Honestly thinking (& rethinking) about God, the universe, and everything in between

The Political Correctness of being Politically Incorrect

Back in high school, my best friend Mike and I were riding in my oh-so-cool blue 1978 GT Toyota Celica, most likely with Phil Collins music blaring in the background (because that’s pretty much what we always listened to in those days – if not Peter Gabriel, Bryan Adams, or anything from my “Miami Vice” soundtrack).  I don’t remember the exact context of the conversation, but most likely as a wanna-be-filmmaker I had been dreaming up another idea for one of our many VHS camera recorded mini-film adventures, when I proposed,

“And then one of the Japs comes flying down with his plane…”

Mike suddenly turned to me with that wry half-grin of his and said, “Japs?”

“What?” I responded, clueless at what he was getting at.

“Japs, Steve?  Really?”

You see, a little background here: Mike was (or I guess still technically is) half-Japanese – his mother, an immigrant from Japan after marrying Mike’s American military dad.  If anything, Mike somewhat more favors the Japanese side in terms of looks.

But to me, Mike was just…Mike.  My best friend.

I never thought much about the color of his skin or his ethnicity – except for those times when I’d visit his home and heard his mother’s accent and she’d make me take off my shoes before I could walk in.

But here I was suddenly reminded of the reality of this fact and the words that I had carelessly chosen.

I said, “Sorry,” and sheepishly explained to him how I was just repeating a word I’d heard in old World War II films and had never really thought about it much before.  I can’t remember at this point if he explained any more.  He didn’t need to.  He’d said it all in the first “Steve, Really?”

He shrugged it off with another grin, we put our fake Ray Ban Wayfarer sunglasses on, proceeded to sing along with Phil Collin’s “In the Air Tonight” and that was that.

There was no scolding lecture on what a terrible person I was.  He didn’t go out on Twitter or Facebook or Reddit or secretly record it for YouTube and call for a public shaming (not that he could, obviously, back in the 80’s, but he didn’t do any of the equivalent and I have no reason to believe that he would today).  It didn’t end our friendship and we simply moved on.

And I never used the term “Japs” again (or at least not until this post).

Now don’t get me wrong, Mike was no “PC” policeman.  Armed with Monty Python quotes and SCTV skits there was no subject and no race, creed, culture or gender identity that was off-limits to his and my continual mindless teenage quips and jokes.

But you see for him with the “Japs” remark…there was history.

Perhaps it was from stories his mother had told or perhaps in elementary and middle school he’d been bullied with it personally.  Or perhaps because being Japanese was so much a part of his whole life, he was just more consciously aware of something that simply never occurred to me.  To be honest, I never really asked him those details, and he never really explained to me –  because he didn’t have to.

The fact that it didn’t set with him was enough.

This post was actually inspired by a recent comment that was posted in regards to my article, “If You Are a Trump Supporter These Are the 9 Things I Assume About You.

Before providing my critique, I had started off that post with an attempt to identify with Trump supporters in several areas, including the following:

I, too, am tired of all the PC language that has dominated our culture. I’m tired of having to be careful about everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) I say for fear of accidentally offending someone and dealing with hyped up repercussions.

A commenter who goes by NPHooks responded to that particular statement of mine with:

The term “political correctness” (or “PC language”) that you’re invoking was created by reactionary people like Donald Trump. You shouldn’t worry about offending bigots like him.

In it he included a link to a particular article that argued much of the same point (Note: a little further investigation, even when you go back to the original cited source, shows that the history of the term actually goes back further and is much more varied than that.  For a detailed history, see here.  But NPHooks’ main point still stands in that the term has been used by reactionary people – primarily of the right describing the left).  NPHooks then added the following quote by writer Dion Beary:

“Politically correct’ is just a term a&*holes came up with so they can dismiss people who have the nerve to want to be respected. Demanding not to be stereotyped is not political correctness, it’s a human right, and you are not some hero for refusing to respect people’s right to be treated like humans.”

I confess the comment and quote really got me to thinking.  Other than the Trump article, I honestly haven’t used the terms “PC” or “political correctness” a lot lately myself, perhaps because on a subconscious level I already believed this.

Between recent incidents on college campuses and the presidential election season, it certainly has made its way again heavily into public dialogue.  Ted Cruz proclaimed, “Political correctness is killing people.”  Ben Carson appealed, “And this is how they [the left] frighten people and get people to shut up, that is what the PC culture is all about, and it’s destroying this nation.”  Many attribute Donald Trump’s rise in popularity due to a backlash against PC language with several newspapers and magazines labeling it “Trumps War on Political Correctness.”

