Political correctness remains one of the most discussed and feared topics of modern life. There isn’t a spoken, written or tweeted word that sooner or later will be measured by the latest and often shifting standards of political correctness. The rules tend to change with surprising frequency, but the latest iteration of what “should be” is typically discovered through “felonious” violations of them. The latest online outrage and virtual flogging of the offender, typically, draws the line: cross if you dare.
While the authors of the latest pc standard are never named, their reasoning is always tied to the need to do what is right, to be gentle and to presume that certain groups have had language used against them for far too long. These starting points have a lot of merit and history behind them. In fact, whatever one may think about political correctness, its core, philosophical problem is neither its identification of wrongs since there have been many ill-treated nor its intention to make things better since much can be improved of modern discourse. The pc mindset has made many errors in what it identifies as a problem and in its intentions, but its core problem lies much deeper than any particular action or intention.
The primary issue that triggers political correctness’ other problems is revealed most clearly in its casualties: reputations and lives destroyed, truth abandoned and enemies isolated. We all know that political correctness may have started with a proper identification of some of our culture’s problem and an appropriate intention to make our culture’s discussion better, but its execution has ended in vicious, cruel and unmerciful legalism. Modern political correctness multiplies suffering and falls short of its goal because its primary problem is the people who employ it; for all have sinned. Political correctness, therefore, can be no better than the men who hoist themselves on that pedestal of judgment. The flaws of the men will flow into their identification, intention and execution of what is right and wrong. Can any mere man prove fit to define the right words for all other men, especially for the words and intentions of others?
It seems that a monolithic. top-down approach to how our culture’s discourse should go is ill-conceived. The heavy hand of the modern pc “state” is led by hearts that are more focused on the sins of others than on their own sins. It’s hard to imagine any one group wielding such cultural power without also repeating the same problems. Hypocrisy seems unavoidable with the centralized influence that has marked modern culture. Like most of human life, the politically correct approach to life’s problems is fraught with blatant hypocrisy. Ironically, most of those who have led the pc charge from the political left have done so in reaction against perceived and real “Christian-esque” legalistic hypocrisy from earlier generations on the right. They have now become “puritans” of a new ethic, worldview and god. What is plainly right to them may change, but it is still for them plainly right. And, to them, all persons must be made to conform, even if they themselves still struggle with the same “bad” terms or the “evil” motivations behind them. The insecure hypocrisy of political correctness seems to magnify its need to unmercifully impose itself immediately with no debate and no room for any disagreement.
Since political correctness does not “do” right when it “teaches” with a heavy hand what is right, its embedded hypocrisy has triggered a not-so-sweet, even knee-jerk, response from many who feel that they have been ostracized for thoughts, words and deeds that they have always held and that were once deemed to be common and correct. They rightly emphasize that political correctness has often abandoned “truth” for “compassion.” Unfortunately, their truthful replies thrust the pendulum in the other direction: lots of truth with no mercy or compassion.
While we as Christians can, should and must applaud doing right in each and every situation with our words, even if our definition of right is clearly the opposite of the culture, we must also speak “right” with truth and compassion, humility and forthrightness. It is the only way that love can be thrust into the societal debate. Indeed, some Christians find both politically correct language and the fiery responses against it as wrong and lacking in love for others. We sense deficiencies on both sides, and we wonder how so many good intentions for compassion and truth could go so awry?
The Scriptures give us that answer and direct us in a different way. The core problem for the pc crowd and its detractors is that all men sin in what we do and who we are. Even when we do what is “right,” our own love of self, our own view of the world and our own discomfort with the weight of God’s truth on our own sin leads us to more sin without the grace that comes from God in Christ. Sometimes, we sin in our intention. Other times, we sin by our execution. Either way, we are bent towards sin if left to ourselves. While not every sin causes the same amount of damage and chaos in the world, our words can only rightly “fix” the world when they echo His words. We must, therefore, step into our culture’s battle over language, thoughts and ideas with a gospel bent towards truth and love from the inside out. That is, a Christian must determine to radically confront his own sin with the gospel so that he can then help others. Judgment begins with us and moves to the rest of humanity, not the other way around.
7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1–5, ESV)
We are to judge, but we must judge rightly. That proves to be a great challenge because each and every person is intrinsically self-focused. Political correctness’ core weakness is that it is being run by people who are like us, imposing their standard upon others without connecting that standard to God’s and to critical reflection of their own hearts. The same problem applies to those who respond with an abandonment of compassion. Their hearts fail to reflect upon their own limitations for truth or compassion. The good news for us is that this situation is an old problem with an old solution. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only means by which this problem can truly, perfectly and ultimately be fixed.
How do we practically apply the gospel in the culture’s pc milieu?
- Examine my own heart and sin by deepening my devotional walk with Christ to become a thorough examination of the biblical text with the goal of revealing more clearly 1) who God is, 2) who I am and 3) how the cross redeems me from myself and this world. In my devotions as I discover sin, especially my hypocrisy, I must repent. This answer seems simple, but it is also central to moving on in this and every other sin issue. I must remove the plank in my eye to help the others remove the speck from theirs.
- Commit to praying and thinking before I speak and act. My constant goal must be to test my words and deeds by the Great Commission (make disciples) and the Great Commandments (love God and others). When considering a response, I must ask, “Am I making disciples and loving God and others?” In so doing, I must consider whether my potential words are from the wellspring of my heart or God’s.
- When I speak, I must commit to speaking and doing both truth and love, honesty and compassion in God’s eyes. If we cannot discern a clear way between those two paths, we must pray again for God’s wisdom on the best response. There are times in this world for silence, moments for speaking out against a lack of truth or compassion and periods for action that is right in God’s eyes. Our words must never communicate falsely about God, man and salvation, but our words must also seek the right time and tone. My goal is to do what is best for God and them, not for me. That’s love.
- Live with the consequences of doing right in God’s eyes. I must show others the same patience with their sin that Christ has shown, is showing and will show me. That is, I must seek God’s help to love my enemies.
- Finally, I must commit to praying and thinking after I speak and act. We must be willing to repent if our words and deeds have not been to love. If we speak “truth” without compassion, we have lied about the gospel because we have abandoned the reality of God and His mercy in Christ. If we speak “compassion” without truth, we have most assuredly lied as well. The issue is not whether others perceive our words as true and compassionate but whether God understands our words to be true and compassionate. Genuine truth seeks to reflect God, whose judgment is both patient and perfect. Our final rest is in God’s judgment, not man’s. In Christ, therefore, we have found a gospel correct victory that opens redemption to the rest of humanity, one heart at a time and often one word at a time.