Often, it seems that Christians must choose between:
a) political incorrectness—a truth-without-grace stance against secular culture, and
b) political correctness—which can sometimes turn into a grace-without-truth capitulation to secular culture.
I don’t like either of these options. Truth without grace isn’t really true. Rather, it is aggression disguised as discernment. And grace without truth isn’t really gracious. Rather, it is codependency disguised as love.
Pitfalls Of Political Correctness
Jesus did not promise popularity for those who base their beliefs and lives on His teachings. In fact, He promised the opposite. He also said that whoever is ashamed of Him and His words in an “adulterous and sinful generation,” is a person He will be ashamed when He returns in glory (Mark 8:38). Yikes!
But, surprisingly, Jesus is not the only one disappointed when we keep our belief in His words a secret. Some secular people are also disappointed when we avoid counter-cultural truths to protect ourselves from socially awkward moments.
Atheist comedian Penn Jillette famously said that he does not respect religious people who won’t proselytize. Jillette believes that if we Christians think we possess a truth that is good and beneficial for all people everywhere, but we keep it to ourselves because we are afraid of things getting awkward, our hesitancy is actually a sign of disregard for the very people we don’t want to offend. In his words, “How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize?”
What if we’ve gotten it all wrong in our efforts to be politically correct and not risk stirring the pot, ever? What if, in our sincere attempt to become relevant to the culture, we have instead become products and disciples of the culture? If we discovered that skeptics would take us more seriously for being open with our views versus secretive and timid about them, would we become more expressive about the truths we hold inside? It’s food for thought.
Pitfalls of Political Incorrectness
Historic Christian teaching—especially on contested issues like sexuality, exclusivity, the sacredness of all human life, generosity or beliefs about the afterlife—is, admittedly, not always popular. And yet, Scripture shows no interest in being popular or politically correct. It will not allow itself to be adapted, revised or censored to align with popular consensus.
Ironically, the single thing that makes Scripture relevant to our culture, and any culture, is that Scripture seemingly shows no interest in being relevant. Instead, it acts as God still speaking, affirming what’s good and confronting what’s not. Where Scripture and culture are at odds, Christians too must remain countercultural.
But we must not allow our countercultural postures to become anti-cultural.
A perception of minority status can easily tempt Christians to get testy, even hostile, against a world we are called to love. As reactionaries, we can swiftly default to an in-your-face politically incorrect posture. And that would make us Pharisees.
The Pharisees’ instinct was to separate from the world. But Christians, compelled by the love of Christ, must extend kindness and friendship to those who disagree with us. Christians, compelled by the love of Christ, must not only be the best kind of friends; we must also become the best kind of enemies—forgiving when injured, praying for and blessing those who speak against and ridicule and say untrue things about us, and refusing to get caught up in a culture of outrage.
This in itself is countercultural in a world where, as former president Bill Clinton said, our remaining bigotry is that we don’t want to be around anyone who disagrees with us. But Christians—not in spite of our beliefs, but because of them—have an opportunity to stand out as a loving minority. This means staying true to Scripture-shaped beliefs while also genuinely loving, listening to and serving those who don’t share our beliefs. Jesus, who welcomed and ate with every kind of person, beckons us to follow in His footsteps.
A City On a Hill
Remember, truth without grace isn’t really true, and grace without truth isn’t really gracious. For this reason, political correctness doesn’t always work, and neither does political incorrectness. We need a third way. What if Christians became a true “city on a hill” amid the earthly cities where we increasingly hold the minority view? What would this look like for this minority view to also become known, by religious and secular people alike, as the most life-giving view?
There are already some encouraging signs. Actually, these signs have been there all along.
C.S. Lewis said that if we read history, we soon discover that those who contributed the most to the present world were the ones who thought the most of the next. To be heavenly minded is to be more earthly good, not less.
Christians have shown groundbreaking leadership in science (Pascal, Copernicus, Newton, Galileo, Koop, Collins), the arts and literature (Rembrandt, Beethoven, Dostoevsky, T.S. Eliot, Tolkein, Fujimura, Cash, Dylan, Bono), the academy (almost every Ivy League university was founded by Christians), and mercy and justice (Wilberforce and Lincoln with abolition, Mueller with orphan care, MLK with civil rights and much more).
And contemporary observers are also noticing how Christian belief, in its purest form, spawns compelling lives. New York Times writer and avowed agnostic Nicholas Kristof has written about how Christians—in particular, evangelicals—are consistently the first to arrive, the last to leave and the most generous whenever he covers poverty, disaster, disease or other horrific events. Closer to home, an abortion provider recently told a member of our church, “I want your God, whoever he or she is, to be my God.”
I don’t know about you, but this is the kind of “city on a hill” I want to live in. The kind that gives a tired, sometimes cynical world a reason to pause and consider. And then start wishing it was true.
Scott Sauls is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee and author of several books. He also blogs weekly at scottsauls.com, and can be found on social media at @scottsauls.