, they listen to our answers and comments and thoughts and hear:
“you cannot love. you cannot be happy.”

That’s not what we’re saying, but that’s what they hear from rants on sidewalks, from stupidly worded signs, social media graphics and hashtags.

My friends, that is not how we have this conversation. I don’t know how we have it, but that’s not it.
We have to ‘say’ more carefully, more clearly and more lovingly if we want any of them to hear us.

All in love. Definitely. And with prayer. And with compassion. We see past the issues to the person, and start there. We recognize our own weaknesses. We all have stuff. We all have sin. We all struggle each and every day to live a good life. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.

We honor those who have chosen the hard road – the road of the Church. Those who have trusted, who have sacrificed. You are our heroes.

And, we trust in our Church, who, after over 2000 years, still stands strong and true and full of love. We may not understand everything completely now, maybe not until we are in heaven. But it’s okay, because we are faithful in love. And we can’t turn away from Her, because She saves us. So, we answer with St. Peter, the First Shepherd of the Church, who, after many of Jesus’ followers ran away after being told the truth, said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

I completely understand the feelings of friends who are wary, even regarding their fellow Catholics, and inclined to echo Reagan’s “trust but verify.” We’ve been mauling each other for at least four solid decades, now; trust is not re-established of a moment (although it sometimes can be) and healing rarely happens overnight. Even so, the infighting between Catholics has got to stop. It has to. We’re allowing too much of the angry, fretting, distrusting, cynical energy that we bring to our ideologies to come into our theologies and our dealings with each other, and it is destroying us; it is leaving no room for love, and no room for the Holy Spirit to maneuver. That’s essentially what is at the crux of my book, as lightweight and meager as it is.

Increasingly I am coming to realize that the corny old son “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me,” is speaking a truth. Pope Benedict XVI has said, “God does not force us to believe in him, but draws us to himself through the truth and goodness of his incarnate Son.”

This is for all of us; its truth belies all of the divisions we create and negates all of our excuses. Benedict’s words call to the stabilization of all of our excesses and the righting of all of our intentions through all times and circumstances. If we want to change the world, we begin there, allowing ourselves to be drawn to Jesus Christ, sitting at the Master’s feet and taking his instructions to heart.. . . [only two things count], our intentions and our willingness; worthiness does not enter in.

But willingness only comes with humility. It comes when we can say, “Thy will be done,” and then actually surrender [to the mysterious will and timetable of God] instead of preparing a treaty, complete with expiration date.

Such surrender is the ultimate disenthrallment and the banisher of all idols. Even the super idols.

The world is going to be what the world is, and do what the world does. That’s because it’s “the world” — it belongs to the prince of the world. As Catholics and Christians we are called to transcend the world and try harder than the rest. The Catholic church is going to be increasingly attacked by that prince and that world. We have to restore the oneness of our body, or we will hasten further destruction, everywhere.


About Elizabeth Scalia
  • mothering spirit

    Beautiful take on a prophetic stance. When I heard of America’s decision today, it felt like Good News in the truest sense of the word. Christ prayed that we might be one, and the words we us to describe each other necessarily impact the way the world outside our Church sees us, too. We do well when we watch how quick we are to push each other into too-tidy boxes

  • Ron Turner

    Note that Patheos hosts the blog of the person who continually demonizes Catholics with different viewpoints by putting slanderous labels on them..

  • MeanLizzie

    Do you mean the fully-human and therefore flawed blogger who also manages to grow and evolve and make the most heartfelt and sincere apologies on the internet? Is that who you mean?

  • Fiestamom

    I read it too, with hope. I admit I’m in the ‘trust but verify’ camp. In all seriousness, I hope there’s a day when the phrase ‘social justice’ doesn’t raise my suspicions…this may just be the start.

  • Dan C

    Nonsense. We are all too invested in the culture war (May it rage forever, amen) and Patheos Catholic Channel has the conservative side well covered. The Culture War has been good for the fortunes of many of the bloggers on this channel, and the Anchoress herself is a dedicated conservative with libertarian leanings.

