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Shedding the Labels and Boxes, Embracing the Truth

By Dr. Alveda C. King with Elizabeth Stoner

(This entry was originally posted on Wednesday, April 1st, 2009 at 12:00 PM)


Galatians 4:16 – Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?

In preparing this chapter, I was constantly plagued with the burden that accompanies the mantle of bearing the conservative label. I find that I resist being painted into a corner and confined in a box that is currently labeled as “conservative.” The labels of Conservative and Liberal are just as dangerous and misleading as any other labels. They are ambiguous and subjective so they don’t convey a clear meaning.  Then when they are attributed to or appointed to a person or a group, an instant division occurs. Labels prohibit people who often share common beliefs on certain issues from standing together with others who may believe some of what the first group believes, but not everything they believe.

The following definitions should clearly and easily distinguish the group labeled “liberal” from the group labeled “conservative.”


Liberal – favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.

Progress – a movement toward a goal or to a further or higher stage:

Conservative -  having the power or tendency to conserve; preserve

Reform – the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, unsatisfactory, etc.: social reform; spelling reform, to put an end to (abuses, disorders, etc.).

Conserve – to prevent injury, decay, waste, or loss of

Preserve – to keep alive or in existence; make lasting: to preserve our liberties as free citizens, to keep safe from harm or injury, protect or spare.


Yet, we find that even the definitions overlap, causing one to wonder if liberal means conservative and vice versa.

For instance, some stand for protecting the lives of our children at ALL stages of life, beginning with the conception of the 46 chromosomes, and ending at natural death. Pro-lifers are not preventing nor denying life, liberty and justice, pro-lifers are not holding back liberty of life. So pro-life can be both liberal and conservative. Oh what fun it is to play the label game.


My friend Elizabeth explains it this way: “We have driven a lot of cars in our day, some new, some used and some just mere relics of what once was. At one point when our money was low, we purchased a vehicle that came with those wonderful outdated political bumper stickers. There is nothing like running around with a Carter bumper Sticker when George Bush Sr. is in office. So, being naïve as to the tenacity with which these labels are designed to adhere to the surface they are placed on, I figured I could apply some elbow grease and chemicals to get the label off. The next morning after breakfast I went forth, armed with my rubber gloves, scruggie, soapy water and pure ammonia.

First I applied the soapy water liberally and then tried to scrub through the label with a scruggie - no give. Then I applied pure ammonia, and the only thing that loosed up was the congestion in my head. Next I went into the kitchen for a razor blade, figuring I could gently get the edges to come loose and then ease the rest of the label off. After about 20 minutes of trying this, the only thing that gave were my rubber gloves, which now had so many bits missing, I had to go get another pair. While I was inside I grabbed an extension cord and a hair dryer, assuming that if I heated the sticker, it might come loose. But it never did budge completely; I was able to get bits and pieces of it off, but never the whole thing. It now looked worse than when I started so since we had only paid $150 for the car, and it already had the seats duct taped, I dried the chrome bumper off and neatly covered the offending bumper sticker with a piece of gray duct tape, calling the morning a “wash.”.

As I sat on the porch sipping my ice tea and rocking back and forth in my chair, a light suddenly came on in my mind. I realized that the morning had not been a futile effort at all. There were scores of lessons to be learned from that old bumper sticker.

First, labels stick. When we as Christians label one another, be it our children, our spouse or our fellow man, those labels have a tendency to stick. The more we use them, the greater the intensity of the bond between man and label becomes. We get tired and frustrated that our toddlers have not yet learned to see what is so obvious to us and suddenly we call them stupid, or dumb, or some other barb that sticks in their minds and begins to grow. We feel insecure or frightened so we give groups and organizations brands that portray them as the enemy and then wonder why we can not work together or live together in harmony. We view religions, creeds, ethnic groups and even socio-economic groups as either acceptable or not by criteria that are often based on fear, insecurity, lies and sin. Then, after we have wrongfully judged the groups in question, we resort to labeling them with hateful, demeaning, divisive names that stick. Later, when we find a common cause, we struggle to unite, yet often fail because of distrust, deep wounds, and divisions these labels have bred within us. Labels stick.

Secondly, labels are hard to remove. Sadly, we often realize our mistake after the toddler has become a young adult. He’s grown up hearing us berate him in anger with labels that each year ingrained a false understanding of himself into the fiber of his heart and character until finally, when we wake up and see what we have done, the damage is so deeply rooted, it will not easily be removed. The economy is a problem, yet another war needs to be addressed, poverty is rampant and spreading and as a society we need to come together to solve these problems, but the labels are stuck. We don’t trust each other. We don’t see each other in the light of what we can become but rather in the archaic and hateful labels we have grown up to embrace. So then our collaborations are weak when we need them to be strong, and we find the ability to stand together for a good cause difficult to nearly impossible when it should be so easy. We want to trust each other, but the labels are sticking. We want to not be afraid, but the labels are sticking. We want to forgive each other, but the labels have bonded deep into our hearts. We want to unite, but the divisions are so many and the labels just will not give. Labels are hard to remove.

Thirdly, sometimes we just have to put a patch on it and try to move forward in hopes that time will heal. The patch is not pretty. The beauty of the sparkling polished chrome bumper will be forever marred by the patch, but gradually, over time, things change. The bumper gets old and starts peeling and rusting and suddenly a duct tape patch doesn’t stand out so much. But it takes a lot of time and sadly, while we can move forward, there will always be damage to some degree, left behind.

Labels prevent us from loving one another as God has commanded us to do. Labels inhibit us from doing unto others and we would have them to unto us. Labels hinder us from allowing the fruits of the Spirit to flow from our hearts to those around us. Labels ostracize people who are created in God’s image and cause us to do what God says is foolish- judging ourselves by others rather than by the law of God. Labels impede the movements of unity, peace and harmony for which our families, our communities, our nation and our world are pleading.

Labels are something Christians must avoid at all cost. After all, the bumper stickers we are applying in our daily lives are adhered to human hearts, not mere cars or buildings. The bond and the subsequent damage runs deep and affects not only individuals but families, communities and nations for generation after generation. The use of labels in our lives MUST stop- immediately. I hope you remember this thought every time you see a bumper sticker.”

After reading and re-reading Elizabeth’s analogy, I realized why it took so long for me to write this chapter. I was waiting for her to journal this truth. Labels are divisive, and boxes are restrictive, which is why I resist the label of “conservative.”

The practice of accepting and assigning labels and boxes is just as bad as assigning separatism to the human race. This practice is deceptive and dangerous. We are one human race, not separate races and classes divided by skin color. There is no red or black, or white or brown, or yellow race. There is one human race with ethnic distinctions. So when we put people in a “color box,” we begin to discriminate, which is sin!

Another practice of labeling and boxing is restricting God given gifts that emerge in people we have stereotyped, labeled and boxed in. For example, can an accountant not also be a poet? Can a scientist not also be a great cook? When we label people according to our understanding of their gifts and talents, we leave no room for God’s creativity to abundantly burst forth in multiple streams. I have a friend who is a real estate and investment genius. Yet, he is a wonderful composer and producer of music. People tend to try to tell him that his music is a nice hobby, but that he should stick to one thing. How sad!

In the beloved community, so named by my uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., labels, boxes and separate races don’t exist. To close by returning to the initial thought, the conservative label is not a badge of honor. It is a state of being, a cry for liberty in a world that is hungry for truth. Let us pray that we move on from labels and boxes into a higher place where love abounds.

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