I have become aware lately that the more my spiritual journey deepens, the more reluctant I am to identify myself as a Christian. Don’t get me wrong – I still love Jesus. In fact, it is this very love, this immersion in Jesus’ teachings, life and ministry that brings me to this place. I am convinced that Jesus would be deeply troubled, not only by the words and deeds that are committed in his name, but also by the way in which we use labels to define ourselves and limit others in such hurtful ways.
For some, the term “Christian” is a label we use when we are at our most self-righteous. It is a label that acts as a pedestal upon which we can stand while we rain derogatory labels down on others, thus confirming our own superiority and our “rightness.” Labels have become weapons, the currency of our culture, hurled just as ferociously in our churches as in the political and social arenas of our country and our world. Labels are instruments of division, animosity, and distrust, sowing seeds of fear in all who participate in this ugly game. And in our fear of being wrong or being excluded – or worse, persecuted – we shore up our defenses, cast others out so we can be in, and stand on the letter of the law so that we can prove our rightness should anyone dare to challenge our beliefs. Labelers are purveyors of absolutes, clinging to the black and white and refusing to permit any shades of gray, much less a hint of color!
In contrast, when I turn to the gospels, I see a Jesus who utterly ignored labels, who chose to receive all who came to him. The poor and outcast, the unclean, the prostitutes and tax collectors were all included in the broad embrace of the reign of God. He dared to forgive the adulterous woman and offered living water to the oft-married woman at the well who also happened to be a Samaritan, God forbid! Through word and deed, he taught us that even Samaritans (aka gays, Democrats, Republicans, Muslims, illegal immigrants) are our neighbors. The only time Jesus really used labels was when he was challenging the Pharisees and temple elite to get off their high horses and join the party!
I have come to know a Jesus who built bridges instead of walls, who replaced hatred with love and taught an economy of grace and abundance rather than one of scarcity and fear. The outcasts were brought in from the cold, and all – even the self-righteous – were invited to the feast. So that’s who I want to be, and I don’t think there is any word or label that encapsulates that. I cannot, in good conscience, call myself a Christian anymore. But I am utterly and devotedly a follower of Jesus Christ.