    In a turn of fairness, Dale Price notes that the Constitutional change demanded by the cover of America was not anything to do with outlawing abortion but was dedicated to the end of the Second Amendment.

    I think the minute America do a reading of Caritas in Veritate without mentioning the three lines in which abortion is mentioned in that encyclical (the only notations ever mentioned positively about that encyclical on First Thoughts) or the celebration of the canonization of Oscar Romero without noting his Opus Dei support (again the only way Deal Hudson or George Weigel can dare mention his name), America will be thought of as returning to its subversive socialist ways.

    Which reminds me, RReno is unliekly to be kept in his employ too much longer suggesting free market limits and all. Because reason fails to feed the fire of the culture war (may it rage forever, amen).

  • dnb03

    Mary Keane | 5/31/2013 – 5:20pm

    I can’t imagine what benefit will come from word sanitization. The “church” will not improve through political correctness.

    I concur. Call it what you will, a rose is a rose and a thorn a thorn. Interesting to see how you have a conversation while walking through a political (and now theological) correctness mine field. I wonder how much Mr. Alinsky would love this.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I have no trust in my fellow human beings at all. I don’t even trust myself.

    I trust God instead.

    I think it’s funny that at the Washington Post site, an eastern Catholic liberal wrote that she reads such conservative sources as The Economist and National Review, not realizing that fiscal libertines may be the right wing in America, but they are liberals to the Church and Americanist heretics.

  • http://blog.goliard.us/ Blog Goliard

    Oneness? Sure. But in order to be one, our belief has to be one, united in Him whom we follow.

    The “liberal”/”conservative” divide is a messy, many-faceted divide. The side of the fracture one finds oneself on is not always a fair indicator of orthodoxy, orthopraxis, and sincerity…but it often is.

    Part of the problem in the Church is that we fight against each other as if we weren’t all adherents of the same Faith.

    Another part of it is that some among us are not only *not* adherents of the same Faith…but have in fact been working steadily for quite some time to undermine that Faith.

  • Gonzalo Palacios

    Whatever the message, it is necessarily misconstrued by the
    use of labels: this is the true importance of America’s magazine editorial decision
    to stop using them. Labels such as “Christian” or “Catholic” are particularly
    misleading as they frequently substitute for their subject: can such terms be
    applied validly to Christ Himself? “The process of acculturation among the Apostles
    was initiated in Greek. This language informed, transformed, and conformed
    the message of Jesus to humanity. ‘What makes the Church catholic is the fact
    that Christ in his saving mission embraces all humanity…” (Benedict XVI,
    V.I.S., 11-24-2012; in Gonzalo T. Palacios, The Virgin Mary’s Revolution,
    page 119).

  • Mike

    Getting away from labels and name calling is of course a good thing. But, ultimately, how will what are seriously profound differences within the Church by its adherents be reconciled? How is Nancy Pelosi’s Catholicism reconciled to the SSPX who just broke off “negotiations” with Vatican? Long before he became Pope, Joseph Ratzinger predicted the Church would become “smaller”. I don’t want to label and I want to be charitable but I also need to adhere to fundamental Truths. So, with all charity, help me understand how to do this?

  • dnb03

    What makes the Church (or church) catholic (or Catholic) – world of difference going on with each.

  • Gail Finke

    Thanks for posting this! I will give America a try again. I used to really look forward to getting my copy before they went all nuts. I still remember the exact moment — there was a story titled “Little Grey Cells” and it said pretty much “you can’t tell us to shut up because we have brains full of little grey cells that are better than your brains and we’ll say what we want, nyah nyah nyah.” It went dowhill from there and I didn’t renew my subscription. Oddly I liked it when the former editor everyone loves to hate was there — I really liked how the magazine would examine more than one perspective on an issue. I hope it’s good again!!!!

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    I don’t know. This kind of hand ringing over labels is rather silly. The founding fathers didn’t want political parties either, and yet within a handful of years factions evolved and parties were created. The thing is that people faced with differring views will bond together, and in an approach for a shorthand identifyer will give or take on labels. That is natural. No one with common sense believes that everyone indentified as a Liberal or a Conservative endorses 100% of the party line. However labels is a handy way of placing the person or position into context. Without context, ideas just flop around like a fish out of water.

