This past year has been stressful, exhausting, painful and filled with other negative emotions. We’ve all been stretched and tried in unexpected ways and are grasping for new normals.
In the midst of this strife and confusion, our relationships have been strained to the breaking point. While people have always disagreed over points of religion and politics, the past year has brought out so much more.
Tensions and deep-seated racist beliefs have simmered, boiled and exploded into violence and acts of murder, motivated by hate, fear and conspiracy theories.
In July 2020, the Washington Examiner reported a study that found in the United States, anti-Asian hate crimes had risen 150%. And the US isn’t the only country to see an increase. In Canada, a new study also reveals an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in the past year and Time Magazine reports this trend is repeated around the world.
This type of generalized violence against an entire race has happened throughout history, and yet we’re still at a loss of how to take off the labels and humanize one another so the healing can begin.
How labels help us and hurt us
When we’re children, we assume everyone has the same lives and experiences and since our worlds are small, it’s generally true. We put labels on others and they put labels on us. And while these labels help us to compartmentalize and put order into our world, they can also work to slap a generalized stereotype on others, without giving folks a chance to speak for themselves.
We also tend to label people we disagree with. Whether it’s a political ideology, a religious opinion or a take on world events, we’re quick to label people “woke” or “conspiracy theorist” or “boomer.” We label people in order to vault ourselves as better, which dehumanizes the “other” and empowers us to ignore and disengage at best and justify harm at worst.
With all the vitriol on social media, it can sometimes feel like there’s only one of two ways things can go when you encounter someone you disagree with: unfriend and block or lash out and argue.
But as Christians, we know there’s another way, a better way, despite how things look on the surface. While what’s going on in the world may feel like it’s out of control and perhaps even beyond repair, we only need to look to the Bible to see uncomfortable similarities so we can be reminded to take a page from Jesus’ playbook.
How Jesus dealt with labels
It’s easy to brush off the stories in the Bible as platitudes or fairy tales but the characters in the Bible were real people and they recorded their experiences in the New Testament for our edification. If we’re to make any meaningful difference in our world, we need to deal with labels like Jesus did.
When we read the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, it can be difficult to see past the cultural context to understand just how radical Jesus was, and how much He upset the status quo.
Jesus understood what God wanted Him to do and he used that relationship as his North Star, helping Him make decisions. Instead of looking to the religious or political leaders of the time, Jesus looked to God and acted from a place of love and acceptance. Where Jewish cultural tradition in these times marginalized women, children, the sick, the sinful and those who were from other races, Jesus saw people who were desperately loved by God.
In Luke 17:11-19, there’s a story of Jesus encountering 10 men with leprosy. In these times, lepers were quarantined and kept away from the general population, yet Jesus engaged with them and even healed them from their disease.
John chapter 4 relays an encounter Jesus had with a woman while He was travelling through Samaria. The Jews hated the Samaritans and would often avoid travelling through the region so they wouldn’t encounter each other. But, Jesus was different. He stopped at a well to rest and drink water and this is where he met a Samaritan woman. They had a conversation, which was against Jewish custom as she was both a woman and an outsider. It changed the course of her life. Jesus spoke words of dignity and life and confronted her past and present sin. She responded in faith, and many other Samaritans came to believe in Jesus because of this woman, all spouting from an innocent yet counter-cultural meeting at a well.
These are just a couple of examples of the upside-down approach Jesus had for dealing with people. He could look past the stereotype and the cultural rigmarole, trauma and platitudes and see the truth: every person is made in God’s image and is deeply loved.
What to do when we disagree
In Matthew 22:36-40, the disciples asked Jesus what the most important rule was. His response, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
With all the different and opposing viewpoints being freely shared, and the ever-changing rules and regulations we’re grappling with, it’s easy to lose focus and give into mass hysteria and panic. Jesus shows us there’s a better way: love. It always comes back to love.
In the midst of troubling times, we can forget to ask God how we should respond, or what we should believe and how we should act. But when we do, things become clearer. Our emotions are held at bay, and the Holy Spirit has a chance to work in our lives delivering gifts of patience, gentleness, goodness and self-control.
Because at the end of the day, no matter what outrageous things other people are spewing on the Internet, each person is made by God and worthy of love and dignity. It may feel like a monumental task to tear off the label and see one another on equal footing but it’s the way Jesus would have done it. If we claim to be followers of Christ, this should be our aim too.