“It’s as though all human encounter were one big sore spot, inflamed with opportunities to give, and truculently receive, offense.”
So wrote Robert Hughes in his 1993 book, The Culture of Complaint. Twenty years later Hughes’ statement is even more accurate. I’m a child of this little experiment of changing our world through changing our words. For as long as I can remember we have been fighting a war against those dastardly words of black and white. It seems that today we cannot handle the cold reality of concrete words.
Orwell was correct:
If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy…when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
You cannot hide behind concrete words. Political language (being politically correct) has trained us to even redefine the meaning of the word “is”. This is why we are temporarily speechless when evil confronts us. And it is also why we respond with spin instead of truth. We explain away the evil of a Boston bomber and turn him into a victim. Terrorist attacks have little to do with Islam and more with people hijacking a peaceful religion for their own ends. We’ve lost the ability to use a specific word to describe a very real evil.
The church is not immune. Rather than actually naming sin we hide behind vague terms. People are “broken” not sinful*. There is no sense in confessing our guilty actions of sinning when we can modify it and say “I’m struggling with sin”. We’re offended by the explicit.
Fear and Writing
As a pastor and writer, but mostly as a human being, I have had my fair share of offensive moments. I’ve said and wrote things poorly that caused accidental offense. I’ve even had jerky moments where I said and did things intentionally offensive. Yet, if I’m being honest my most “offensive” posts, sermons, etc. have been the ones in which I offended someone because what I said could be deemed offensive.
We are so unbelievably scared of giving offense in our culture that we can scarcely say anything of substance. Again, I think Robert Hughes nails it when he says that the ones who suffer from this craziness are
“the students…who would like to find a way of setting forth their dissatisfactions with the way America has gone and is going, but now find they can’t speak so freely about them in case they use the wrong word and thus set off flares of complaint and little airbusts of contempt from those on their left” **
Of all people, those that have their identity in Christ should be leading the charge against this foolishness. Yet, it has been my experience that most believers nod their heads in agreement with this cultural hogwash.
Don’t get me wrong. Christians ought to be very cautious about giving unnecessary offense. We must make sure that our words are gracious and seasoned with salt. Yet we are the ones that carry an offensive gospel. We are the ones that must speak in the concrete and absolute because we are the ones that herald a message which cannot be adjusted to fit our whims. We have more to lose than anyone else when offensiveness becomes the only taboo of our culture.
A Few Suggestions
I’m well aware that some self-appointed prophets can take an article like this and continue to be offensive jerks. Those that perceive themselves as truth-tellers like to excuse their jerkiness by pointing to the truthfulness of what they are saying. Therefore, we must check our hearts. Are we saying things to be needlessly offensive? If so, we should repent. Being a shock jock is just as bad as being a namby pamby that is offended at everything (including me just saying namby pamby).
Secondly, we need to ask ourselves whether we are actually offended. Or are we just playing the game of hiding from the black and white? Being offended is a trump card in our culture. Play that one and you don’t have to deal with what is actually being said. Are you actually offended? If so, should you be?
Third, we must continue speaking the unchanging truth—clearly and compellingly. We must not be afraid to make the gospel explicit, even if that explicitness is part of what makes the gospel offensive. Sometimes we can confront with the truth in a parable (a la Nathan and David). Many times it requires us calling sin by name and boldly calling people to repent and trust in Christ.
Lastly, let’s worry less about who might be offended (Mt. 15:12) and more about whether or not something is true and spoken in love. Even if you are offended by something that somebody says we still need to ask ourselves whether or not it is true. If we are the one sharing truth we are accountable for how we share that truth (in love). Don’t confuse those responsibilities.
I’m pleading with the church. Can we please not drink this cultural Kool-Aid? Will we have our identities so firmly placed in Christ that we are not so easily offended? Will we save offense for that which is truly offensive; namely, sin against a holy God.
Church, let’s not play the game.
*Though, I’d argue a term like broken doesn’t need to be totally thrown out.
**It might be beneficial to note that Hughes is no Christian sympathizer. Throughout his book he lambasts Christians as well as liberals.