Saturday Symposium: Labels, Identities, and Ideologies

Hello, Readers! Thank you for another week of fun and challenging discussion. We love hearing your feedback. We have finally caught up on all the email we received two weeks ago, but we’re still playing catch-up this week, so please forgive us if we are slow in answering your queries.

Before asking this week’s question, we would like to share with you some of the most thought-provoking writing we’ve found in the blogosphere this week. We hope you will enjoy reading these as much as we have:

  • Our friend Julie Rodgers has written two insightful pieces for Spiritual Friendship this week. In “The Vulnerability of Hope,” she focuses on the theme of loneliness in the celibate life. Her complement piece, “Everyday Intimacy Played Out,” highlights the need for celibate people to live richly connected lives.
  • Preston Yancey’s blog hosted a guest post from an anonymous author this week. “What Women Want from the Church: To Have (and Enjoy) Sex” shares a personal experience of living in a sexless marriage and makes some important observations about the purity culture that is present in many Christian traditions.
  • Sarah Bessey’s blog hosted a guest post from Mary DeMuth titled, “In Which These 21 Things Shouldn’t Be Said to Sexual Abuse Victims.” Great advice from the perspective of a sexual abuse survivor. Be sure to check it out!
  • Finally, a totally random link that Sarah found while we were snowed in on Thursday: the true story of what happened to Stella Liebeck, the woman who sued McDonald’s after she was burned by hot coffee. Though a soundbite of the actual story has been part of American culture for several years, we had never heard all the facts of the case. We were drawn to this story because it is a great example of how things are not always as they seem.

Now, we would like to share with you our new “Saturday Symposium” question.

How this works: It’s very simple. We ask a multi-part question related to a topic we’ve blogged about during the past week or are considering blogging about in the near future, and you, our readers, share your responses in the comments section. Feel free to be open, reflective, and vulnerable…and to challenge us. But as always, be mindful of the comment policy that ends each of our posts. Usually, we respond fairly quickly to each comment, but in order to give you time to think, come back, add more later if you want, and discuss with other readers, we will wait until after Monday to respond to comments on Saturday Symposium questions.

This week’s Saturday Symposium question: This week, two of our posts dealt with issues of labels, identities, and ideologies. In “How to Talk with Others about A Queer Calling,” we discussed the language that has been used by others to describe our relationship and our writing project, and we clarified our preferences for labels with which we are comfortable. In “Seeking Color in a Black and White World,” Sarah reflected on how being quick to label a person in terms of politics or ideology can cause one to miss the nuances and complexities of that person’s experience. This week, we would like to know: how do you feel about categories and labels for ideologies and life experiences? Are there certain labels you find helpful in describing your identity, experience, and worldview to others? Are there labels that you feel are thrust upon you without your consent? Is it possible to move beyond the use of certain labels, or are labels a necessary part of communication?

We look forward to reading your responses. If you’re concerned about having your comment publicly associated with your name, please consider using the Contact Us page to submit your comment. We can post it under a pseudonym (i.e. John says, “your comment”) or summarize your comment in our own words (i.e. One person observed…). Participating in this kind of public dialogue can be risky, and we want to do what we can to protect you even if that means we preserve your anonymity. Have a wonderful weekend!


Sarah and Lindsey

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10 thoughts on “Saturday Symposium: Labels, Identities, and Ideologies

  1. I am seeing more posts recently about labels. I have often said the I believe labels are a hinderance and the Kingdom will be fully realized when we no longer use them. I wonder, as I sit in my own particular place of privilege, if that is just a bit cavalier. This week I was outraged by a pastor’s web site that exclusively used gendered language when describing pastoral roles in church, home, and community. The fact that I was excluded because my calling as “pastor” and my identity as “women” were not lifted up, but completely denied, made me feel invisible.

    So, what do I think about labels? I am conflicted. On one hand, I strive to BE radically hospitable as opposed to being labeled “ally”, I strive to BE a partner with my spouse as opposed to being labeled “wife”, BUT I embrace and cherish the identities of “mother”, “pastor”, “woman”, “beloved child of God”.

    As I look at what I just wrote I see that those labels I embrace are who I know I am, they don’t really require thought or work, they are my essence. The others seem to hold connotations of privilege (or subservience) that, in this particular season of my life, I resist.

    Yes, I am conflicted 🙂

    • Thanks for your observation that sometimes labels get used as a way of hiding some of the diversity within the category. We can only imagine how distressing it would be to read documents that suggested that all pastors are men.

