A Modest Proposal for a (Possibly) Temporary Ban on Two Words

In virtually every episode of Law & Order I’ve seen, a lawyer will toss out something about the witness that they know will be stricken from the record. However, they do it regardless in hopes that the heinous nature of the implication will stick in the jurors’ minds. In Community's pitch-perfect homage to L&O last week, one of the “lawyers” accused a witness of being a “Holocaust-denying 9/11 pedophile”—which makes no sense—and immediately said “Withdrawn” with a smile.

It’s dirty pool. Ideally, you’re supposed to make an argument through reason or moral uprightness. But the hope here is that the label you throw around your opponent’s neck will drag them down in the eyes of whomever you are trying to persuade. It’s mirrors and smoke. It also seems to be the first shot fired in every political debate and—this is where it’s most difficult for me—most church disagreements.

That’s why I propose we stop using these two words: liberal and conservative.

What the heck do those words even mean? It depends on who you ask. Are there differences between the two? Yes and they are fairly big differences. But if a conservative uses the word “liberal” and a liberal uses the word “conservative,” you can almost guarantee that what they mean is “Holocaust-denying 9/11 pedophile.” It makes no sense and yet people eat it up.

When we use these words, we are throwing up monstrous projections of the people with which we disagree and, in most cases, they’re not monsters. But that’s a lot easier than dealing with complex and complicated issues. It’s lazy. It’s unfair to those needing dialogue. And it shows a lack of respect for another individual.

When prominent leaders in the church do this—which happened in a blog I just read that spurred this post—it makes me furious. And it happens all the time with people that I know my friends admire. The word “liberal” is shorthand for “heretical Christianity” in a lot of circles. In others, “conservative” is code for “bigoted, backwards Christianity.”

Instead of talking together as the Church, we’re just throwing grenades from our heavily-fortified camps. We’re not coming together to talk, fellowship, or reason together. When we do this, we’re implicitly saying we know it all except the only problem is we don’t. We might as well just call each other “Holocaust-denying 9/11 pedophiles.”

So let’s stop labeling others liberal and conservative. Let’s explain our ideas, clearly and civilly mark out our disagreements, and not vilify each other. I think it’d help the Church a great deal.

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