Monday, April 21, 2014

“Politically Correct” Does Not Mean “Theologically Incorrect”

In fact, it doesn't necessarily denote “incorrectness”at all. 
It is true that, as used, politically correct language often is ineffective and even counterproductive. And, yes, it also is used to promote causes with which some people disagree and is used by people with whom partisan adversaries differ. But none of the above disqualifies or credibly challenges its validity or its intent.
The Merriam-Webster online Dictionary defines “Politically Correct” as, “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.”
Why would anyone “offend the political sensibilities” of anyone if such offense could be avoided by a simple, easy shift in vocabulary? Of course, in our belligerently partisan culture there are some who are offended that anyone would dare disagree with them. By extension, I suppose they would consider  it politically incorrect to do so.
Wikipedia, the online free dictionary, says political correctness “is a term that refers to language, ideas, or policies that address perceived or actual discrimination against or alienation of politically, socially or economically disadvantaged groups. … These groups most prominently include those defined by gender, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability.
The emphasis is on “political, social or economic disadvantage.” In my personal observation, most of those who scorn political correctness also believe social or economic disadvantage is purely and solely the result of personal choice and laziness. Thus, I suppose the logical extension is that political correctness gives credence to poor choices and laziness.
But Wikipedia goes a step further:
“Historically, the term was a colloquialism used in the early-to-mid 20th century by Communists and Socialists in political debates, referring pejoratively to the Communist "party line", which provided for "correct" positions on many matters of politics. The term was adopted in the later 20th century by the New Left, applied with a certain humor to condemn sexist or racist conduct as "not politically correct". By the early 1990s, the term was adopted by US conservatives as a pejorative term for all manner of attempts to promote multiculturalism and identity politics, particularly, attempts to introduce new terms that sought to leave behind discriminatory baggage attached to older ones, and conversely, to try to make older ones taboo..
Aha! I had no idea that political correctness had such a long history, nor that it seems to have emerged out of communist rhetoric. But at least now I can understand why some people hold political correctness in disdain! “Guilt-by-association” has some limited validity; but to assign a whole category of language to the discard pile because of its origins is a bit over the top.
The Judeo/Christian lexicon is jam-packed with verbiage straight out of pagan worship and ritual! If we were to eliminate all words, phrases and verbal imagery that emerged from questionable sources, our language would be emaciated.
But “conversion” is at the heart of Christianity; thus the Judeo/Christian approach was to take language and verbal imagery from one reality and convert it (redefine it) into specific applications within Judeo/Christian ideology. As political correctness emerged out of Communist and Socialist (or “New Left”) ideologies, the correctness assumed the “party line.” It seems quite plausible that within another socio/political environment it could be converted to that environment’s ideological position.
For example, in the USA, political correctness thus would refer, at least in part, to the American ideals outlined in the preamble to the Constitution: “…to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” In my estimation, any language or vocabulary that promotes those values is politically correct.
A side trip (hopefully to come back around to the main route): throughout the history of religions, virtually every creed and doctrine was established to eliminate heresy. In other words, historic creeds and doctrines generally are “exclusive.”
As I understand the teachings of Jesus, God’s Grace is “inclusive”—open to all who will receive it—and, by definition, without prerequisite qualifications. Thus, Grace precedes conversion or change; indeed, it is the only source and power by which one can be converted or transformed (cf. Romans 12:2) and is extended to the most undeserving of humanity!
I who have received Grace dare not—DARE NOT—approach another human ungraciously (though I confess to overwhelming failure in that intent! Thus, I stand condemned apart from God’s grace.)
I prefer the term, “inclusive” to “politically correct”. If I am to be a faithful witness to the Grace I have received, I will be careful to use language that does not exclude or overlook anyone. That effort sometimes is a pain in the neck, because we have not derived a suitable personal pronoun to replace “he” or “she”. Most people have resorted to using the plural, “they”, even when the subject is a singular person. The Grammar Nazi in me just won’t allow me to do that! I will intentionally type “he or she” or “he/she” instead. I understand that language progresses, and that my use of language will become (may already be) a relic archived alongside the King James Bible with its Elizabethan, Shakespearean language. I can live with that.
And, while I appreciate the value of traditions, and am not the least offended, for example, by the masculine references in the traditional Doxology (e.g., “Praise Him above, ye Heavenly Hosts!”), what could possibly by offensive about a more inclusive version:
“Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!
Praise God, all creatures here below!
Praise God above, ye heavenly Hosts!
Creator, Christ and Holy Ghost!”
Together in the Walk,
Pastor Jim

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Good Samaritan Ethic

I began last week on a real downer! Jesus’ “Nazareth Manifesto” (Luke 4:16-21) sparked a string of consciousness that focused on feelings of total inadequacy in trying to minister with integrity to the poor (integrity meaning to do so without judging whether they are worthy!)

