We all use labels to self-identify and make sense of our world. They are unavoidable and often necessary. As a culture we have attempted in recent years to move away from offensive labels or ones that objectify others. Reducing a woman to a particular body part is far from acceptable speech. And no one would ever categorize victims of sexual assault merely as "the raped." No, we attempt with our words and labels to respect people and focus on positive categories. Yet the negative label of oppression, "slave," is still in common usage. Even in a presentation on how we can overcome the negative effects of slavery the term is so common its usage is assumed - until someone challenged it and forced us to consider the implications of our words.
This woman’s request forced me to consider the negative label we as Christians use all the time - "the lost." I've heard from a number of people who have had that label imposed upon them that they find it highly offensive. They do not appreciate having others insist that at the core of their identity they are mistaken, misguided, or just plain ignorant. They dislike being seen in terms that generally imply that they are a project to be saved not a person to be loved or respected. I understand that we as Christians do hold certain theologies of sin and redemption, but perhaps we need to seriously consider the impact our use of labels has on the very people we are trying to reach. That may mean abandoning the practice of assigning labels to people who are not like us altogether. And maybe, just maybe, it may mean getting to know, love, and respect people as people.