  • Strife

    This is spiritual bilge. In essence, it’s the deception of moral relativism via its bastard spiritual twin of moral equivalence. And if anything, it leans heavily towards the “sentimentalism” you often rail against.

    Our Lord never held anything back when it came to those who corrupted the faith with false teachings. In fact, one of the basic tenets of the “unforgivable sin” (the Sin Against The Holy Spirit) is the false attribution of evil things to God, which is exactly what the typical liberal progressive Catholic does i.e misconstruing abortion as a compassionate thing condoned by God’s mercy, and likewise accepting homosexuality as a natural “loving” lifestyle blessed by God, or euthanasia as a merciful act sanctified by God. The list goes on and on.

    People (mainly on the Left) who indulge in these beliefs essentially become Pharisaic, and here’s what Our Lord said about them (Oh and say, do you uhm…. see any *labels* in this?)

    “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets; now fill up what your ancestors measured out! You serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you flee from the judgment of Gehenna?” – Matthew 23:27

    It’s no surprise that this tripe would be repeated by a liberal Jesuit. But then, you always loved to cite the very pro-gay Fr James Martin too. So there’s that.

  • Strife

    Yep. The Good Lord never minced His words. He didn’t hesitate to call out and label sin and evil. All this unity talk is nothing but the destructive deceit of tolerance for the sake of tolerance. But Or Lord was anything but tolerant:

    Jesus; A Cause of Division.

    “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.” – Matthew 10:34-36

    Now then, if The Good Lord is going to cause divisions inside the intimate blood bonds of families, then you can darn well bet He won’t hesitate to do it within His Own Church. In fact, at the hard truth of The Bread Of Life Discourse He not only allowed disciples to permanently walk away, He actually invited ALL of those who refused to believe in the real presence – to leave as well. “Do you also wish to leave?”

    The Devil loves himself some gray area in which to maneuver around and twist the truth. And this tolerance tripe provides him just that.

  • caterina

    Next lent I’m going to give up on being hypocritical and come out in my true colors (no rainbow intended): crazy old bag orthodox conservative benedictine catholic.

  • Matthew

    So how about we adopt the terms “orthodox” and ‘unorthodox” instead? This would not be political but truly descriptive. So one cannot be supportive of contraception, abortion or gay ‘marriage’ and be called orthodox yet people can be pro or con the death penalty and be orthodox.
    Any takers?

  • Joe

    Great post! I have struggled with animosity towards the Jesuits for quite awhile. Many of my cousins grew up in Jesuit schools all the way through college and now Im the freak for still being Catholic. It’s dumb because ironically the Jeuits probably helped keep me Catholic through Ignatius Press, Fr. Pacwa, Fr Harden and many others. I am following Fr James Martin on Facebook hoping to understand the liberal majority in the order and it hasn’t been easy. In the last week or so he has praised the very superficial and anti-catholic Liberation Theology and given public attention to the malicious News Ways Ministries.

  • Cooper

    Agree with Strife and Matthew 100%. We’re not sitting around the campfire here singing kumbaya. We are engaged in spiritual warfare. Liberal / progressive equals not in agreement with numerous church teaching, including the nonnegotiable ones, and conservative equals in agreement. We all know this. Pretending won’t make it go away. It’s a feel good, essentially empty gesture. I will personally never think of Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Katerine Sibelius, Andrew Cumo, John Kerry and their ilk as anything other then progressive Catholics who are scandals to the faith.

    I label myself a conservative, orthodox Catholic and I’m fine with that.

  • http://blog.goliard.us/ Blog Goliard

    Looking at it again this morning, my heart is with you, Anchoress. But my head is more convinced by Fr. Z’s fisking of the Washington Post interview of Fr. Malone.

    I’m also heavily influenced by political experience. (Too heavily? Perhaps…but do keep in mind that Fr. Malone is, the WaPo tells us, a “former Massachusetts political speechwriter”.) In politics, the call to discard and look beyond labels like “liberal” and “conservative” almost invariably comes from those fleeing a damaged brand, and/or who would prefer to advance their more controversial positions by stealth.