And as my quote states above, I genuinely am frustrated myself about the fact I have to be careful in everything I say for fear of offending someone.

But all that to say, I think NPHooks and Dion Beary do have a point.

So for my main point #1 in this post I’m going to break from the mold here to say something drastic:

#1) Speaking as a conservative, and as an evangelical conservative in fact, I think in our actions and in our speech, we need to be a little more (gasp)…politically correct.

What?  Can he do that?  He’s not one of us! Get the torches!!!

Was I just politically incorrect in saying we should be politically correct?

That’s the great irony of it all, and why I included the “gasp.”  Because in spite of popular notions, political correctness is not reserved for the “left.”

As shown by the rise in support by people like Trump and others it is now more and more popular to be politically incorrect.

Let’s be real about this – if anyone dares to call for anything deemed too PC, they will most certainly receive a verbal lashing.  There will be headlines on Fox News, thousands of angry tweets, and YouTube videos mocking such stupidity.

And of course, as I learned from my Trump article, if anyone dares criticize politically incorrect Trump or his politically incorrect supporters, you are most certain to have, as one of my commenters put it, “pissed” them all off.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary the “simple definition” of politically correct is:

Agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people

And I certainly seemed to have managed to offend many “politically incorrect” Trump supporters.

In other words, it seems that for some right now it is politically incorrect to be politically correct and politically correct to be politically incorrect.  People are becoming offended at people being offended.

No one, right or left, young or old, seems to escape from this trap.  We blame our kids on college campuses for being too sensitive, but let’s face it, a lot of what they’ve learned is from watching us.

We (and yes, I mean the you and me type “we,” and not “them”) have become a nation of the perpetually offended.

Are you offended yet?

Even us evangelicals have our own special version of PC and offense.  It’s called “Biblically correct.”  I’m not referring to essential tenets here.  But typically what we mean by “Biblically correct” is “correct according to my specific interpretation of my specific chosen translation according to my tradition.”  Anyone not fitting that is subject to anywhere from hushed whispers of offense to being asked to leave the church.

Even when it comes to the essentials, while it is important to hold onto those, we often offer little room for questions or mistakes.  What should be done in loving discovery together is often handled with verbal scolding, and as I discussed in my post on “Why I Was Kicked Out of Vacation Bible School at Age 5,” there are many who are de-vangelists rather than evangelists, more interested in kicking people out of the church than bringing them in.

Thus, we all have our own versions of political correctness – we just call it different things.  While the right accuses the left of being too PC, the left accuses the right of being phobic.  In all it’s just short code for: agree with me or else I might be offended.

So what do I mean when I say we need to be more politically correct?  Let me first tell you what I’m not talking about here:

I’m not talking about the various legal cases out there.  I think we have major issues when it comes to limiting freedom of speech and religious expression that have serious implications for everyone.

I’m not talking about cases where firings or resignations have occurred, whether in businesses or on college campuses.  There are some cases where someone truly needed to be let go and others where leadership caved to unfair pressure, consequently shutting down the ability for true meaningful dialogue and the right for individuals to hold their own personal beliefs.

I’m also not talking about the right and responsibility of people to stand firm in their beliefs.  It is absolutely essential that people from all sides be able to stand for their convictions and have meaningful dialogue to work through it.

No, what I’m talking about when it comes to being politically correct is cases of simple human decency.

As Beary put it, “you are not some hero for refusing to respect people’s right to be treated like humans.”

We are all made in the image of God and because of that, we all should be approached with dignity and respect.

In my post on the “1000 Questions” (which focused on one particular area of possible offense but is applicable to all) I shared how behind every interaction you may have with somebody, that person is always ultimately asking questions.  I explained:

But they are questions we don’t always see.  These are not the surface questions like, “How are you doing?” or “Can you help me with this?”

They are the deeper questions that get to our sense of being such as, “Do you notice me?”  “Am I accepted?” and “Do I matter?”

These are the cries of the human heart that start from birth.  And even these are ultimately rooted in one single question (as I shared in this post): “Am I favored?”

But often we don’t see it, nor take the time to even answer it.  And thus we leave those questions unanswered, or we answer them in the negative, and end up hurting each other along the way.

