Coming from a faith tradition that seems to be leading this battle to hold onto and fight for traditional definitions, I find that many people I identify with are putting their effort into the wrong end of this fight.
See, in previous generations, people could say that they were married, but live in a relationship that never resembled the intimacy of self-sacrificial love that God intended. People said they were a man or a woman, and never chose to pursue the true attributes God desires for courage, strength, grace, and care. You could fight for your race, but never attach it to the rich family heritage and ideals that act as the foundation behind your identity. You could say you were a Christian, but live a life that rarely exemplifies the life of Jesus, who you say you follow.
For those of us that have relied heavily on being able to state our clear identity with a single word, this will hit us the hardest. No longer can you rely on your title to do all the hard work for you. Your title will not tell people who you are.
But to be honest, it was never promised to us that it would be that way. As I look to the teachings of Jesus to bring some direction in this, I find that He never considered titles to carry that much weight in the first place. If we look to the scriptures, we even read stories of Jesus helping his followers understand this exact dilemma. There were plenty of people in his time that had a lifestyle that did not match up with the definition of their title. When seeing religious leaders claim certain titles, but did not show the marks of those roles, Jesus said in Matthew 7:16-20,
You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
Whether the title was Prophet, Priest, Pharisee, or Sadducee, Jesus communicated that the title does not define them. Their fruit is their definition. And the judgement of them is left to the ultimate judge. The same will be true of all of us. We are called to look to see what our lives are producing, because it is by that, that you will be defined.
When a title has personal significance to someone they tend to take offence when another person hijacks that title. Instead of starting a battle over the words of the identity, we are called to begin an internal pursuit towards the roots of personal identity.
Jesus seemed to know that people would be known more by the fruit they are producing than the title they claim. So we are lead to ask, what are we producing? Consider your actions, your words, and the use of your resources. What are you displaying as it relates to your gender, your marriage, your race, the title you claim? What do people know you by? This will be the key to dynamic leadership in the next generations: Do not simply claim a title, but battle to live authentically by showing the marks of your convictions.
As it relates to the Church, I believe that we can continue to pursue the biblical definition of what we believe man or woman or marriage means, but the culture of our nation will continue to redefine what that means for them. As the culture has different definitions for different titles, there is no doubt that those that follow Christ will define things differently from the culture around them and even from each other as well. And that’s ok. As titles are meaning less and less, instead of it being something that is feared and resisted, it could be embraced as the very thing that pushes us toward growth in one of the greatest areas of need in our faith community. Titles have been holding us back from pursuing the depth and complexity of our own personal identity. This next generation has the opportunity to not settle for relying on them to communicate something so important. So let us let go of claiming the titles and begin living our definitions.