This week I was disturbed once again by a post made by a well known Christian Evangelist who asserted that Christians who did not support the current administration were demon driven leftists. I have read various other articles also which stated that Christians who did not support President Trump were unsaved. This is labeling theory at work.
What is labeling theory?
Labeling theory is how one group defines another group as deviant. Those defining and labeling others can reduce the humanity, criminalize, or in some way otherize those they do not agree with. Labeling also allows those doing the labeling to control others who might be questioning or wondering, This creates group think and threatens a person’s sense of belonging. This tactic also creates division in the body of Christ. And real people with real thoughts, beliefs and opinions are dismissed. The body of Christ becomes less thoughtful.
Essentially labeling is setting up a false witness or testimony against one’s brother or sister in Christ to bolster self or validate one’s group. In this case it is the group that has God behind them. If a given Christian does not toe the political party line of a given faith community, then they are unsaved, or demon possessed. This does not require a relationship or knowing a person’s faith walk or allegiance to Jesus Christ nor does this require an understanding of how one has come to various beliefs. It does not take into account the deep study or conscience or experience of other believers who disagree. All those who are labeled as unsaved or demon possessed are lumped into a box and assumed to hold all of the same views as the candidate for party they voted for.
The Amplified Bible says it this way, “You shall not testify falsely [that is, lie, withhold, or manipulate the truth] against your neighbor (any person).” Exodus 20:16 AMP. This actually happens a lot in politics as real human beings are otherized, discounted and then dismissed.
And many have felt alienated within the body of Christ.
Many under 30 and 40 have deep concerns about climate change, real concerns about immigration, oppression and exploitation be it sexually or among corporations. These real concerns are unheard, discounted and once again labeled as part of some sort of communist, leftist or socialist agenda to take over the world. I believe there are real people who have real concerns and they are genuine people of faith who love and follow Jesus with their whole hearts.
And they have found little welcome in churches that continue in this group think and labeling. Some are leaving faith altogether. And as a pastor, I am deeply grieved by this. Many are experiencing a loss of trust toward the church and people of faith. This loss of trust affects all churches in some way.
We once defined a Christian by their relationship with Jesus Christ and the life that flowed from that relationship. Historically Christianity was defined with an essential orthodoxy that included certain core beliefs about the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. In the Charismatic renewal we saw the life of the Spirit flow and people of faith entering into a Spirit empowered life. Currently there is a new orthodoxy emerging among many Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians in the United States. This new orthodoxy is a political one. One must support the GOP platform and God’s “anointed” leader, President Trump. If one does not, they are considered not submissive to Apostolic authority, demon possessed or worse unsaved.
Labeling Theory: Labeling the Educated
I have also noticed how labeling theory is used to discount educated people as if somehow if one is educated one does not live by the Holy Spirit. I get that as the gifts of the Spirit emerged some theologians discounted and labeled pastors and other members of their congregation as fanatics and enthusiasts. That wound is real. However one cannot say that all educated people do not practice, teach and encourage the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I have read many books and listened to many podcasts by great and learned scholars who affirm these gifts and their proper use in the body of Christ.
I wonder sometimes if by labeling these people as unspiritual, we have lost the gifts they bring the church. And what remains is an echo chamber of talk show host theologians.
And talk show theology has become the core theology of many Christians.
I believe that when Jesus died on the cross he was enthroned as the King. And that God is not at this time appointing rulers as he did in the Old Testament and the Kingdom is not coming by political means. Jesus is King of a world-wide, multi-ethnic people who know and follow Jesus. A people who accept his influence and live in the Jesus Way. And the church has moved off the mark and embraced an unholy alliance with the state. Down through history, whenever the church has taken that stance, they have surrendered their witness and joined hands with the Empire.
We must return to the governance of Christ and stop discounting, dismissing and labeling the prophetic voices trying to speak into the body of Christ. We must stop the practices that exclude brothers and sisters in Christ because they vote differently. We must recognize that political parties are of this world and function in the way the world functions.
We as God’s people must always speak prophetically into these political entities, stand up for the vulnerable and participate as good citizens. (And there are other kinds of vulnerable people other than the unborn). We are strangers and aliens in this world, we are of a different kingdom whose salt and light make this world a little more whole. And our influence is not from using power over, but by power through the Spirit as we serve others in the way that Christ did.