Throw in topics like race, sex, and religion which are already sensitive and you have the potential to cause greater destruction than you’ll ever know.

Often we’ll try to answer them with firm stances and quick soundbites, missing the deeper questions people are really asking.  When those don’t work we throw in insults and mockery and labels, answering the deepest question of “Am I favored?” with a very loud “No!”

And the divide becomes even greater as you both walk away with zero resolution and damaged hearts.

Often we accuse the other side of being oversensitive or overreacting, but do we ever really stop to ask why?

I agree with authors Lukianoff and Haidt in The Atlantic article “The Coddling of the American Mind” in that we have shielded our children and students so much from psychological harm that it has been damaging to their mental well-being, causing them to be unprepared to properly handle any potentially offensive speech.  This is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with, but that does not give us excuse from our own responsibility in what we speak.

Yes, they’ve become “oversensitive” but so what – that’s no excuse to beat them up while they’re weak.  To treat a malnourished child you don’t give him a steak.  You take him or her where they are at and nurse them back to health until finally they are ready to handle the tougher meat.

Their questions are going to get answered in one way or another and it’s up to you to decide how you answer it.  As someone who is made in the image of God, you also have a responsibility to care for others with dignity and respect.

OK, so you disagree whether something is racist or not but do you ever slow down to think and really ask why it hurts?  That person has a history you don’t have, stories to tell you didn’t live, and wounds you may not have even directly caused but that doesn’t give you the right to jab those wounds even more to see if they really hurt.

You don’t get to tell them their feelings aren’t real.

OK, so you disagree with some of the feminist “agenda,” but before berating them with words like “FemiNazi” did you ever think first to ask a woman what questions about their value have been left unmet?

OK, you think someone’s Biblical beliefs are too outrageous and oppressive, but did you ever stop to ask them how God became so meaningful to their life?  Did you ever decide to find out what Biblical verses may have answered that person’s deeper questions before you then decided to methodically tear those words apart?

OK, someone disagrees with a cause that you are passionate about, so you accuse them of being uncaring.  Did you pause to find out some of the things in their life that they truly compare about?  Or did you seek to learn if there’s a different approach where at least they can meet you half way?

Even if I’d disagreed with Mike’s problem with the word “Japs,” is the right to keep saying it really that important compared to the expense of his heart?

Before we throw out words like nutjob, wacko, commie, phobic, right-wing, fascist, or libtard (all just shortcut ways to cut off effective argument, and one of them simultaneously insulting the mentally handicapped), make sure you answer the questions the person is really asking before moving onto the differences in your debate.

How much further could your argument go if the other person at least knows they are favored first?

I’ve yet to meet a person who after being insulted says, “Wait…what…I’m a fascist pig?  Woah, didn’t realize that before.  I totally see your point of view now and will change.”

Jesus said, “Love your enemies” and “turn to them the other cheek” and we can’t take the time to first show love to the person we disagree with?  Because they’re oversensitive?

Despite his stance on circumcision, Paul had Timothy get circumcised.  Despite his belief that eating food sacrificed to idols was not a problem, he advised not to eat in front of others who did.  Why?  Because he recognized the people’s hearts at the other end were more important.

Does this mean you never stand up for what is right and never offend?  Of course not.  Jesus certainly didn’t hold back from offending the Pharisees.  Paul didn’t hold back on telling the Judaizers they were wrong on requiring circumcision.

There are times it’s essential to stand up for truth and on others’ behalf. 

Obviously, in my post on Trump I didn’t hold back from offending on that.  But as I explained in one of the comments, I agonized and prayed over it for days to make sure I was doing what was right.  And I did it to fight against the very thing I’m talking about here.

But offending for the sake of truth is still never an excuse to demean a person’s very being.  After acknowledging that yes it’s necessary sometimes to call someone out and yes it’s important to speak potentially painful words, I stated:

…when you reach a point where you do not agonize over those words, where you have no concern for how it is received, where the cost of what it does to a human soul has no bearing compared to your own personal agenda, then I believe you have lost something. You have lost your own humanity.

Josh McDowell summed it up well in this tweet regarding the importance of still standing up for things that are right:

While  you should never have to compromise on truth you also do not get to compromise on love and grace.  Which brings me to point #2:

#2) When it comes to issues of offenses, sometimes we just need to lighten up and offer a little more grace.

