Stepping into the Manchester airport for the first time, only one fear churned in my stomach. I knew, despite my attention to the contrary, that I was going to trespass on some cultural taboo. Like other European cultures, our English hosts greeted us at the baggage claim with a “kiss” on the cheek. Now, the idea of a greeting kiss didn’t faze me. The real exam demanded that I pick the correct side of the face to kiss.
Fortunately I stood second in the greeting line. I watched in bemused horror as my fellow American failed the test and tried to kiss the wrong side of our host’s face. As she turned to her left, he turned to his right, and the two met in the middle for a rather awkward encounter. I breathed a sigh of relief when my turn came and I picked the correct side.
Proper kissing only began my test, however. As I proceeded through my two weeks in England, I walked the thin line of keeping my gestures and vocabulary in check (some rather harmless words that formed the basis of my American vocabulary pack quite a punch on the other side of the pond).
I have no problem with respecting cultural taboos. But cultural sensitivity’s redheaded stepbrother, “political correctness” bothers me. Maybe that’s because the dictionary defines political correctness as “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities should be eliminated” (Merriam-Webster). Cultural sensitivity and political correctness part ways when it comes to who sets the standard for accepted behavior and language.
Historic behavior and language taboos dissuaded me from doing and saying certain things while living in England. But when politicians or special interest groups attempt to pile up their own laundry list of dos and don’ts under the pretense of political correctness, I take issue.
Most of these prohibitions attack Christian speech and behavior. In California, lawmakers prohibited pastors and Christian counselors from helping teenagers who want leave the homosexual lifestyle. In Massachusetts, grade school students who express discomfort when a member of the opposite sex decides to use their bathroom face disciplinary action or expulsion. And we certainly cannot use any word pertaining to Jesus during the holiday intended to celebrate his birth.
Tim Tebow rescinded on his commitment to speak at a church on Easter Sunday because sports writers and special interest groups claimed on grounds of political correctness that the pastor of the church was a bigot.
The modern notion of political correctness shoves Christianity and biblical truth out onto a tightrope, with the threat of lawsuit, expulsion, or imprisonment waiting in the air below. And then the proponents of political correctness grab the tightrope and start shaking it.
Political correctness has nothing to do with respecting cultural taboos. Instead, groups on both sides of the political divide wield “correctness” as the ultimate weapon to shut up Christianity. Whenever a pastor, teacher, or even a child steps off the tightrope, out comes the baseball bat of “bullying.”
What once described an abnormally large twelve-year-old stealing first-graders’ lunch money now includes a vast array of violations of political correctness.
In our world of political correctness, you can be charged with bullying for any of the following:
- Hosting a religious club that is even remotely exclusive
- Setting standards for morality and refusing to participate in immoral behavior
- Expressing discomfort when a teenage boy walks into a girls’ bathroom
- Vocalizing truth found in the Bible, or simply having a Bible in your possession
- Removing your kids from a public school to educate them at home
The list could go on, and it will certainly grow longer in the coming years. Increasingly, “political correctness” has nothing to do with updating cultural taboos, and everything to do with oppressing the Christian faith.
So how should believers respond?
First, we must stand strong in the face of increasing pressure to abandon biblical truth. Many professing Christians break under the strain and walk the tightrope as culture demands. Tim Tebow did exactly that; believers throughout history suffered excruciating deaths for less offense than speaking in a church pulpit.
We must ground our beliefs in the truth of the Bible. We must allow the truth of the Scriptures to dictate every aspect of our lives. We have to be willing to lose the affections of our secular world, and stop trying to “be friends” with the culture. We cannot “appeal to the system” for justice. We have to be willing to accept the unjust actions of our neighbors, coworkers, school friends, family members, and the government. Life is going to get hard, and we need to get ready.
But we also must be smart. We should abide by the laws of the land in so far as they do not jeopardize our convictions. Let’s not go the way of the Arizona pastor who claimed that the government persecuted him for his religious beliefs, when in reality he refused to follow proper building and zoning codes. We shouldn’t try to incite persecution or oppression. We stand for truth, yes, but we also act with wisdom. Trying to take on a lion with your bare hands may seem heroic, but it is also foolish.
So in a world that increasingly censures Christianity, let us remain strong. “Evolving” will destroy us. Let us refuse to budge when our convictions are on the line. But let us also walk the tightrope when wisdom demands and convictions allow. We serve our King the best when we serve him wisely.
Kiss the correct cheek, but stand strong on all else.