Today I turn my attention to the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and, while my initial thoughts may seem as heavy and discouraging as last week’s, I have found some real hope in my follow-up reading on the parable.

The parable comes in response to a Pharisee’s question, (verse 29): “And, who is my neighbor?” The text says he was attempting to justify himself. The exact intent of the self-justification is not clear, but I’m guessing it was rooted in the question, “What’s the least I have to do to comply with this ‘love-thy-neighbor-as-thyself thing?” In other words, “Who am I required to love, and who is it OK for me not to love?” It’s about how to avoid responsibility.

I suspect Jesus perceived exactly what the Pharisee meant when he made a Samaritan the hero of the story! Aside from perhaps the Roman occupation troops, there was no ethnic or cultural population the Jews hated more than the Samaritans!

Once again, Jesus zeroes in on the “least” of God’s children (Matthew 25:40, 45) and says, “Love them.” Maybe “least” means those we least want to love. And we can always find justifications for passing by on the other side of the road:

“It’s not my job; I’m just responsible to the consumer. It’s not my job; I am just a consumer. It’s not my job; I’m not breaking any laws or rules. It’s not my job; that’s why they have boards of directors. It’s not my job; it would be too inconvenient or expensive to stop and help. And hey, if a few people do get hurt along the way, are there not some Good Samaritans around who will take care of them? Isn’t that why we have faith-based and charity organizations?”[1]
But there are encouraging signs! There are many Good Samaritans walking along the road now—especially from the younger generations! Many are not “religious”, meaning organized religion; but almost all of them are “spiritual,” (whatever that means) and their spirituality is manifest in the way they respond to “the least” of God’s children. To them, integrity of faith trumps correctness of doctrine!

Many in our younger generations are deciding to live out the Good Samaritan ethic to a radical degree, affirming that there are no “non-neighbors” in this world. For them, neighbor is not defined by color, creed, religion or borders; indeed, we all are God’s children and need to be treated fairly. That radical idea is spreading as a spiritual foundation for a growing population among Generations “X” and “Y” (people born between 1965 and 2000). For them, the Good Samaritan ethic has no boundaries and is global in scope!

In my reading over the past couple of years, I continually run across references to groups and organizations that focus and give concrete expression to the Good Samaritan Ethic. Writers representing essentially the whole ideological spectrum share stories and vignettes about these groups—some of which emerge out of political activism and some of which have specifically Christian roots from Evangelicalism to Mainline Protestantism to the more entrepreneurial Mega-Churches. But a significant number of these groups represent no recognized religious or political organization. They are comprised of what Thomas G. Bandy calls the “spiritually yearning, institutionally disillusioned public;”[2] and their age demographic is “young” (basically under forty-five!)

The visions and purposes represented by these groups are as varied as their backgrounds. Some are purely political pressure groups. Some exist to offer benevolent help to the needy, from the homeless in inner cities to African or Asian tribes devastated by famine. And some work to hold businesses accountable for their ethical practices, including their supply chains.

Fortune 500 companies increasingly are being scrutinized under an ethical microscope, in some cases, for instance, to ensure that American businesses aren’t putting money into the hands of violent militias and that the natural resources and wealth of a given nation benefits the people who live there. Foreign “sweatshops” and child labor are especially targeted by these ethical watchdog groups. And they are having a major impact on the way businesses interact with their supply chains, both domestic and foreign.

My own granddaughter, a high school junior, recently returned from a church-sponsored “International Affairs Seminar” held in Washington, D.C. and New York. The seminar is an annual event designed to expose youth to issues of global justice and compassion for those on the margins of society. The intent is to prepare them for mature faith and global worldviews. My granddaughter came back with a passion to confront human trafficking.

Given all the above (and I’ve hardly scratched the proverbial surface of the catalogue of groups engaged in justice and compassion advocacy!) I’m greatly encouraged about the future of our increasingly globalized humanity. And that encouragement emerges directly out of the the population Generations writers William Strauss and Neil Howe call “Generation X”. Strauss and Howe characterize “X’ers” as having a deeper spirituality and a deeper commitment to family than did their parents’ generation, “The Boomers.” While their spirituality does not fit traditional Christian patterns, the references above suggest that it does, indeed, align with the spirituality and values of the One for whom Christianity is named. That’s most encouraging!

Together in the Walk,
Pastor Jim

[1] Jim Wallis, On God’s Side (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press a division of Baker Publishing Group. 2013) Kindle Position 1789.
[2] Thomas G. Bandy, Kicking Habits: Welcome Relief for Addicted Churches (Nashville: Abingdon, 1997) P. 37.