We tend to use categories to guide us through a complicated life full of boundless diversity. For example, most children learn the difference between a parent and a nonparent, safe and unsafe, self and other. That is good. However, those walls of security may turn into prison walls, both for the one on the inside and those on the outside. Categorizing people may create barriers which destroy relationships.

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Mike Patrick

Categorizing people is a common practice. Economically, we divide people into rich and poor. Politically, we talk about conservatives and liberals. Republicans identify as traditionalists or Tea Party folk. Democrats are yellow dog or blue dog. A recent political issue in the news debates whether the next US census should have the question, “Are you a citizen?”

Racially, people are called black, white, or Asian. A young receptionist asked me the other day, “Why am I considered white, when I am Latino?” Sexual identity labels someone as gay or straight. Theologically, we identify people as fundamentalist, conservative, progressive or post-modernist. We pigeon-hole people by labeling them by their faith affiliation—Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, Catholic, Charismatic. We use to kid around by saying, “When you get three Baptists together you will have four opinions.”

We think we understand people by labeling them theist, deist, monotheist, atheist, polytheist, pantheist, animist, universalist and so forth; not to mention the fear generated by certain perspectives of other world religions, especially the irrational fear of Muslims. So these categories may become a means of expressing derision against others. We accuse them of being different in an unacceptable way.

The Bible (Rev. 12:10) calls Satan the accuser. He seeks to destroy our relationship with God by bringing judgment on us—accusing us of not being good enough, holy enough, generous enough, worthy enough. We are all that in Christ. The word translated “accuser” comes from the Greek New Testament word kategoreo.” We get the English word category from it. Thus, when we categorize people with an implicit judgment of them, we join Satan’s ranks of destroying relationships.

For a number of years, the late Rev. Fred Levrets, Southern Baptist missionary to Africa for three decades, spoke each semester as a special guest to my seminary students. Fred shared with them the story of his and his wife Mary Lou’s journey of having a gay son, Scott, who died of AIDS. During the 1990s, they helped a number of families in Abilene deal with the issue of having a gay child who was diagnosed with AIDS. Sometimes, when medical help was unavailable in Abilene, Fred, at his own expense, would drive a young AIDS patient to Fort Worth for treatment. I will never forget the statement that Fred declared to my students: “It is easier to label than to love.”

Mike Patrick retired as Chaplain and Ministry Education Coordinator after 27 years at Hendrick Medical Center.

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