Truth in Labeling

By Mark A. Taylor

If you’re buying fashion, you look for the right label. But when you’re relating to people in a polarized world, labels can be as damaging as they are discouraging.

06_Taylor_EDDY_JNI, for one, am tired of the expectation that I’ll believe and behave according to the label someone else places on me.

Must I, for example, echo the rhetoric of either the blue state or red state where I live?

Must I agree with every statement and every position of the presidential candidate I vote for?

Must I commit to either a conservative or liberal position in every Facebook update or 140-character tweet?

Must I choose a political or theological guru and agree with everything he says?

Must I, enjoying the perks of a white, suburban, middle-class neighborhood, be always suspect among poor, black urban dwellers?

Must I, born and bred in Christian churches and churches of Christ, be afraid to agree with a Catholic or fellowship with a Calvinist?

The writers of this articles posted this month all answer, “No.” Their point is that two people on opposite sides of an issue may find truth more complete by moving toward each other instead of stomping their feet from a predictable extreme.

We’re not saying that truth isn’t constant, that it can’t be found, that your truth and my truth may be different. We’re not advocating relativism.

But what should we choose when we hear two people acknowledge Jesus as Lord and his Word as authority while taking opposite positions? They both quote Scripture, but their views on strategy, tactics, politics, philosophy—or even sometimes theology—couldn’t be more different. We can hasten to call one of them right and the other wrong. Or we can ask ourselves if the best answer is somewhere between the opposing viewpoints.

This issue calls that spot the radical center: radical because we live in an age of confrontation, disagreement, and attack; radical because it seems so unusual. Politicians, talk show celebrities, and sometimes Christian leaders have kept their audience by attaching dismissive labels to those who disagree with them.

This month holds out a plea for humility, for gentle replies, and for thoughtful consideration about where Christians should stand on dozens of either-or continuums thrust at us by angry voices.

If we want to be radical, maybe we shouldn’t be extreme at all. Maybe we should pull others with us toward the center.

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