Amistad Chapel Worship – Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pride Worship Service

Galatians 3:25-29 vs. Isaiah 56:4-8

“Label Making: Unity Forsaking or Injustice Breaking?”

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor at Franklin Circle Christian Church – Cleveland, Ohio

Twitter: @FranklinCircle E-mail:

LabelMaker“Male.” “Hispanic.” “Tall.” “Christian.” “Bisexual.” “Elder.” “White.” “AD/HD.” “Transgender.” “Cherokee.”


Oh my, so many labels to make! And that is just the first sweep. Each and every one of us needs several passes to get all the labels that are appropriate. And that doesn’t even take into account those of us who are growing and fluctuating in our self-awareness nor the changing nature of linguistics and culture!


From the very beginning when the Rev. Laurie Rudel and I began to oversee the founding of the Open & Affirming Ministries Program of the Gay, Lesbian And Affirming Disciples Alliance we came up against resistance to our use of labels or designations within the human community. And pretty much every single time I offer a program on diversity, inclusiveness, and hospitality, to this day, and explore possibilities and issues about gender, race, class, sexual orientation, economics, you name it, there is someone who raises her or his hand during the seminar or comes up to me afterwards and asks, “Don’t these labels that you use divide us rather than unite us?”


I’ve noticed that there is a pretty deep knee-jerk reaction to labels, particularly among folks that appear to be well meaning and even progressive-thinking in their approach to justice and politics. Many folks eschew labels in favor of a broad approach that emphasizes harmony, unity, and commonality. And church members in support of a no-label, all are one, and harmonious approach to justice often lift up the first text I offered today, from Galatians 3. Life in Christ breaks down the walls of division and “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus,” so the author intones. I believe this misinterprets the larger argument in the text, but it has become a quick and easy case against labels.


The classic example of this, of course, is the call to be “color blind.” The charge is, from these voices, to no longer see the differences of our exterior selves but look, “with the eyes of our hearts enlightened,” to see only the commonalities of our humanity. A beautiful vision, perhaps, but it disregards so much reality. Other than ignoring completely the easy and insistent way some, no many humans use labels to harass, abuse, discriminate against, enslave, and even kill others, this line of thinking skips over the rich diversity of creation in which the ancient storytellers seem to take great delight. In Genesis 1 God, the master artist/scientist/builder, appears to find joy in separating out light from dark from the misty in-between, water from earth, this animal from that animal from another animal. In Genesis 2 the newly minted earth creature is given its first task to name the multitudinous varieties of flora and fauna! (Check out singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer’s song “A Crash Of Rhinoceros” for a fun new take on this story!


What I have come to understand is that the desire to discount labels – and to vilify its communal manifestation of “identity politics” – in effect circumvents the difficult but important work of justice. God calls us to justice not “in spite of our differences” but in the face of, in the midst of, in the depths of our rich human variety, our profound social, cultural, and biological differences, our beautiful tapestry of labels.


Yes, I as a gay man, yearn for the day when my difference from the majority no longer separates me out for discrimination, harassment, and violence. I, too, long for the peaceable kin-dom when lion shall lie down with lamb, when all God’s children shall live in peace and harmony… but not at the expense of my identity. This is precisely who God created me to be and become! I’ve heard from so many of my colleagues and friends of color that they don’t want people to look through them, as if they don’t bodily exist, thus ignoring their lush skin tones, unique facial features, vibrant dialects, nor distinctive hair qualities, but rather desire to be seen for who they are AND treated fairly, and justly, and equitably with their identity fully intact.


A perfect example of the need to see the label first in order for justice to eventually be made real in our world is, literally, embracing you at this very moment: the labels on your clothing. One of the most powerful Lenten disciplines I’ve called my church folks to has been to daily notice and read the labels in the clothing they put on. Not the “wash with like colors” label! Rather the label that tells you where that item of clothing was made. I’ve asked folks to pray – every day during Lent, or anytime you choose this devotion – for the people of that factory in that country. Watch for patterns and study the countries that you find most often listed on the labels of your clothes. Perhaps take the next step and go to a worker justice website and explore the issues, policies, and laws around sweatshops and dangerous conditions for workers who very well may have made the clothes on your body.


ILGWUcommercialI remember so well the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union television commercial from 1978. Their song has become a staple in the peace and justice movement.

Look for the union label
 when you are buying that coat, dress or blouse.

Remember somewhere our union’s sewing, 
our wages going to feed the kids, and run the house.

We work hard, but who’s complaining?
 Thanks to the I.L.G. we’re paying our way!

So always look for the union label,
 it says we’re able to make it in the U.S.A.!

[To watch this commercial, go to:  To see a really awesome video of this song with “If I Had A Hammer,” go to:

I look to Isaiah 56 as an example of the Divine calling us to see, not past human differences, but into our labels, in order to live compassion, seek justice, and eventually work towards a world in which who we are matters only for joy, celebration, hope and possibility and never for stratification, competition, or brutality. The author of Isaiah 56, naming and claiming the differences that had previously been used to divide – in this case reproductive abilities and nationality – calls people to accountability only based on faithfulness to the covenant.


Dear friends, colleagues, and neighbors… can we do no less? Let us allow others to print their own labels, wear them proudly, even in parades, and then be in conversation, solidarity, and ready for action to not only to celebrate who they are, but to be hard at work making sure that who they are is respected and affirmed by others and by the powers that be.


Happy Pride Month!