I can already hear you responding with choruses of “NO!” and “Of COURSE Not!” Yes, you’re thinking of Jesus overturning the tables and upsetting the status quo, speaking truth to power, and “telling it like it is.” And you’re right, of course, he did all that. But then there were some other times that might be downright confusing from a PC-standpoint. Remember when he was asked if it was okay to pay taxes, and he pointed out a coin with Caesar’s image on it, and said “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s”? What about when he extracts a coin from the mouth of the fish in order to pay the temple tax? Those aren’t instances of speaking truth to power, they’re examples of acquiescence. Jesus can be a thorny dude to understand.
Political Correctness, or “PC”, has become a thorny issue as well, and Christians of almost every stripe (though particularly along the conservative right) react to it strongly. I know, first you can’t pray in school, and now you can’t even say “Merry Christmas” anymore. Next thing you know you’ll have to scrape the bumper stickers off your car! Yeah, I know, you’re passionate about this because it’s a first amendment thing, it’s an affront to your Christian beliefs. You’re proud of your incorrectness.
But is that the right approach?
We can begin by asking whether political correctness is truly contrary to free speech, and I would suggest it’s not so much a first amendment issue as you think. Hearing someone say “Happy Holidays” is not a challenge to your belief in Christ–and Christmas. Really, it’s just not. Does saying “Happy Hanukkah” undermine your Christian beliefs any more than saying “Merry Christmas” undermines Kwanzaa? No. Each believes what they believe regardless of what others believe, no matter how each one celebrates. A Muslim neighbour once brought us some home-baked treats in the Egyptian tradition as part of a celebration of their holiday–and they were delicious. My faith was not undermined, and I could even wish them a happy celebration as well without detriment to my own beliefs. That’s just being neighbourly. But it’s really not an infringement on your free speech until they start handing out fines and jail time for saying you believe in Christmas.
Lovers of the First Amendment are fond of saying that they may not agree with what someone says, but they’ll fight to the death for their right to say it. Really? You’ll lay down your life for my right to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
So is political correctness contrary to the freedom of religion? You have to enter a quick “no” on this one. The PC question is about terminology, not about beliefs. You can believe what you want, it’s how it’s expressed that becomes the issue–so the practice of religion is in no way threatened.
Of course we know why this is coming up now–it has to do with the election of Donald Trump and his assertion that political correctness is a problem, and one he “doesn’t have time for.” This is another way of saying he’s happy for people to use whatever language they want in referring to others.
The problem is that people are banned from hate speech in the name of “political correctness.” Is avoiding the “N-word” politically correct? Of course, because it’s a racially charged hateful word. To not use it is just basic decency. Here’s where political correctness has a bright and humane side, and where I think Jesus was politically correct. Not calling someone by a name they find offensive, or by a name with negative connotations, or by a name they simply don’t like is fundamentally just being kind. And if such a simple thing is within your grasp to do to either bless or curse someone with your everyday speech, shouldn’t you do it? Most especially as a Christian?
I don’t think Jesus called the woman taken in adultery a whore. He just addressed her mercifully as any other human being. Because a simple address like that can either bless or curse. Consider if I were to call you a jackass and refuse to use your name or title when speaking to or about you. What if I went all over town and all around the internet calling you Jackass and refusing to change my language in reference to you simply because I said I wasn’t going to give up my first amendment right to call you a jackass, or to acquiesce to political correctness on this issue? Well, yes, the example seems a little absurd, but it’s really not all that different. With my speech, I have the power to bless or to curse, with no extra effort expended either way. Is any of this sounding at all biblical yet? ’cause if not, you may need a refresher.
So yes, Jesus was politically correct. And you know what? PC costs you nothing. Despite Trump’s statement, it takes no extra time to refer to someone by the pronoun they’re most comfortable with, or to use an inclusive greeting. It doesn’t change or diminish your own beliefs one whit. On the other hand, to refuse to do so is to say the other person is less important. It’s saying yes, it would cost me nothing, but I’m making a point of refusing to use your preferred language and will go out of my way to call you a jackass instead of simply by your name, because I’m more important and my right to pick my language is more important than your right to be referred to with respect. (In the Old West, that’d get you shot at high noon, if no right on the spot.) This is why Jesus didn’t talk that way, why he used the language of acceptance and inclusiveness. Or in other words, political correctness. Because that’s what was in his heart, and because he treated others better.
Now, if you want to cling to your anti-PC rhetoric, you just go right ahead. But know that it’s the language of exclusion, of hate, of belittling others. And don’t you dare try and put a Christian spin or motivation on it, because it’s just not like Christ. You want to go down that road, you go alone–Jesus just don’t walk there.