At a recent meeting, a friend was receiving a certificate recognizing his status. During a break after the certificate was presented, one of the committee responsible for the presentations came over to apologize to my friend. The certificates had been changed recently by the parent organization and instead of having a “he/she” where one could be scratched out, the certificate now said “they”. The presenter was a bit upset at this obvious grammatical error.
Except it wasn’t a grammatical error. Using “they” or “their” is now an acceptable way of referring to an individual. It is a politically correct way of avoiding the issues that can lie in wait whenever gender is an issue. Personally, the switch didn’t particularly bother me for a couple of reasons. First, I remember when those particular certificates were printed with only “he”–and continued to be that way for several years after “she” was needed. And, pragmatically, those of us with less interest in proper grammar have been using “they” to refer to individuals for years.
But this little incident did add more fuel to a flickering thought I have been beating around for a few years. In general, I am comfortable with political correctness in writing and speaking. At its root, it is simply a desire to be fair and polite and respectful, all things that fit in well with my Christian faith. I believe that as part of my faith, I am to be accepting and respectful and fair and polite and it using political correct terms accomplishes that, I have no real problem–plus, it is much easier to write or say “they” than it is to figure out the proper gender-based terminology.
On the other hand, where does it end? It seems that political correctness has become as dominant a force in some circles as political incorrectness has been and is in some places. If I prefer a gender based pronoun, that makes me the focus of some serious criticism in some circles–and some of that criticism can be driven by anger and scorn and disrespect, the very things that political correctness is supposed to prevent.
Parts of our culture have become intolerant of intolerance–and are quite willing to make their intolerance known. From my perspective as an concerned (and sometimes confused observer) the intolerance of political correctness against intolerance looks and acts pretty much like the intolerance of political non-correctness. So, in a space where free speech is prized, it appears that only certain forms of free speech are allowed. That looks and sounds a lot like censorship, which is supposed to be non-correct politically.
I end up confused, not knowing who to support. And in the end, if both sides are using the same tactics, is there really a difference? If tolerance can’t tolerate intolerance, how tolerant can it really be?
As in most major issues, we need to realize that we don’t generally accomplish much when we try to prohibit people from doing something. Telling people “no” seems to produce some reluctant obedience and a great deal of backlash. It rarely changes much and often produces more problems.
We probably need to pay a lot more attention to Jesus, whose approach to the politically non-correct world he came to was to love people and meet felt needs of real people. He used “he” and “she”; he called “sin” sin; he scolded religious leaders who prized rules over people; he waded into the dark, foul mess we call life and shone a light of love and acceptance and forgiveness and hope, a light that people wanted and needed.
Jesus wasn’t politically correct. Rather, he was being theologically correct, which seems to me to be a much more demanding standard. He saw the value of each and every individual and treated them as a loved and respected individual, whether they were a rich intellectual sneaking in after dark to see him or a known prostitute crashing a party to wash his feet with her tears. Both these people and anyone else who encountered Jesus went away knowing that they had been in the presence of the Divine and had been seen and recognized for who they were.
Some used the support of the love and acceptance to become more of what they were meant to be and some fled the love and acceptance because they were unwilling to see themselves as they really were. Political correctness seeks to make rules that might help some people at some times and have some benefits–but Jesus’ theological correctness seeks to show all that they are loved and what is possible within the context of that love.
May the peace of God be with you.