In our mortal lives, we may be given or assign ourselves many labels. Some labels may describe affiliations or a stage of life, and other labels may reflect physical characteristics like tall, short, brunette, bald, or redheaded.
Labels have power. In an October 1983 general conference address, then Elder Thomas S. Monson described his firsthand experience with the power of labels:
“Sometimes cities and nations bear special labels of identity. Such was a cold and very old city in eastern Canada. The missionaries called it ‘Stony Kingston.’ There had been but one convert to the Church in six years, even though missionaries had been continuously assigned there during the entire interval. No one baptized in Kingston. …
“While I was praying about and pondering this sad dilemma, for my responsibility then as a mission president required that I pray and ponder about such things, my wife called to my attention an excerpt from the book, A Child’s Story of the Prophet Brigham Young, by Deta Petersen Neeley (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1959, p. 36). She read aloud that Brigham Young entered Kingston, Ontario, on a cold and snow-filled day. He labored there about thirty days and baptized forty-five souls. Here was the answer. If the missionary Brigham Young could accomplish this harvest, so could the missionaries of today.
“Without providing an explanation, I withdrew the missionaries from Kingston, that the cycle of defeat might be broken. Then the carefully circulated word: ‘Soon a new city will be opened for missionary work, even the city where Brigham Young proselyted and baptized forty-five persons in thirty days.’ The missionaries speculated as to the location. Their weekly letters pleaded for the assignment to this Shangri-la. More time passed. Then four carefully selected missionaries—two of them new, two of them experienced—were chosen for this high adventure. The members of the small branch pledged their support. The missionaries pledged their lives. The Lord honored both.
“In the space of three months, Kingston became the most productive city of the Canadian Mission. The grey limestone buildings still stood, the city had not altered its appearance, the population remained constant. The change was one of attitude. The label of doubt yielded to the label of faith” (“Labels,” Oct. 1983 general conference).
Throughout our lives, aspects of our identities change. We inevitably change from young to old. Our views may change, and, along with those views, we may change our affiliations.
Our identity may be in flux, but there is one aspect of who we are that is eternally fixed.
We will always be children of God.
We should exercise care in how we label ourselves. Labels should be used thoughtfully and with the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Labels can affect how we think about ourselves and how others treat us and may expand or limit our ability to follow God’s plan for our happiness. Labels may impact our goals, sense of identity, and the people we call friends. If labels get in the way of our eternal progress, we can choose to change them. Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained in a 2006 interview:
“I think it is an accurate statement to say that some people consider feelings of same-gender attraction to be the defining fact of their existence... We have the agency to choose which characteristics will define us; those choices are not thrust upon us.
“The ultimate defining fact for all of us is that we are children of Heavenly Parents, born on this earth for a purpose, and born with a divine destiny. Whenever any of those other notions, whatever they may be, gets in the way of that ultimate defining fact, then it is destructive and it leads us down the wrong path” (Interview With Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Lance B. Wickman: “Same-Gender Attraction”, 2006).
If one experiences same-sex attraction, he or she can choose whether to use a sexual identity label. Identifying oneself as gay or lesbian is not against Church policy or doctrine; however, it may have undesired consequences in the way one is treated. No true follower of Christ is justified in withholding love because you decide to identify in this way.
President Russell M. Nelson reminded us: “One day you will be asked if you took upon yourself the name of Christ and if you were faithful to that covenant” (“Identity, Priority, and Blessings,” Ensign, Aug. 2001, 10).
As Paul expressed it:
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.(Galatians 3:27–28)
One day, at the end of this short mortal journey, we will return to the presence of our Heavenly Parents. One day, all other labels will be swallowed up in our eternal identity as children of God.