I think in the United States we have a tendency to forget just how special we have it here.  There has been no other country like this in the whole of human history – such diversity of race and culture is unheard of.  That means for thousands of years prior, humankind had only learned to live in segregation.  When they did come into contact with other cultures, it often meant war,

In other words, the United States is one big grand experiment and we’re still all trying to figure it out. 

That means we are going to make mistakes – some of them big and unconscionable, to the point where you can hardly call them mistakes so much as tragedies.  Many of those have been addressed and others we are clearly still working through.

But there are also the smaller mistakes – the ones not always grounded in selfishness or evil but often just in ignorance or misunderstanding.  For these, we need to offer grace.

In my post “God Really Likes You, But you Suck: The Confusing Message of Grace” I shared how 2 Timothy 1:9 tells us that God offered grace through Christ since before time eternal.  In other words, grace was a part of God’s character through Christ since before anything in the universe was created.

We also learn from John 1 that Christ was God and was with God in the beginning and that all things were created through him.  All of creation, therefore is a reflection of the very character of God and the character of Christ.  What does that mean?

It means that grace is built into the very fabric of the universe.  It means that even God recognized since before the beginning the importance and necessity of grace.

If God can offer us grace and we are made in his image, AND if want to operate according to the very principles of the universe itself, shouldn’t we always be operating with a little grace, too?

What does that mean?  It means an occasional offense goes something like this?

John:  Man, that girl was acting like a __________.

Mary: Ha.  Dude, do you even know what __________ means?

John:  No, it’s just a word.

Mary: No, it’s not just a word.  You may not realize that it actually means ___________.  And when you say it, here’s what it says to me personally: _______________________________

John: Oh, no.  I had no idea.  You know I would never mean that.  Please forgive me.

Mary: No biggie.  But it would be a biggie if I ever heard it from you again.  Or if someone else were to hear that.

John: Got it.

The End.

Notice two things didn’t happen: John didn’t tell Mary she was off kilter for being offended.  Mary didn’t go on social media to rant, ask that he be fired or kicked off campus, and also consequently end their whole friendship.

I know my example seems very elementary but I think we’ve forgotten how simple it can sometimes be.  Take my story with Mike for example.  I texted him earlier today to get permission to share our story, and he replied with the following (in red):

Mike text screenshot

Again…The End.

And let’s all face it, in addition to grace sometimes we just all need to loosen up with a good solid laugh.

But it’s hard to laugh when there’s no grace for mistakes or room to push some boundaries with each other.

My wife and my children, as snow white as they may be, are Native American.  My father-in-law is in his tribe’s hall of fame and his aunt was one of the most well-known members of the tribe.  As a result, I have learned to appreciate the Native American culture on a whole new level, have gained a lot more sympathy for their historical plight, and have come to face some of the stereotypes I’d held in my own mind.

At the same time, my family and I have fun together.  My wife and kids are known to pull the occasional white man outsider jokes on me and I have been known to toss a few “Injun” stereotypes back.  They know they are loved and never have to question my heart.  They know that I’m mocking the stereotypes and not them.  In fact, it’s in those moments of laughter we often grow closer.

But I also know not to tell the same jokes around people who don’t know me.  I don’t know the questions they are still asking in their hearts, and making sure they know they are loved is more important.

Now am I an expert at this?  Not at all.  I’m still learning.

Do I still mess up at times?  Sure I do.  I probably did this morning.

Am I asking you to be quiet about your beliefs.  No way.  But be sure to do it with loving.

It’s people’s hearts we’re talking about.

Show a little respect.  Offer a bit of grace.  Laugh a little, too. 

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

Puck’s ending monologue from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

I would love to hear from you.  Please share your honest thoughts with me in the comments section below.  Of course, while you are welcome to disagree with me, I hope you were not too offended.  😉

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  1. Dave Holbert

    Now that you have stated all this go back and critique your article this was generated off of and ask yourself the questions posed here as you pointed out the flaws found with Donald. Have you had a personal conversation with him to find out why he is the way he is ……… before you composed YOUR opinion and tried to influence others?

    • Steve Baldwin

      Hi Dave,

      Thank you for taking the time to read both of my articles. That’s actually a great question which I needed to ponder for a bit.

