label-maker.jpgNo, I haven’t apostasized.  Like I said last night, I still love God and he loves me.  We’re on good terms.  It’s kind of funny how a lot of my posts begin with disclaimers lately, eh?  Like I mentioned at the end of my last post though, I’ve recently been struggling with how to label myself.  I’m not a big fan of labels because they really only serve to stereotype people.  If we’re being honest though, we are all going to be labled whether we like it or not so I’m at least trying to have some say in what that label is.  No, I’m not ashamed to be associated with Jesus Christ.  I willingly and gladly associate myself with him.  My problem is that by associating myself with Jesus through the label “Christian”, I am unwillingly associated with some people who label themselves Christian that I’m not sure Jesus would want his name associated with.  People who are filled with hate instead of love, and say that they hate in the name of Jesus.  People who judge like they are God himself, able to see straight to people’s hearts and then deal with them accordingly.  People who give Jesus a bad name.

I finished reading unChristian by David Kinnaman a few weeks ago and it just kind of confirmed to me that I wasn’t alone in what I’d been thinking and feeling for quite some time now.  He did a survey, especially looking at the opinions of american youth, and asked what they thought of Christians.  The most common opinions expressed were judgmental, anti-gay, and hypocritical.  These “big three” traits were all opinions of Christians that were held by over 80% of those polled.  None of these surprised me.  Why wouldn’t the world think that these are natural traits of Christians when the only Christians they see or know of are in the media expressing these exact traits: picketing Heath Ledger’s funeral, holding signs up saying “God Hates Gays”, blaming the California wildfires on the acceptance of homosexual lifestyles there, blaming 9/11 on things like legalized abortion and gay rights.  I was reading Tim Kurek’s blog today and he said that when he read the book, “I am reading all these statistics about how people outside our religion (ages 16-29) perceive our faith and it isn’t a good thing. My first instinct when I started reading it was to say “this isn’t accurate”, but then every experience I have had over the past few months has shown the data to be correct. It breaks my heart.”  I totally agree with him that it breaks my heart that this is how Christians are perceived, but to me these statistics weren’t at all surprising because even as a pastor I think this is my perception of a number of people who call themselves Christians.  Yup, I’m a pastor and I’m really struggling to label myself a Christian.  I don’t think I can do it anymore.  Labeling myself a Christian in public closes so many doors and ends so many conversations before I even get a chance to start them.  If people find out I’m a pastor, then they quite often just say something like, “Oh, that’s interesting.  I have to go now.”  I’m not ashamed of Christ, I’m just ashamed of the public persona of “Christians”.

I felt pretty strongly about this before today, and then today it was confirmed to me how urgent it is that I find a new label when I was introduced to the stunning sermons of Pastor Steven L Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Arizona.  Wow.  I saw this video on David Crowder’s blog of his sermon in which he blamed the ills of western society on the fact that men are being forced to urinate while sitting instead of “pissing against the wall” (standing up) as God intended men to do.  Guys who sit down (including other pastors and President Bush apparently) to urinate are only “males” not men.  He got this from an obscure passage in 1 Kings 14:10 where god promised to punish Jeroboam and would cut off all those who “pisseth against the wall”.  This is a King James Version metaphor for men, because they urinate standing up.  Unfortunately, he failed to recognize that those who “pisseth against the wall” were the ones who were going to be punished by God, not the ones that he accepted as examples of manhood as Pastor Steven would have it.  So I did some more research on this guy and found a lot that made me want to either scream, laugh hysterically, or would cause blood to shoot from my eyeballs.  He has elightened essays expounding on important topics such as why the King James Version should be trusted over the original greek, why men cannot become gynecologists because all nudity outside of marriage is sinful (it’s adultery), why all music less than 50 years old is from the devil (because it originated from “ungodly sinners like Little Richard, a sodomite filthy animal”) and yes that includes all “Christian Contemporary” music too, and why bible colleges are anti-christian.  Oh ya, and if you look on youtube you can find his sermon on why Billy Graham is going to hell.  According to Pastor Steve, Billy Graham “will be responsible for more people going to hell than any other man I can think of right now”.  This guy is nuts . . . scarry nuts.  Thankfully, based on pictures of his congregation, it looks like the church consists of his wife, his kids (ya he has kids), and his next door neighbors too scared not to come.  This guy calls himself a Christian.  If I label myself a Christian, I’m lumped in with this nutbar.  Western society would have no reason to distinguish between the two of us.  I can’t accept that.  I won’t accept that.  My best friend Jared and I may have theological differences, but compared to this guy we’re identical twins.

