The uproar surrounding the Washington “Redskins” football team is baffling to me. Admittedly, I am not a descendant of the tribes of people who occupied this land prior to the arrival of Europeans, so I cannot sympathize with those who are being “disparaged” by the use of that term “redskin”. Please notice that I did not use the term “Indians”, so as not to confuse them with people who migrated here from India, nor did I refer to them as “native Americans”, since “America” did not exist until 1776, and I myself happen to be a “native American.”
Which brings me to the point. Where did the “speech police” come from and how long have they been here?
Nowadays, it seems that offending others with our speech is an occupational hazard for those of us who make a living through communication. Politicians, lawyers, educators, celebrities, talk-show hosts, owners of sports franchises,and preachers all share a common affliction: What we say can be turned against us and cause someone to be angry.
Let me make this matter abundantly clear: There is no excuse whatsoever for being rude, mean, racist, or divisive with our words. Scripture teaches “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt [for the purpose of preserving and healing], that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” (Colossians 4:6). James instructed us to “bridle our tongues” in the same way that one would bridle a horse or control the movement of a ship at sea. (James 3:3-4) We should never say anything to intentionally hurt another human being. Occasionally, we offend other people without intending to do so, sometimes because our word choices are poor, or we are insensitive to other people’s feelings or we are simply misunderstood. What matters, however, is our intent; that which is in our hearts.
To answer the question concerning the “speech police”, sociologists Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl argued that “PC” (politically correct) speech has “relativism” as its source. Relativism, according to the authors, is the concept that there is no such thing as objective or moral truth. In other words, truth is whatever you wish it to be, not something that is fixed and absolute. This idea dominates the worldview called “postmodernism”, which has become the dominant thought for 21st century culture. Simply put, the idea that my opinion is just as valuable as yours, has created an atmosphere in which we supervise and analyze each others speech. Rejection of truth, Beckwith and Koukl stated, results in people who are looking to be offended, constantly listening for the fault in another person’s speech. To be blunt, it is self-centered.
As a minister, I have learned to be “thick-skinned”. The evangelist Vance Havner used to say that preachers should have the “heart of a dove and the hide of a rhinoceros.” Over the years, there have been a number of occasions when listeners did not receive the “Word”, because all they heard were my “words”. Oftentimes, in the use of quotes and illustrations, the main point of my sermon has been lost because someone became preoccupied with something that I said during the course of my delivery. We all have “filters” in our minds that determine how we interpret the information that we receive. As a speaker, I am constantly aware of how my speech is received by my listeners, and am always mindful of the “speech police” who would take what I say , re-interpret it based upon their worldview, and get offended by it. I can honestly say, without hesitation or fear of God’s discipline, that I have never stepped into the pulpit with an “ax to grind” or with the intent of angering someone. That does not change the fact that I have offended people, nor does it prevent me from offending others in the future. I am always apologetic to those who I have offended, but not apologetic for attempting to deliver God’s Word to human ears and hearts.
Those who speak often need to intentionally guard their language, and try to avoid confrontation when possible. Havner also remarked that a doctor’s request to “let me see your tongue” is a good way to begin the examination of any Christian. “What we talk about is a good index to our character,” he noted, “Our speech betrays us.”
With that in mind, may I wish the Washington “Redskins” a good football season. And may I also wish the “Thin-Skins” a happy day. May God bless all of you. I truly mean that.