I participated in my first protest two weeks ago. I was protesting something that offended a group of people to which I don’t belong to. I partially felt that it wasn’t my business, as a racial outsider, but out of solidarity and compassion, I stood with my friends.
People who disagreed with the protest gave me quite a few labels I didn’t have before. Some unfriendly words were spoken and written about me and the other protesters, but those labels didn’t stick on me like they do other groups of people. As a white woman, I can participate in and walk away from a protest with the privilege of not having to worry about my safety. My label of race benefits me in more ways than I will ever know.
In Acts 22, Paul has an experience with labels that benefits him. About to be flogged for preaching to the Gentiles, Paul said to the centurion,
“Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who is uncondemned?” (Acts 22:25) The centurion and the tribune confirmed that Paul was a Roman citizen and “immediately drew back from Paul…for they realized that he was a Roman citizen and that they had bound him” (Acts 22:29).
I find it ironic (and relatable) that Paul worked to break down walls between the label divider of Jew and Gentile and then benefitted from a label himself. I don’t know if I believe labels are inherently bad or good, but I know they can be abused.
We hear this word “citizen” quite frequently in political news. We debate who deserves citizenship, how you can get citizenship, and what rights citizenship comes with. When hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, I heard and saw a lot of people encouraging everyone to donate by reminding them that Puerto Ricans are American citizens.
I have to ask: Why is American citizenship a prerequisite for people to care? That’s what’s implied at least by those kinds of (good-intentioned) persuasions.
There are so many labels attached to me from which I benefit. That’s not my fault, and it’s not wrong, I don’t think. However, I still need to acknowledge that not everyone has the same name tags as me and the privileges they bring.
You can take this as simply or as dramatically as you want.
My whole life I have been given the label of over-achiever. I turn in my papers on time every time with four extra pages, happily. When I got sick and couldn’t complete an assignment, my professor offered me an extension because of my “track record as a good student.” Would that professor offer any student an extension or was that a privilege given to me because of my label?
I am an American citizen. I can vote and run for office. When a natural disaster hits, my government comes to my aid because of my label.
What about the people who have been labelled slacker or alien? Who forgives them and gives them second chances? Who aids them in disasters? Who cares?
Jesus does. And He calls us to care, too.
I invite you to consider what name tags you wear that benefit you and who within your reach doesn’t get those benefits.
Remember that we all are citizens of the Kingdom with the right to elect compassion every day of our lives. Campaign for love. Advocate for the oppressed and forsaken. Impeach the hatred. Grant universal soul-care. Those are the politics of Jesus, and that’s the platform upon which I hope to run, the only label I care to have.