I remember studying the politics of war when I was a college student. It might have been obvious to everybody else at the time, but I was amazed to learn about the need to dehumanize enemies in situations of conflict. Since (at least for most people) it's difficult to act violently toward other human beings, in a conflict it is essential to see other human beings as less than human. Once we do that, we are able to belittle and demean and even kill.
One of the best ways to dehumanize others, I learned, is through the use of labels. Frankly, most of the labels are pretty offensive and I'm not about to use them here. If you're old enough, you can remember what enemy combatants were called during World War Two. And you probably can remember some of the labels that were used during the Vietnam War. Even if you're not old, you have surely heard (and probably used) labels during more recent conflicts and disagreements. I suspect that you know exactly what I'm talking about.
Interestingly, these destructive labels are not reserved for the people we happen to be fighting in wars. Today, anyone who disagrees with us deserves a label. And once we've pinned on the label, that person becomes a little less than human (and eventually not human at all) - which, of course, is exactly what we intend.
There might have been a day when titles and descriptions simply provided definition, but today even the simplest word carries judgment and criticism and disdain.
If you're not exactly like me, you deserve a label. And that label doesn't merely describe; it demeans and destroys and dehumanizes.
I'm as guilty as anybody else. Especially in our world today, I see a lot of people I'd like to fix. And frankly, if they are not open to being fixed, I'm quick to judge.
But with each new tragedy and with each shocking display of inhumanity, I'm realizing that my attitude is simply wrong.
Nobody needs to be fixed more than me. And nobody deserves judgment more than I do.
If you're compelled to use a label, let me suggest person or human being. If you come from my background, try somebody made by God or someone for whom Christ died.
For pronouns, we'd be better off with we and us, rather than they and them.
Whatever our politics . . . whatever our religious convictions . . . whatever it is that we fear and feel the need to fight against . . . we are talking about people. Just people. Human beings declared to be of immense worth by our Creator. Human beings loved profoundly by God.
Humans beings whom God refuses to label.
When G.K. Chesterton was asked what was wrong with the world, he answered quite simply, "I am."
What's wrong with the world today? I am.
My desire to fix other people and my need to judge is getting in the way of the work that God wants to do.
I'm pretty sure that when God gets down to business, the heart that he'll start changing first is mine.
And you might be next.