Simply Being Kind

One of the occupational hazards of the preaching vocation is that not everyone likes, or agrees with, what we say – particularly when we push on beyond the words of scripture to the behavioral and social ramifications. On occasion, rare to be sure, listeners tell us, in no uncertain terms that they did not like what we said at all. Sometimes it happens during that hoary church custom of greeting the preacher after the worship service, standing in line, shaking hands and saying, “Good morning, Reverend. I enjoyed your sermon.” It is heartfelt sometimes and sometimes it is simply a rote part of the greeting ritual but the sad fact is that we preachers become addicted to compliments however and whenever they come. When someone chooses the occasion to let us know they didn’t like the sermon at all, it hits us like a physical blow and we think about it obsessively and it stings the rest of the day, if not the entire week.

I’ve been doing this long enough that I like to think I can keep it all in perspective, both the casual compliments and the occasional dissent. But I can’t stop thinking about a recent incident. An older gentleman – in truth, probably not much older than I am- did not smile and shake my hand and tell me he liked my sermon. Instead he looked me in the eye and said,”You just proved again that the “PC” in PCUSA, shorthand for the Presbyterian Church (USA), stands for “Political Correctness.” I’ve heard a lot of complaints from unhappy Presbyterians over the years but I never heard that one before. I stammered something like, “Thank you for your response,” and he stomped off.

The offense, I assume, was that I had said that because of the magnificent affirmation on the first page of the Bible that human beings are created in the image of God, each individual human being should be honored and valued and respected, not oppressed, discriminated against, bullied. Regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, every individual human being is a unique creation with the very image of God in him or her. I also observed that the framers of the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights agreed.

What is it about Political Correctness that people find offensive? It can be, and on occasion is, overdone and disintegrates into silliness. But, at heart, isn’t Political Correctness no more than an attempt to be gracious and considerate and kind toward one’s neighbors?

My first experience came early in life when I came home from elementary school one day using the “N” word. My mother immediately let me know that we did not use that word, ever. “Why not? All the other kids say it,” I protested. Her response was one that she and my father must have said a thousand times. “You’re not other kids. You are our son. If all the other kids jumped off a cliff would you jump too?” But then she amplified. “Words and names can hurt,” she explained. “When someone tells us a word or a name hurts them we should not use that word.” It’s as simple as that and over the years I have learned to alter my vocabulary because another person pointed out why what I was saying was hurtful and, besides, there are plenty of good alternatives that do not hurt. I learned not to use exclusively masculine pronouns for God after I saw a respected friend quietly close her hymnal in the midst of singing “Praise Him, Praise Him, Praise Him, Praise Him.”

Political Correctness is a good thing, a huge step in the direction of respecting others, particularly others who have lived with the oppression of the language of racial or gender stereotypes.

So, no, the “PC” in PCUSA does not stand for “Political Correctness” but it certainly could and it would be a good thing at that.

I can barely believe that the issue of transgender people using the gender restroom they feel comfortable using has become a hot campaign issue because of Political Correctness. Senator Ted Cruz has seized the issue in his campaign speeches – “Should a grown man pretending to be a woman be allowed to use the same restroom as your daughter? Your wife? It’s not safe. It’s PC nonsense that’s destroying America.” He is playing to fear that everybody knows is unfounded and ultimately silly. I wish my mother could have a heart-to- heart with him and explain that being politically correct is simply being kind.

Comments

  1. John, Thank you for this. Funny how those early family experiences stick to our bones and good that they do. They taught us to hold to the good.

  2. Reblogged this on Views from the Edge and commented:
    John Buchan’s post today merits a re-blog on Views from the Edge.

  3. Judy Bartels says:

    Thank you for this important wisdom written with such kindness and clarity. I hope I can remember to use your tone in the next months.

  4. Stephen W. Littell says:

    Thank you, kind sir, for a level-headed response to the PC fuss. I have used that same argument with some success in my family with recidivists who have forgotten the lessons from childhood. I, too, was lucky to receive just such instruction from my parents. I never forgot. PC is a straw man invention by clever reactionaries to try to shame us out of our better selves so that we will not fight their rabble. They have earned what they so dearly desired in the likely Republican nominee. Keep up the stout battle of ideas!

  5. Lee E Hakel says:

    Why do some find it so hard to treat others well? (Lee Hakel writing on Milt’s account)

  6. John makes his points, as he typically does, with poetic grace and poignant example. It’s hard to argue with him. (I am certain I never walked out of church after hearing one of his sermons and not felt moved.) I think here, however, he misses or overlooks many of the ill effects of “political correctness” – increased limitations on freedom of speech and vigorous academic debate on university campuses, the continued focus on race in an otherwise meritocratic system which seems to stall rather than accelerate a desired transformation to a truly color-blind society, widening divisions between classes in this country which yield political contests like the current debacle. Some – many – of our traditions are good and valuable and necessary if we wish to continue something like the civilization so many of our ancestors worked so hard to uphold and protect. The sense one has of the PC movement is that they would tear down all the laws and tradition to get at what they perceive as the devil. I’m with Thomas More – I prefer to keep some of them standing for my own protection.

  7. timjweaver says:

    Well said, Dr. Buchanan. Thank you.

  8. Ann Frontain says:

    I can see your Mom saying that right now! Ann Forshey Frontain

  9. John: I can see your Mom saying that now!

  10. Evan Farrar says:

    Hi John – I love all of your blog posts. I miss your preaching and inspirational leadership. One of the great blessings of my life was to work with you when I directed the social service center at 4th Pres Thank you for all you’ve done to keep the radical kindness and justice of Jesus Christ alive in the world. As well as inspiring so many – including me – along the way. -Evan Farrar

  11. Good, sound, Pennsylvania parenting…. I can hear MY mom saying that!

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