One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is the whole idea of labels. Whether we like it or not, all of us get scores of labels put on us. Some of the labels that are applied to me include husband, father, pastor, middle-aged, Canadian, white, Anglophone, heterosexual, Christian, Baptist, traditional, middle class, liberal, conservative, fundamentalist (depending on who’s describing me), educated, intolerant, and narrow. Some of these labels I embrace while others I reject. Whether I embrace them or reject them, however, they are still applied to me. One label that gets applied to me that I have mixed feelings over is the label evangelical. On the one hand, I am proudly evangelical. I believe that Jesus died for our sins and that through putting our trust in Him we can have a relationship with God.
I know, however, that when many people hear the word, evangelical, a lot more comes to mind than this. A significant mistake made by the media in both Canada and the United States is the near constant identification of evangelicals with white, politically conservative, older men. The consternation felt by many evangelicals around this narrow pigeon-holing was recently expressed in a declaration signed by over 25,000 American evangelicals. In this declaration, they expressed their concern that the “media’s narrow labels of our community perpetuate stereotypes, ignore our diversity, and fail to accurately represent views expressed by the full body of evangelical Christians.” This declaration went on to celebrate the diversity of evangelicals, proudly proclaiming, “We are Americans of African and European descent, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American. We are women and men, as well as younger and older evangelical Christians. We come from a wide range of denominations, churches, and political orientations.”
Of course, it’s not just evangelicals who get labeled. What comes to mind when you hear the word Muslim? Do you immediately think of a radical, Islamic fundamentalist? This is as unfair to the vast majority of peaceful Muslims as it is to regard all evangelicals as “white, politically conservative, older men.” This was pressed home to me recently in a news clipping I read recently from Christianity Today. The clipping described a meeting of 300 Islamic leaders, representing 30 countries who came together to “denounce religious extremism and to address its causes.” That gathering came just four months after 200 Muslim leaders met and drafted the Marrakesh Declaration. In this document, these Islamic leaders called on “majority-Muslim countries to protect the freedom of religious minorities, including Christians.”
I don’t expect the media (nor anyone else) to stop using labels anytime soon. It’s important, however, for those of us who hear labels like Muslim and evangelical (as well as many others) to recognize and remind ourselves that these words are often much more inclusive than the narrow definitions perpetuated by much of the media. Let’s challenge ourselves and others to embrace and celebrate the full diversity that many of these labels represent and which are an essential aspect of what it means to be human. If we can do so, this white, middle-class, middle-aged, Anglophone, Canadian, Baptist, evangelical, pastor would be ever so grateful!