Thursday, November 11, 2010

Political Correctness and the Gospel

When I was growing up children were taught to address adults formally as:  Mrs. ___, Mr. ____, Miss _____, or maam, miss, or sir, for short. Back then that was then how adults preferred to be addressed by youngsters as well as by those in service professions. In those days it was considered rude for anyone to address any adult by first name unless permission had been given to do so. These customs were in place to show respect for individuals. Customs have changed over the decades. Nowadays most adults seem uncomfortable with formal titles, preferring to be addressed casually in most situations. It's not my intent at the moment to place a value judgment on that change (that's a topic for another day), but to note that, when it comes down to it, the reason we seldom use those formal titles now is the same as the reason we seldom failed to use them a generation ago: good manners. It is disrespectful and therefore impolite to knowingly refer to anyone in a manner that insults them or makes them uncomfortable.

I took guitar lessons when I was in the fourth grade. My teacher insisted on correcting my pronunciation of my own name. My name is pronounced by me, and my mother before me, with a long O sound, Laurie. This fellow explained to me that it is meant to be pronounced LAWry, and then went on to call me that gagging sound at every opportunity. I quit guitar lessons. For all I know he may have just been joking around, but I've come to learn that jokes about given names are rarely funny to the person with the given name. It's never appropriate to mock a person over things over which they have no control (not that I think mockery is ever really appropriate).

Now, suppose you gave birth to a beautiful child - the joy of your heart. As time passes you realize your little one is not keeping up with the child development charts. As more time flies you begin getting calls from teachers. Your baby needs to be tested. More time and baby comes home from school crying. "Mommy, they call me retard!" What do you say to the little one? "Tough up! Don't be so danged sensitive! Get over it!"? Your child already has, through no fault of her own, so many challenges to face in this world, is it too much to ask that people not call her derogatory names? Does she not deserve to be treated with the same dignity that every human deserves?

Jesus famously taught "...in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."
Elsewhere in the Bible, Paul rephrases it: "Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."

What I am getting to is that "politically correct" speech, that is: "avoiding vocabulary that is considered offensive, discriminatory, or judgmental, esp concerning race and gender" should not be something those of us who profess Christianity resent or rail against. Rather, it should be our habit. It is our Christian duty to strive to speak to and about others only in ways that do not dishonor them as human beings. This does not mean, of course, that we only tell people what they want to hear, but it does mean that our speech should be characterized by gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15), not mockery, slurs, or other demeaning language. Though we should personally strive to overlook offenses (no easy task), it is not our place to decide the boundaries of another - what someone else should or should not be offended by.
"Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved." 1 Cor. 10: 31-33
Politically correct speech isn't just a matter of good manners, it's a matter of the Gospel.

8 comments:

WhiteStone said...

While I have always seen PC speech in the light of "giving no offense", I had never thought of it in these terms. Thanks, Laurie. That's a good thing to remember.

WhiteStone said...

I guess I mean I had never thought of speech in the well-thought out way that you have done.

Are you sure you can't come over for coffee?

Cecilia said...

unfortunately politically correct speech is more about quashing political dissent than the point you are making, but it is well disguised as not hurting anyone's feelings

Laurie M. said...

Thanks for you comment Cecilia.

As I don't address the politics of this world kingdom on this blog (or any other blog for that matter) I was only addressing a single aspect of "political correctness" here, an aspect that I feel is pertinent to the appropriate behavior of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven, and our mission in this world, which is to spread the Gospel.

As Paul says to Timothy, God desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. That includes people of every political bent.

Tuirgin said...

First I'll admit that I'm one who resents when people automatically shorten my name from "Christopher" to "Chris." And I don't appreciate it when wait staff at a restaurant call me "baby," "honey," or other terms of endearment, or even worse, start informally touching me. I dislike the assumed informality -- more than that, it's an assumed quasi-intimacy. We have so much faux intimacy in our culture and hardly any of the real thing. I'm all for acknowledging relationships for what they actually are. Let's not pretend. I appreciate it when I'm called "Mr. Walborn," by kids and teachers and those who don't know me. And it actually means something when there is a move towards informality.

I'm in complete agreement about respecting others, though I don't know that I'd frame it in terms of political correctness. There is the feeling of an agenda and shadowy "-isms" behind political correctness that makes me want to scrape the boils from my flesh. It's a delicate dance we have to learn. On the one side there is Orwellian group-speak where it's hard to say anything meaningful or address things as they are, and on the other are the brutes and bullies who engage in every form of rudeness under the guise of rejecting political correctness. I want to reject political correctness without rejecting charity, respect, and civility. In general terms I think we do this by remembering to make distinctions between "flesh and blood" and "powers and principalities." Where it gets sticky is that in our culture we have a tendency to self-identify with the powers and principalities of our preferences. This muddles things horribly. Ballet on eggshells.

Laurie M. said...

Yes, I'm familiar with that ballet, Christopher, though I more frequently encounter the brutish side than the Orwellian.

My concern is that those of us who name the name of Christ not get so caught up in the thinking and dogmas of our particular political parties that we forget what Christian behavior looks like. Despite what many think, there is no "Christian party". As citizens of another kingdom, we should not be ruled by the group-think of either side, and, like it or not, sometimes Christian love will dictate that we accept caveats on our behavior that really rub us the wrong way.

I'm enjoying your thoughtful input, by the way.

Tuirgin said...

The very idea that faith can be matched up with a particular political party reveals how very American our religion is. It's quite confused in very unhelpful ways.

While the non-brutish side can become sinister, usually it is merely impotent. Brutish is brutish, and that's wrong in pretty much every scenario I can spin for myself.

Btw, I hate coming off as a contrarian, but almost always end up that way. I think my brain is wired that way, and no matter who the discussion is with or what it's over I'll find myself speaking to the contrariwise nuances. Hopefully I succeed in doing it in a non-argumentative way that adds color and interest to a discussion. Sometimes I think I'm just hopelessly hopeful.

Laurie M. said...

You have succeeded in adding color and interest. Your hope is not hopeless.