The Hot Potato

I have agonized over this post. I have thought and thought about whether I should do it or not.   Inherent in Chapter 3 from Adam Hamilton’s Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White is a discussion of this topic.

I hate to chance it. Some may read this and get upset, but when it comes to words, this topic is the “elephant in the room.”

I have to write on it…political correctness.

What does it mean? How did it come about and how are we supposed to relate to it?

Before I get started, political correctness is often spoken in disdain in ordinary conversation. In my experience, it almost seems like people who don’t want to practice “pc” want a license to say what they want about anyone, no holds barred.  Anti-“pc” folks feel hampered by political correctness; it seems to limit their right to freedom of expression.

What does it mean? Political correctness refers to language, policies, or measures which are intended not to offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society.

In my mind, that is a noble goal but it is hard to accomplish. We live in a society that is truly diverse and it is sometimes hard to avoid words that are offensive to all particular groups within our world.  In Christian terms you hear the word “discernment” which means when we express ourselves we should always consider the person we are talking to.  If we have to confront someone, let’s look at another noble goal.  Pastor Hamilton says [and you know he is right] we should express our disagreements “in love and respect for the other person…Jesus says we should speak to the individual person, if possible, to discuss the matter in private.  If that does not resolve the issue, we are to take one or two others with us to be a part of the conversation.”

Sounds impossible in today’s world doesn’t it? Love and respect for the other person?

Political correctness is a polarizing couple of words in society today.   It originated with liberals in the 1970’s as they grew concerned about anti-feminist rhetoric.  It soon spread to other “isms”: racism, ageism, heterosexism, sexism, etc.

Then we had the backlash from conservatives. Right wing television and radio commentators, editorialist, speaker and political leaders began to use the term in a negative way to label anyone who disagreed with them ideologically.

What happened? Polarization.  Both extremes in American politics began using “pc” as a weapon against each other and the rest of us are lost in the shuffle, wondering how we all fit into this.  After all, we have thoughts and we have to put them into words.   How are we to relate to this “pc” war?

Again I head back to Christian foundations as my guide. Pastor Hamilton has some pretty harsh scripture he uses to guide him at times when he is tempted to speak ill of others.  Matthew  5: 21-22 calls us all to task if we use harmful words against others: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”  This is a pretty serious threat right from the mouth of Jesus.

Besides reminding himself of the serious nature of the use of harmful words against his brother, Hamilton searches his heart for the motivation behind the temptation. Is it fear?  Is it jealousy?  Is it insecurity?  Is it revenge?

Too often harmful words just pop out and we don’t take the time to stop them before they leave our lips. My attitude regarding harmful words is: when they are out there, they are out there.   You can try and try but it takes a while to repair the damage and sometimes you just can’t repair the damage.

This post began as a discussion of political correctness. I think what has happened to those two words in our culture today is they have become tainted in the polarized culture wars between “the left” and “the right.”

Maybe as Christians, we should just try to avoid the use of those words and find other words to express what we know we should do—approach our fellow human beings with the love and respect that they deserve.

It’s is called being sensitive to the needs of our fellow human beings.

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