When Adjectives mess us up!

Adjective – any member of a class of words that in many
languages are distinguished in form, as partly in English by having
comparative and superlative endings, or by functioning as modifiers of
nouns, as good, wise, perfect.  The part of speech that modifies a noun or other substantive by
limiting, qualifying, or specifying and distinguished in English
morphologically by one of several suffixes, such as -able, -ous, -er, and -est, or syntactically by position directly preceding a noun or nominal phrase.

Adjectives, generally speaking, screw us up in the pursuit of
faithfulness to Kingdom purposes.  The problem with adjectives is
that "by limiting, qualifying, or specifying" types of
Christ-followers…in other words, in attempting to describe something
unique about a movement, person, or community of people, once an
adjective is added, usually harm is done.  You see, adjectives were
never meant to become NOUNS…they are mostly words that are used
subjectively by the speaker/writer.  But the problem is once an
adjective is used, it easily transforms into a noun and it used in an
abusive manner.  Try this on for size:

  • When it appears that a person is TOO literalistic in their
    interpretation/use of scripture, we are tempted to describe them as a
    "fundamentalist" and then marginalize them
  • When a person lives the flow of their life in the context of a
    denominational church body, they are morphed into whatever that
    denomination is…they are a "Lutheran", "Pentecostal", "Baptist",
    "Anglican", etc.  Then they are pigeon-holed based upon our subjective
    ideas of the reality of that denomination.
  • When it appears that a person has blown it in some way, instead of
    focusing on the behavior, calling it what it is as "broken behavior" of
    a person who is called a saint within biblical texts, we have a
    tendency to move sin from its place as a descriptor of actions to a
    labeling of a person as a "sinner".
  • When a person is performing a specific function within the Body of
    Christ that is, according to the biblical witness itself, simply one of
    numerous "callings" from the Spirit of God…that person is "pastoring"
    people effectively as an equally vital part of the overall economy of
    the work of God.  The problem comes when the "pastor" becomes not a
    descriptor of action but a noun describing a person…suddenly that
    descriptor takes on power and separateness…and thus can and has been

Where is all this coming from?  Well, in recent months, I have again
felt the sting of being marginalized by a descriptor that was supposed
to simply describe something from my past NOT become the basis for a
subjective judgment of my character/etc.  Somebody referred to me as a
"Lutheran"…now, I have no problem with that descriptor/adjective if
it is simply one way of referring to something that has been a part of
my life.  In other words, I have been involved in a Lutheran expression
of Christianity.  But, as mentioned above, Lutheran is an adjective NOT
a noun.  It describes a certain theological and liturgical heritage
within the flow of Christendom.  It helps someone who doesn’t know me
understand a bit about my background IF they understand what is special
about a "Lutheran" understanding of Christ-following.  The problem
comes when the person using the adjective uses it as a noun…when
their subjectivity (usually negative stereotypes and misunderstandings)
becomes more than opinion but something that gives them an opportunity
to disconnect from community.  Remember, when adjectives become nouns,
they mess us up.  We have all felt the sting of broad generalizations
of our lives…"oh, they are only an artist"…"that person is a
flake"…"she’s an idiot".  You see, all those descriptors are
adjectives describing something that is meant to be seen as transitory,
situational and circumstantial.  Can we try to let the adjectives be
just what they are meant to be?  Can we put aside the temptation to
make a descriptor into a label that gives rise to marginalization and
rejection?  You tell me…what do you think?


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