A group of our church men gather once a month to overeat breakfast at the local diner. I'm not very judgmental about the overeating...since I, myself, have been known to occasionally indulge in gluttony. But I do frown upon their meeting time: 7:00 a.m. These guys are only slightly more sane than the men of my last church, who got up every Wednesday at
to overeat. I buried more than half of them in my tenure there...no
doubt due to their bad diet and lack of enough sleep Tuesday nights.
The fact is, if I get up early and overeat, I'm wiped out for the rest of the day. Plus, there is this: I really don't like talking to people in the mornings. I love waking up early. I just wish everyone else would stay in bed until 10 or so.
But I do show up on Saturdays nowadays because Dave Schilling (the leader) invites me...and he usually has a delightful way of provoking conversation around the table. But earlier this week Dave had whispered to me that the topic this month would be "Political Correctness."
I tried not to react. But...ugh. Thus, it was an extra sacrifice for me to get up yesterday morning for the event, knowing I would face a greasy breakfast at an ungodly hour with a bunch of guys in at a local diner in "Trump Country" who would be grousing about political correctness. I decided to eat light...and sit near the door.
My 1983 Random House Unabridged Dictionary (the big fat one I use to help me write all my sermons and Sunday letters) does not include an entry for "political correctness."
(Note: It is politically CORRECT for me to refer to my dictionary as "the big fat one," although it would indeed be politically INCORRECT to refer to any of my breakfast mates as "the big fat one.")
Anyway, "political correctness" did not enter common usage until
after I had completed all my formal education. This dismays my daughters, who are constantly rolling their eyes and trying to keep me from embarrassing myself. To them, I am indeed that old dog who is pained to learn new tricks...or new terminology.
But the fact is, I was being corrected for my language long before my daughters were born. In 1976, I was appointed to be the pastor of the John Wesley United Methodist Church in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. When that congregation was started in 1869, it was known as the "Colored Methodist Episcopal Church." When I showed up for my first Sunday, I was the only white person in the building...and proud to be appointed pastor of such a culturally rich church. So, I eagerly plunged in: friendly, self-confident, quickly learning everyone's first names: Madison, Marie, Bernard, Betty, John, Madeline, etc. For my first six weeks, I greeted each person with a hearty handshake, a direct look in the eye, and an impressive remembrance of first names.
On week seven, Miss Arter lingered until everyone else had left, then hobbled up to me. She was a retired school teacher, and her voice was was afflicted with a quake and a trembling. As she shook my hand, she lingered, and her ancient eyes looked up at me, and she said the following:
"Pastor, I know that it is the casual custom of the young to call everyone by their first names these days. And I know you mean no harm by it. But when I was growing up, white children would always use titles of respect when they addressed their own elders: Mr., Mrs., Miss. Yet they never gave our parents or grandparents that same respect. Black folks, even our most respected community leaders,
were called only by their first names, or worse: 'boy,' or 'girl.' Our
were treated as though they were immature children.
You may not realize it, but
are now the pastor of a people who have struggled, and marched, and protested our whole lives for something better. Would you please do me the honor of calling me "Miss Arter?"
To this day I will not use her first name, even though she has been deceased for many years, so much do I respect her. Words matter. Words can heal...or hurt. God made the whole cosmos out of words. Words are powerful venues for our wisdom...or our compassion...or our creativity. But words can also promulgate ignorance, hate, and lies. God's prophets and angels traffic daily in words...so does the devil, so do the demons. Words matter.
There are legitimate reasons to oppose political correctness, such as when self-deputized, "enlightened" individuals silence and dismiss people of relatively open minds and hearts simply because they are not current with changes in language or new insights in history.
On the other hand, those who have a reaction against
political correctness are flirting with bigotry.
I can understand people's frustration in trying to keep up with the latest "acceptable" terminology for classifying people. We went from Indian to Native American and now seem to be leaning back to Indian. We replaced the demonic term, "nigger," with the more humane "colored," and "Negro." But then after only a few years sensitive people began referring to "Blacks." And then came "People of Color." And then came "African-American." It is understandable that we might grow irritated at having to keep up.
But the truth is this: our nation's story is so fouled with endless racism that any word Americans select to catalogue non-Caucasian peoples will soon become soiled, and thus need to be changed periodically.
And as for statues and flags, ostensibly deserving of an eternal center stage: it is far more important that we accumulate and conserve good history (in our minds) than any banner or bust in our public squares, particularly if such a flag or statue was unveiled in the first place as an act of terror and intimidation. (As was the so-called "Confederate" flag.) Do you remember how we cheered the tearing down of Saddam Hussein's statue in Firdos Square, in 2003, in Baghdad?
The word "political" comes from a Greek word, "polis," meaning "community. The word "correct" comes from a compound Latin word that means, "give direction." At its worst, political correctness is a Pharisee thing. You remember them: those elite scholars of Jesus' day who enjoyed pointing out the ethical inferiority of others.
But at its best, political correctness is the way we point the whole community along "word paths" that can fulfill Jesus' promise that good news is just ahead for the poor. The captives are about to be released, the blind about to see, and the oppressed soon set free."
In other words: words that blind us to oppression and violence will someday yield to words that honor and raise up the despised. In other words, political correctness can sometimes be a Jesus' thing. Let's put
that in the big fat dictionary. -Mike