Belonging: The Dangers of Labeling Others as Dangerous

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I used to have a language problem. I’m not referring to swear words. That took care of itself when I stopped playing hockey.

My language problem had more to do with a particular word I often tossed around: “dangerous.”

I used to think works of fiction about sorcerers and magic were dangerous. Don’t get me started on what I used to think about evolution.

I’ve since repented of my desire to label beliefs, books, or science as dangerous. In fact, I’ve tried to stop using the word “dangerous” when I’m describing otherwise harmless people, beliefs, or practices that I simply don’t agree with.

There are much better things to label as dangerous, especially when you’ve got anxiety issues like me. Using a chop saw? Dangerous! Do you want to know how many times I’ve imagined myself slicing through the power chord while hacking away at a chunk of wood?

Unfortunately, the “dangerous” labeling habit is hard to drop.

I mean, we live in a world where even one book reviewer suggested that Ann Voskamp’s book 1,000 Gifts is “dangerous.” A dangerous Ann Voskamp is about as likely as reading a headline, “Killer Bunny Attacks Town with Giant Carrot!” Seriously, if Ann Voskamp is dangerous, then I’m a nuclear weapon.

That particular reviewer backed off from some of his comments about Ann, but the fact that such an error could be made in the first place suggests our problem—not danger….

In this particular case, someone read a book by a Christian who simply has some different beliefs and practices from himself. Perhaps he imagined the worst case scenario of mystical prayer or the romance of God with his people, and he saw something dangerous. And then someone like me reads a review like that and thinks to himself, book reviewers like that are dangerous!

It’s easy to mistake a disagreement for danger.

I still catch myself thinking that some people in the church are “dangerous,” though I can usually stop myself from actually saying it… I hope. And then again, most of the times we use the word “dangerous” to describe a fellow Christian, we should probably just say that we’re different, we don’t understand each other, or that we all need a time out.

Those who disagree with us may lead others to do or believe things that we don’t like, but that hardly warrants the word “dangerous.” Such a misuse of the word draws our attention away from the real instances of abuse and manipulation that truly are dangerous.

There’s also a troubling (not dangerous) implication behind the word “dangerous” when it’s misused to try to shut down interest in those from a different perspective. The implication is that the one who does the labeling, who can call something dangerous, is the trusted authority that the sheep should follow. Sometimes it’s based on good intentions to protect, sometimes it’s a matter of pride (that’s been my domain for sure), and sometimes it’s a power grab.

Once something has been branded as dangerous or taboo, you can’t interact with it intelligently. Remember, it’s dangerous. It’s volatile. It could explode when you’re not expecting it.

Think of how to win a debate about politics. If you’re conservative, and you want to win a debate, just label your opponent’s ideas as communism. If you’re a liberal and you want to win a debate, just label your opponent’s ideas as fascism. It’s the same strategy. Both rely on correlating a complex person or complex ideas with something that is viewed by many as dangerous.

There are many dangers and trials we will pass through because of the Gospel. The dangers among our fellow Christians are far less harmful than we would suspect. While we must keep our guard up against things such as spiritual abuse, manipulation, or guilt, our Christian communities are generally not dangerous places. The variety of Christian theology is hardly dangerous.

And even if an idea is outside the bounds of historic Christian belief, we don’t necessarily need someone to surround it with caution tape and never let us draw near to it. In fact, if Christianity is true and powerful, it should be able to withstand any challenge or danger from within or without, no matter how dangerous it may seem.

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12 thoughts on “Belonging: The Dangers of Labeling Others as Dangerous

  1. Michael

    Hey, you need to be careful with those killer rabbits. Be sure to arm yourself with the the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. ;-)

  2. Jen

    It seems that defining things like books and science as dangerous implies that we are not intelligent beings who can think and wrestle with truth and fiction and differences and dangers. Even my 8 year old son is smart enough to know that Harry Potter is fiction.

  3. Jen

    So interesting, Ed. You and I both look at a small word with the potential to do much damage on our blogs today. I like your perspective, and I find myself asking the same thing here that I asked myself: is there a way to use the word that is redemptive, holy, that changes things for the better. Aside from the obvious: when you tell me something is dangerous, I will act like a child and attempt to do it.

    I think yes. Because Jesus was dangerous. He was dangerous to power, status quo, apathy. I want to be that kind of dangerous. But I want to be careful not to use it as a label. Well done, my friend. And no giant killer bunnies, please.

  4. Ray Hollenbach

    There’s no small irony in the idea that those most likely to whip out the “Dangerous” label are likely doing so in the defense of God Almighty. I’m sure he appreciates the help.

    History–even Biblical history–demonstrates that the Father is remarkably tolerant of some pretty wacky things done in his name, or pretty nasty things done toward his name. I don’t think he’s nervous.

    I love that you point out that the real danger in applying labels belongs to the one with the labeling gun.

    Peace!

  5. Alise

    Well, you already know how I feel about this! ;-D

    So many of the people & relationships that I’ve been taught are dangerous are the ones that have enhanced my faith more than any others. I’m profoundly grateful for the dangerous people in my life.

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  7. Leanne Penny

    This is just right, we think it’s so complicated when it’s really just sharing something wholesome with those around us. Like real food and real connection.

  8. Revsimmy

    The labelling of ideas, books, people or whatever as “dangerous” has to do with a particular view of God and “salvation” where the latter depends on having a “correct” theology. It is the type of theology that relies far more on having “correct” (or “sound”) beliefs than on the grace of God shown to us in Christ Jesus. On this view, then anything that may be “incorrect” puts one in danger of losing that salvation.

    Many years ago I began to realise that if our salvation depended on us having “correct” theology then we are all doomed. Instead, God gives it as a free gift and it is incredibly liberating. I noticed that Jesus was harshest with those who thought they already had God and life figured out. But faith is not a puzzle to be worked out but a life to be lived and shared. It means we can disagree but still enjoy each others company and encourage one another. We just need to drop the “dangerous” labels.

    1. ed Post author

      Good point. We can get so entangled with the purity of the doctrine of grace alone that we make salvation all about our theology of grace alone rather than about grace alone! Ha!

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