      We also appreciate your observation that one is not obligated to take on certain labels because they don’t communicate adequately. There’s definitely a difference between “wife”, “mother”, and “woman” where not all people who choose one would opt for all three.

  2. As a guy who has yet to have had any feelings that would make him think he’s anything less than a Kinsey 6, I’ll go with “gay” when we’re talking about orientation (which I don’t much, because I’m still 99% in the closet).

    I also happen to be celibate. Besides that, I’m a pet lover. I also consider myself an occasional photographer. These are all identities, and none are as important as that of being a follower of Jesus. But it seems to me that most of the pushback that says that LGBTQ people shouldn’t own up to the LGBTQ part of themselves comes from straight people who are uncomfortable hearing about it. Has anyone ever chastised people for calling themselves cat lovers? Has anyone ever censured scientists, farmers, or doctors for making mention of their careers? (Well, in conservative evangelical contexts, maybe scientists wouldn’t make the best example, but I digress…)

    There’s a big difference between “I’m not comfortable discussing that” and “You should never say that you’re gay, or you’re not a true/good/obedient Christian.” The former I can respect, but the latter – coming from the mouths of people with boatloads of straight Christian privilege – I have no intention of honoring.

    • LJ, thanks. We find it remarkable how so many discussions about appropriate labels tend to focus around LGBT concerns. LGBT identities seem unique as problematic labels. We appreciate your discussion of the subtext. We try to respect when people are honestly not uncomfortable, but it’s another matter entirely when they try to tell us how we should be talking.

  3. I can say I’m gay if I want to and people can take it or leave it. Somebody needs to stand up to these people that think they can force gay Christians to not say they’re gay.

  4. I find labels hide who we are in a purposeful way, only revealing what is safe to share. In the past people got to know me as a lesbian when I went to the gay bars and LGBT events, then a Christian when I went to church and then a mom when I was with my daughter in the neighbourhood socializing with other moms. People in those respective social spheres did not connect all three aspects of me. I suppose for a long time I was comfortable keeping those groups separate. I think things are changing though in some places. It used to be that you had to be cautious about who you came out to. For example if I had been open about myself would the parents of my daughters’ friends have let their girls come over to our house? There appeared to me to be a reason to wear several hats. It’s not something I can do any more but it served a purpose at one time.

    • Kathy, thanks for your astute observation that labels can mask different parts of ourselves at different times. We think that might be behind why we headed this blog saying that we’re a “celibate, LGBT, Christian couple.” All four of those words are important to us.

      It can be manifestly difficult to be safe in a wide range of environments. We talked a bit about that when we discussed our choice of the “LGBT” and “queer” labels for this blog space.

      Out of curiosity, have you tried putting the three labels (Christian, lesbian, mother) together? If so, how did that go for you?

  5. I know I’m a bit late to this discussion, but I wanted to weigh in. I dislike labels because they’re very limiting–they put people in boxes, making them “a lesbian” or “a Christian” rather than simply a person. They deny the complexity that comes with being human, especially because the things that we’re using to label people, like Christianity, for example, can look very different for different people. A wide variety of people call themselves Christians and are called Christians by others, but not all of those people would agree on what actually makes one a Christian (this issue has come up often on this blog with the idea of celibacy–people see it very different ways and can’t always agree on how to define it). So besides defining a person by just one facet of themselves, labels also ignore the uniqueness of each individual’s experience within the labeled category. Of course, we can’t just do away with words like “celibate” and “Christian”, but using those words to define someone, without looking deeper to see what those words mean to that person and if they even want to be defined that way, as well as what other aspects there are to their identity, is where it becomes a problem.

    Labels are essentially shortcuts, and sometimes using shortcuts is necessary, but sometimes it’s just done out of laziness and a desire to make things easy, to neatly categorize someone rather than actually trying to know them as a complex person who defies labels and stereotypes. As Sarah wrote about in Seeking Color in a Black and White World, once we begin labeling people it’s easy to make assumptions about them, which can be not only frustrating but also hurtful.

    • Hi Tabitha, thanks for weighing in. We agree that labels can be limiting. However, we also think that there’s some power in letting people define labels for themselves. Lindsey remembers talking to pastors about the need for gay people to define what “gay” meant. Even labels like “person” and “human” need to be defined by considering the range of experiences they describe.

      We’d agree that there’s a big difference though when you’re trying to get to know a “celibate, LGBT, Christian couple” and when you’re trying to get to know “Sarah and Lindsey.” The latter is rooted in relationship.

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