I don’t have a problem with the term Christian itself.  I love being associated with Christ.  The issue is that over time, due to the limitations of language, words can become tainted or even broken to the point that they no longer mean what they used to.  I think the word “Christian” may be broken.  I’m not sure that the label can be again rescussitated in this generation.  There is just so much baggage that accompanies the label that I think it might be time to move on to something that doesn’t kill relationships before they start.

I’ve been thinking of what else I could label myself.  When Christianity was just starting it’s was often known of as “The Way”, and Christians weren’t Christians, they were “followers of the Way”.  I could use this one because it doesn’t have any baggage at all.  Unfortunately, it also holds no meaning in this society either.  If you say you’re a “follower of the Way” most people would likely think you are into some kind of new age mystic cult.  I’ve thought of using the label “Christ follower” because it’s quite straightforward in explaining what it is and not too many people actually have a problem with Jesus, just “Christians”.  I think this is so close to the Christian label though that it’s going to be engulfed in baggage with a year or so though too.  I’ve thought of using Tony Campollo’s new label, “Red Letter Christian“, but the issue there is that I’m not just a red letter Christian; I’m a black letter Christian too.  I believe that the whole of Scripture is inspired and useful, not just the things that Jesus said directly.  So, that leaves me where I’m at . . . looking for a new label.  Let me know if you come up with anything.  I’m open to suggestions.

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Comments
  1. Tim Kurek says:

    Great blog! I totally feel the same way you do. That is why it is SO important that we stand up and lead our generation and the generations to follow to LOVE, and to teach that love is the motive behind our “moral” lifestyles.

    I will definitely be checking back!

    Tim Kurek
    http://UriahMinistries.wordpress.com

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  2. 6daham9 says:

    Im not a christian, i was labled as a Buddhist when I was born. I observed all the rituals present buddhists practice and thought to my self, “This is not what Buddha taught” Just like Jesus he showed us a way of life. Just like Jesus he introduced the almighty not in the name of GOD, but in a theory called the DOCTRINE. Buddha told of Eternal Life called NIRVANA. Buddha spoke of SAINTS called ARIHATS.

    Lessen Greed, Lessen Hatred…….. a way of life with saticefaction and happyness without hurting others. …………

    I agree with you 100% ….. religion aint a lable… its a way of life…

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  3. Terry says:

    I’m always amused at the differences between christianity in the US and Australia. There’s quite a difference, even though in Aus we have some representations of the American styles. I appreciate the fact that although we are nominally ‘Christian’ in Australia we do not have the tight link between our faith and moralism and politics. Jesus wasn’t very fond of the moralists or the politicians either. I’m not suggesting we go left-left-left either. But the reality is that if we hope to have a faith that’s authentic, then it stands by itself – and often at odds with the accepted wisdoms (cf. the book of Job).

    When I was younger, people opted out of the set-in-concrete stereotypes by calling themselves “Jesus people” – but now that’s a stereotype too! I suppose that we will constantly need to re-evaluate (but not always jettison) our ‘tags’. Sometimes what is required is not abandoning our labels, but educating others to a better, truer understanding of those labels. (We are all facing the same need for re-education in relation to the many various shades of Islam!)

    Terry

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  4. Donna says:

    I understand how you feel. The term “Christian” has become a universal term. Catholics are christians, christians are christians, and to Muslim’s anyone not a Muslim is a christian. Did I just make things worse?
    So here are a few suggestions:
    -Jesus said “marvel not that you are born again”-Born Again Christian usually narrows you down.
    -I use the term “Believer” when talking to those that are saved, just to narrow down again.
    -The Bible says you are a “new creation”-but that may sound too new age…
    -Acts 26:28 & 1 Pet 4:16-uses the word “Christian”-just because the enemy has blurred the definition doesn’t mean we need to drop what scripture calls us.
    -I also checked what Paul addressed in his letters and it was “church of God & saints”. Good luck going around calling yourself a saint! I can only imagine that response!
    -Last and final thought-“I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”-1 Cor 9:22 Don’t stress it…

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  5. bradmoffatt says:

    Good post. I feel your pain and identify with you about 90%. I also think “steve” is a wing-nut and an abomination to Christianity. The funny thing is – when I checked him out for the first time – I couldn’t stop! It was so bad and so maddening I could not stop watching and listening to his approach to scripture and his approach to life. It’s like tasting sour milk and asking someone else to taste it.
    Anyways – keep up your great thoughts and keep it real – I don’t want to see you on youtube anytime soon!

