Current Events Monday: What’s in a Name?

James Hassell   -  

Have you noticed the uptick in the politically partisan name-calling? We obviously have entered the nitty gritty of an election year. Candidates of all stripes seem to froth at the mouth when describing their opponents as “fascist” (the popular word choice for name calling in this election cycle). But this is nothing new. In fact, labeling the other guy or gal a fascist seems rather tame compared to some of the whoppers of the past. For instance, Harry Truman once set off a firestorm by labeling all Republicans as “snollygosters.” You may be like me and look that one up in a dictionary. Apparently, it is a way of criticizing one’s mental capabilities. One of FDR’s vice-presidents was once called a “labor-baiting, poker-playing, whiskey-drinking old man.”

But let’s not think that the name calling is confined to modern politics. One can consider the volley of vitriol between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1800. Adams started the mudslinging by castigating Jefferson’s racial heritage and even took shots at Jefferson’s wife by gossiping about her supposed promiscuity. When Jefferson’s wife died during the brutal campaign, Jefferson took the opportunity to fire back at the Adams campaign by labeling them “murderers.”

Jesus’ command to love and pray for our enemies often appears that much more vacant from the political and social landscape. I suppose the offensive nomenclature continues even today because it furthers a basic narrative and earns votes. The narrative is simply stated thusly: “It’s us versus them.” Pigeon-holing our opponents with pejorative names is one of the oldest tricks in the book, but it obviously still works. If we can get the upper hand through labeling, then we good guys can defeat those bad guys, or so the thinking goes. The problem is that we all have great characteristics about us…as well as some major foibles. To play the political game correctly, one must point out his/her greatness, cover up the bad, and magnify the worst in others. That doesn’t sound too much like the gospel, though.

One of Jesus’ most memorable and humorous quip about name calling and judgmentalism came in his Sermon on the Mount. He reminded us that, before we take a splinter out of another’s eye, we should take the big plank sticking out of our own. In other words, when we recognize our own faults before exacerbating those of an opponent, it becomes clear that we may actually have more mess in us than we can find in them.

We find other clear biblical guidance about name-calling in the simple, blunt, and wonderful truth that every person is created in the image of God and is therefore a person of worth. In ministering to the “least of these,” we find ourselves face-to-face with Jesus.

The next time you find yourself welling up inside with an epithet, perhaps it is more advisable to take a deep breath, consider the humanity of the other, and do unto that person as you would have them do unto you. You may lose some popularity points, but you gain that much more in your witness for the Kingdom of God.