For many Christians, it is Lent. It can be a time to reflect on Christ and on our lives, although shouldn’t that be a year-round activity? We have a tendency to compartmentalize our lives – to be kind at Christmas or in church, before cussing out family or co-workers, before drunken misbehavior. As one minister said, we have certain rooms in our houses (our lives) where we don’t want God to go.

And we can produce labels that instantly bring either credibility or scorn, for ourselves and others.

North Dakota Representative Luke Simons seems to think his controversial behavior can be covered by calling himself a Christian and a “conservative.” To his credit, he did apologize for using an “f-bomb” toward a couple of female colleagues who encouraged him to wear a face mask. But he otherwise covers himself and attacks others.

He criticizes Republican “counterfeits,” who simply have a “R by their name.” And then he adds, “I’m a big burly guy, I have cattle. I am big and I’m a barber.” I’m still trying to understand those connections to accusations of swearing, sexism, and racism – “burly” and “big”? Too tough to be corrupt?

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Besides this confusing bit, he claims a form of heroism and victimization, comparing himself to Reagan, and saying, “There are bureaucrats out there that are very much against conservative ideals and fighting against conservative ideals. This kind of stuff is to be expected.”

But is this a heroic stance? Is it the over-used label of “cancel culture,” or is it a matter of consequences? If the accusations are true, then we must admit our flaws and at least apologize, which, beyond the f-bombs, he refuses to do.

I have heard many conservatives use the phrase “personal responsibility.” The phrase is often directed at poor and minority communities. It is a valid phrase – we need to reduce crime in poor communities, and I cringe whenever I see a mug shot of a black person – we don’t need to give ammunition to any opponents. There are “far too many dying,” as Marvin Gaye sang, decades ago.

But we must have personal responsibility on all sides. Personal responsibility for ourselves – our speech, our behavior. From scam artists, to domestic abusers, rich or poor. Labels do not cover us. I have seen at least as much personal responsibility and morality among Jews, Muslims and atheists. And I have, unfortunately, witnessed excuses made by Christians, in small and big ways. For instance, some excuse the late Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias for decades of sexual abuse; he’s just a flawed brother in Christ, an imperfect but still celebrated “vessel,” while ignoring the female victims, or the biblical mandate that a church leader must be “above reproach.” In another instance, a house painter, complete with cross and fish symbols, gave my brother an estimate that was twice that of a “heathen” who did an excellent job. Twice.

Labels are used, often in an arbitrary way, to justify or condemn; to promote self or to silence opponents. It’s easier to have a label than to take personal responsibility. I hope Mr. Simons will dig deeper. We all need to do the same. Year-round.

Interested in a broad range of issues, including social and faith issues, Brickner serves as a regular contributor to the Forum’s opinion page. She is a retired English instructor, having taught in Michigan and Minnesota.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.