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  6. […] My friend Ben had a great post this morning on his struggle with labeling himself a Christian.  Check it out here […]

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  7. Jon Kramer says:

    I too have felt this way for quite a while (more-so with the title ‘pastor’ though than with the title ‘Christian’) – but lately, I’m starting to think that we need to give people a little more credit. Personally, I find that people are willing to give you a chance to show them what you’re really about – regardless of titles. While I believe that 80% of people may be biased towards Christians (myself included), I still figure that 75% of them, in-spite of their bias, would still respond to you as a person on your own merits.
    So rather retreating and trying to create a new label to have people come to understand us under, I figure we ought to just spend our time and energies on making our own lives and communities as godly as possible. Because not all of people’s assumptions about our ‘evilness’ are wrong – there’s a lot of stuff we need to clean up within our own ranks (sexism, greed, hypocrisy…).

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  8. Hey, it looks like we both share a distaste to the label game. One question: Why do you need a label at all? In terms of, well, “strategy”, you shouldn’t officially require a label in order to appease others. If people are curious about what makes you tick, they’ll ask. In a ministry, I’d see that as far more effective than a “Hello, my label is” type of tag. Just my thoughts. Labels have horrible connotations and stereotypes associated with them, and if you want to trek your own path (or the one you think is right), then I’d shed the label entirely and go on “under the radar”, so to speak…

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  9. Jared says:

    First off – thanks for the props!
    Secondly – I understand a lot of what you are saying. There are a lot of wackos that defame the name of Christ. If you feel ashamed, I wonder what Jesus thinks?!
    However, being your friend, I want to challenge you to not let the label decide who you are. I’m quite confident this isn’t the case for you, Ben, but for others upset with their label, it could be an excuse not to change their character. They would rather find a label that fits them than fit into a “label”.
    Scripture (although after your previous post, I have a feeling it went on a season of “Biggest Loser” and no longer has the same amount of weight in your thinking) obviously lays out directives and examples of what it means to be called “little-Christs” (aka Christians). I believe it is the onus of the Christian (or whatever term you want to call someone who follows Jesus) to grow and develop into the character of Jesus.
    I guess my hesitation with this whole topic is that it distracts a person from actually working on being formed into whatever it is they call themselves. For example, I could take my days here at church discontent with my title as a ‘pastor’ because of nutjobs like the video you posted. However, if I spend my time trying to find a new title, I use up my time doing that and not taking time to care for the people of my congregation and my community. We only have so many hours in this life, and so I ask if we are using them most effectively.

    Lastly, instead of looking at those that defame the name of Christ, what about the ones that exalt the name of Jesus? I’m proud to be in the same camp as Paul, Matthew, Luke, Mark, John, Ignatius of Loyola, Aquainas, Augustine, Bonhoeffer, Luther, Calvin, the Wesley boys, Lewis, Tolkien, Wright, Edwards, Nouwen, Kempis, A.B. Simpson, and of course, you Ben!
    Just something to think about.

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  10. […] Am I? My friend Ben has written an insightful blog position on why he struggles to “label” himself a Christian. I feel his angst. After seeing […]

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  11. dyingdaily says:

    Honestly, I think Christian is a pretty good term. It means Christ’s follower right? And I don’t exactly see people bringing up in a conversation, “hey, guys, I’m a Christian!” Personally, I don’t do that. People can usually tell I am one when I ask if they need prayer (“Can I pray with/for you?”) or when I simply say, “I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.” (which I actually don’t do much) Yes, ‘Christian’ can become a label but only if one lets it. Just because others may have stereotypes based on my ethnicity, that does not mean I do not want to be whatever ethnicity I am. So what? Surprisingly, not every body in America has stereotypes about Christians; sometimes, we ‘Christians’ are the ones who are too afraid of what others think and let that affect our actions.

    There are always the “bad apples” in every case of apples that give the entire case a bad rep. Don’t focus on the bad apples but focus on the good apples and most importantly, we can be one of the good apples that outshine the bad. The choice is ours.

    P.S. If you’re wondering, yeah, I don’t know you but stumbled across this entry and decided to input my thoughts.

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  12. moraloutrage says:

    it is an unfortunate truth that various organizations may all use the term “Christian,” many use the term without, apparently, knowing what it means. It is not surprising that serious Christians cringe when they hear the word in political commentary.

    http://moraloutrage.wordpress.com/2010/08/30/attaching-the-christian-label/

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