  • Spirit of Vatican I

    The Church continues to pay for Pius VII’s ill-considered decision…

  • Billiamo

    I wonder if it would have been better to keep the new guidelines in-house and simply allow the changes to appear gradually.

  • Cathy R.

    From John Chapter 17: 20 I ask, not only on behalf of these, but a;so on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,* so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
    May we all treat each other in this way! Pax.

  • Cathy R.

    I have been doing the same. I have been following and trying to understand the different voices which makes up my church. Some of what is said is very good, and some is in error. Comdemnation is not the way we should be dealing with each other. Isaiah 1:18 Come now, let us reason together. & Proverbs 15: 1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

  • Ron Turner

    No, I mean the android (designed by anti-Catholic space aliens) who deletes disagreeing comments and bans anyone who points out the numerous logical holes in his “arguments”.

  • joshaurora

    I like this post, not because it gives me any hope but because I need to stop using the labels! I agree with some of the commentators that Catholic is Catholic, although some of us would over define the term. Nonetheless, the more I avoid labels the cleaner and more sin-free is my thinking, which allows me to agape better. And that is the point, no? To love with the love of the Trinity is what I want and I want to discard anything that stops me from doing that.

  • Dan C

    Mr. Manny is a clear conservative with whom I have disagreed over the years.

    I do agree with him on this however. That one demonizes one’s opponents is a problem that is different than “labels.” Labels are important tools for classification and categorization.

    For example, this is a conservative blog. Few liberal blogs would have given Michelle Bachmann a serious, respectful consideration as was done in the summer of 2011. Few liberal blogs would consider current American fiscal policies as rising socialism (nor does RReno). Few liberal blogs would write an essay on the questionable phenomenon of women in power who crush men. I think it is easy to classify the author of this blog.

    No worries. I live on the left. I differ extensively in principle with many opinions shared by the Patheos writers, one of which is former National Review promoter Kathryn Jean Lopez. As if we cannot use a label to categorize her views. (Because she freely demeaned liberals as part of how she earned her cash for nearly a decade.)

    George Weigel’s columns will have a 50% chance of bashing outrightly Cardinal Bernadin and his legacy. A label here is justified.

    Michael Sean Winters-unabashed liberal. James Martin, SJ- on the left. Rick Garnett, well it is easy to assign him a label- he was part of a orchestrated effort in Spring/Summer 2012 to pretend that Paul Ryan had ancient distant, teen-year flirtations with Ayn Rand, and clearly hadn’t been briefed about Ryan’s contemporaneous promotions of Ayn Rand’s philosophy in public venues.

    Labels work. They organize our and order our classifications. That there is polarity and divisiveness among our Catholic brethren is a gift of the desire to wage a culture war (may it rage forever, amen) that splits over matters of sex, abortion, war, and wealth. This war serves our need to hate and demonize and fuels a rage promoted by talk radio. That is the problem: the hate and the demonization. Not the labels.

  • MeanLizzie

    Actually, I’m not a conservative; I’m a classical liberal. I frankly had little thought for Bachmann, and I’m pretty sure (I could be wrong) that if I wrote about her at all, it was more about the press and how they behaved than about anything substantive w/ her. Although I do think I liked the brass-buttoned white blazer she wore for one debate. :-)

  • MainlineP

    Well and beautifully said. I’d add as a non-RC also very applicable to the internal strife within Protestantism and within denominations over all of the “hot-button” issues. Now if I may gently reprove the author whom I’ve just praised. Perhaps your constant partisan snipes against this U.S. president (rather than the policies themselves) should go. It is perfectly possible to critique an administration’s programs with reasoned argument. There is no need to sound like Limbaugh or Beck or Hannity on a religion blog. After all, one of your regular commenters who ostentatiously adds “Deacon” to his posted name already pontificates regularly in the manner of a newsletter of a County Republican party, hitting all of the partisan political talking points of the moment. Does that belong on a religion blog or is it better suited to a spleen-venting, vein popping, secular political blog?