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Being PC: Public Civility

By January 19, 2016 17 Comments

It will be February already before I am next due to post something here on The Twelve.   That means the primary season will be off and running and we will finally see what happens when actual votes–not just answers to poll questions–start to be tallied.  Donald Trump remains the front runner on the Republican side, and we’ll see first off from Iowa how that translates at the ballot box (or in the caucuses initially).   A lot of people, including apparently no small number of Christian people, remain drawn to Trump and some at least seem to regard his overt rejection of being “politically correct” as being honest, refreshing, and maybe even somehow or another something Christians should admire, too.

Because so many believe that the path to renewal is the path that breaks away from all things politically correct, Trump has been immune to suffering for anything he says no matter how harsh, hurtful, or just plain mean-spirited it might be.  The more he calls people names (which some seem to think is the equivalent of telling the truth), the more his poll numbers rise.  Does he clearly make fun of a disabled reporter?  No matter–people roar their approval at the rally and his numbers tick up.   Does he call every person who disagrees with him or asks a tough question “a loser”?   No matter, people roar their approval and his numbers tick up.

Across recent years a lot of people–including a lot of church-going people–have concluded that being “politically correct” is a product of the liberal left wing in this country.   As such, the entire notion of speaking accurately, carefully, and thoughtfully about others perhaps need not apply to conservative folks lest they get taken in by the same people who are prone to relativism and pluralism and lots of other stuff that works against the Christian faith.   Now, of course, we can admit that political correctness–like anything–has ridiculous extremes associated with it and no doubt any number of people can trot out examples of this or that piece of politically correct speech that induces eye rolling and incredulity in most of us.   Fair enough.

But here is what I think we are forgetting: there is another PC and it has a lot of crossover to the politically correct PC and that is public civility.   If you think that it’s ridiculously politically correct to refuse to call someone “short” in favor of saying he is “vertically challenged,” OK but that does not give you license to make fun of short people, demean them, or make jokes about them.   Trump and others today think it’s being merely politically correct to refuse to use certain narrow labels (like “radical Islamic terrorist”) and they cast aspersions at President Obama or any others who don’t pass their anti-PC litmus test in using such descriptors.   OK, but that still does not give you the right to castigate ALL Muslims everywhere, banish them from this country, or suggest we start to create database watch lists to keep an eye on anyone who adhere to a certain religion.   If you think it’s being politically correct to say that the folks in Washington D.C. are “doing their best” when clearly the place is a morass of partisan gridlock, OK, but that does not give you permission to call them “stupid” as Trump has done repeatedly (claiming that since it’s just being politically correct to use a softer word like “incompetent,” “stupid” is therefore the inevitable choice of honest speech).

Political correctness may or may not have much to do with talking like a Christian.  But the other PC, public civility, does.  As authors like Rich Mouw have pointed out for years now, there is no license in the New Testament to call people names, especially people who do not share your faith much less those who do.   The New Testament uses words like “reverence,” “respect,” “humility,” “gentleness,” and “gracious” when it describes how the then-new Christian believers in the Roman Empire were to interact with their fellow citizens.    Even when faced with those who were overtly hostile to the faith–yes, even when faced with those who in any sense were actively persecuting the Christian faith in Jesus–there is no warrant for lashing out and calling people “losers” or “stupid” or anything like it on account of your disagreeing with them or finding yourself at odds with them.   As the Heidelberg Catechism reminds us in its commentary on what it means to follow the 9th commandment about not bearing false witness, it’s our job “to guard and advance our neighbor’s good name.”

When we cheer those who lambaste political correctness and then use that as an excuse to disengage from also public civility, then we as Christians distort the image of Christ in us.   As conservative political commentator David Brooks wrote recently about another front running politician, Ted Cruz, there is a “pagan brutalism” that has taken hold this election season and it’s something we Christians should lament not join, not cheer, not endorse.

Donald Trump will never read this blog but if he did, he’d no doubt label me a left-leaning, weak loser who has supported that stupid man in the Oval Office in the past.    And to that I respond with a stance someone named the Apostle Peter once recommended: be gentle and respectful and keep a clear conscience so that those who speak maliciously about your good behavior in Christ will be ashamed (cf. 1 Peter 3:15ff).

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee is Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Hear, hear.

    • mndutch says:

      I understand what you are saying but we have a candidate that practices public civility…Ben Carson.
      Why don’t you start listing Hillary’s sins. I’d rather see a leader like Trump than someone like Hillary, who lies and thinks she above the law and has a total conscious disregard for her position.

  • Amen and Amen! Thank you Scott!

  • Eunice Bossenbrook says:


  • Jan Zuidema says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Nathan B says:

    I didn’t think anything Jerry Falwell Jr. could say could surprise me any more, but when he favorably compared Trump to Jesus Christ yesterday, while introducing Trump at Liberty on (sigh) MLK Day, that did it. The whole scene played like an SNL sketch.

  • Jonathan says:

    TRUTH! Our brothers and sisters in Iowa may still want to dismiss you for your “political correctness.” But would the apostle Peter get the same short-shrift?

  • Rebecca Koerselman says:

    Thanks, Scott. This rage against PC is both fascinating and disturbing. I’m still trying to figure out why being inexcusably rude and offensive is cheered for “telling it like it is” and “being truthful,” but being kind and generous in our words is weak and stupid.

  • Great post. Thank you.

  • Debra Rienstra says:

    I was in grad school when political correctness was at its height. This election has made me miss those days…

  • Carol says:

    Thank you. While I am not a big fan of political correctness, I am committed to public civility! Let’s try “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15)

  • sdoeschot says:

    Thanks for this! I have to work hard at resisting the temptation to counter this name-calling with some of my own. Good reminders here.

  • Dan Beerens says:

    Well said! Thanks for your post, Scott.

  • As a Kenyan who has lived in North America previously, I fail to understand how any thinking person, leave alone any Christian can endorse a person like Donald Trump. I keep thinking about the rise of Hitler in Germany. Hitler did not force his way to power: he was elected! Although Donald Trump is not a Hitler, his hatred of a particular group of people and his power to sway the masses are eerily reminiscent of the man who started World War II. The election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president would be a disaster, not just for the U.S. but for the world! The level of violence, already so great, would increase dramatically if such a man came to power. American Christians should do all that is within their power to prevent this happening.

    • Jan Wesetendorp says:

      Your comments about Hitler coming to power remind me exactly of how many of us see Obama’s “coming to power”. Interesting analogy. It has been very disastrous, by the way. Looking forward to some real hope and real change – for the better.

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