      In direct answer to your question: no, I have not spoken to Donald Trump personally. If, however, I were ever given the opportunity to have a respectful, meaningful conversation with him (beyond a quick handshake kind of moment at some type of rally) I would certainly take the opportunity to find out why he is the way he is and what questions he is asking, as well as give him gracious feedback and the opportunity for him to respond appropriately regarding some of the things I find offensive. Of course, the fact that I have not had that opportunity illustrates the complexities of the many varied types of relationships that exist outside of my oversimplified examples – thus making it a great question.

      That said I think that to say that one cannot openly critique a candidate without having a personal conversation with him first misses the entire point of the election process. When a person announces their candidacy for any office they are openly giving permission for the public to judge them on whether they would be fit for the position. In a sense, he is a job applicant and we, the people, are his hiring managers. I don’t think any of us would say it would be inappropriate after a job interview for the hiring managers to then get together and critique the applicant as to whether that person is fit for the job. It would be a very scary prospect to say that during the political process, the electorate must remain publicly silent and not discuss their judgments or opinions of a candidate.

      If Trump were not running for office, that would be an entirely different matter. In that case, no, I would not be going around offering judgmental opinions about him – that would be entirely inappropriate.

      Of course, my actual “letter” was to his supporters and not to him. And as I openly state, I struggle with whether I handled that right or not. In trying to balance truth telling with gracious respect, we won’t always get it right; but that’s why it’s always important to be asking ourselves questions like yours or we will have lost our humanity.

      Thanks for the good introspection.

  2. Julie Butler

    I don’t know now I found your blog — most likely from a post on Facebook — but I really like the way you write. It also seems like you and I are on parallel journeys. I, too, and writing a book entitled “Losing Hope, Finding Grace: One Woman’s Journey in Search of a Savior” and blogging at losinghopefindinggrace.com. I would love it if you would stop by and give it a once-over. Feel free to leave any constructive criticism

    • Steve Baldwin

      Will do and feel free to critique in return.

  3. jamesrovira

    Every day, when you get up, look in the mirror and tell yourself one thing:

    1. I have no idea what it’s like to be black or a woman in this country.

    Keep telling yourself that until it sinks in.

    And then you’ll realize your opinions are PC are hardly worth discussing, and you have no right to tell anyone to lighten up.

    I have no idea either, but I learned that I have no idea. I know.

    • Steve Baldwin

      Hi James, I think one of the reasons people are becoming increasingly frustrated with political correctness in this country, even those who do believe in respecting others, is that even when they do occasionally try to reach across the table to do what’s right (at least best as they know how) they still get attacked.

      “Lighten up” does not mean no big deal. It means offer a little grace because we all are still learning and no one is better than another.

      It’s interesting that you were critical of me in the other article for sympathizing with anti-PC and now you are critical in this one for daring to try to sympathize with PC.

      Regardless, I will continue to respect others, with whatever limited knowledge I could possibly have. But I’m afraid your kind of response only helps to further enhance and justify other’s frustration and fears. It does nothing to help your cause.

      And respect always goes both ways.

      • jamesrovira

        Sorry, but until you realize that you have no idea what it’s like to be black — until you start from that point — you won’t understand how or why you’re reaching out.

        Here’s what how I learned it:

        I worked 16 years in construction. For a couple years, I had an African American helper riding around with me in the truck. One day at a job site he walked out of the room, and one of the guys in the room came up to me and started making racist comments about him. When he came back in, the guy started being really nice to his face.

        The General Contractor’s foreman, on the other hand, was kind of a jerk to everyone.

        In the truck ride home, my helper told me how cool that guy was who was nice to his face and how racist that Gen. Cont. foreman probably was.

        And that’s when I realized I would never have any idea what it’s like to be African American.

      • jamesrovira

        Steve —

        If you see racism in America as my cause and not yours, that’s the problem. You should not be reaching across the aisle. You should be standing side by side with them.

        • Steve Baldwin

          The aisle or table I was referring to was conservative vs liberal, in which case there will always be some things we can never be completely side by side on, but the need for respect of others is one area we can. That said, I hear your point.

          • jamesrovira

            I think the very common left/right or conservative vs. liberal thinking common to US political discourse is way too simple. I don’t think either party completely represents most people.

          • Steve Baldwin

            Completely agree with you on that.

  4. Ginny Worster

    I am so glad I found your blog. Treating one another with love, respect and an effort at understanding is essential to me. You help me think through these things clearly. I’m sure you’ll hear from me again.

    • Steve Baldwin

      Thanks for reading, Ginny.

Tell me what you honestly think. Keep it respectful to all (no insults, personal attacks, etc).

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