Labels (and How They Mess With the Spirit of God)

I like the wine and not the label.  Does that make sense?

I was re-watching the red wine/white wine scene in a previous season of Schitt’s Creek and thinking about labels the other day.  Especially in Church, we are good at labeling.  I know I am.

I always thought this character – David – was goofy and vain.  But this scene taught me that he is also confident and comfortable in his own skin.

Labeling messes with God’s creation.

Where I work we have “black churches” and “white churches.”  We label people to be poor, rich, strong, weak, old, young.  Young colleagues referred to me as “a crone” once about ten years ago and it broke my heart a little bit. They meant it as a compliment but my brain pictured this.

Maybe because Church is an organization, we organize the people  We lump them together as:

  • The choir members
  • The Church ladies
  • The legacy members
  • The homebound
  • The nominal members
  • The big givers

There is nothing wrong with descriptors, but each of us is more than one thing.

A post against labeling might seem trite, but how we see people determines how spiritually healthy our congregations are.  I hear churches tell me that they are a “small church” or a “poor church” as if it sums up the whole of who they are.  It doesn’t.

We are rich with diversity even if we look alike.

I have been told by Pastor Nominating Committees the following:

  • He seems to be great but we aren’t ready to call a gay pastor.  People will think we are A Gay Church.
  • We aren’t ready for a black pastor (on our all white church staff.)  In fact, it would mostly be hard for him.
  • We aren’t looking for an woman pastor.

We really limit the power of God, don’t we?  Sometimes the people we label negatively or say “we aren’t yet ready for them” are – possibly – the ones God is sending our way.  We might like the idea of calling a pastor who will stretch our souls and our understanding of who is supposed to lead us, but when it comes down to it, we stick with safe choices/what’s we’ve always done before.

I’d bet that congregations with a low incidence of labeling tend to be growing congregations.  That teenager with braces?  They might be an excellent deacon.  That person who doesn’t say much?  They might have a lot to say on the governing board.  The outcasts?  The fringe people?  The queer ones?  (See – I’m even labeling them here.)  All might be the perfect souls to visit people in the hospital or run the next community dinner or play an instrument in worship.

Relationships help us overcome labeling people as any one thing.  And maybe God is telling us that – ready or not – the people we consider least likely to lead (because we have labeled them least likely) are the ones God is choosing.  None of us is any one thing.

Image of Schitt’s Creek’s David (Dan Levy) and Stevie (Emily Hampshire) in the wine aisle. 

2 responses to “Labels (and How They Mess With the Spirit of God)

  1. “The outcasts? The fringe people? The queer ones?” I guess people-first language doesn’t solve the problem entirely, but “people who are on the fringe” is a lot less labeling in my mind. That’s not a criticism, since you made your point very well with those words. But the second point is how important words are.


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