Saturday, February 2, 2013

This is Unacceptable!

Fourth Ordinary Sunday Year C

If Jesus had lived today, he could have saved himself from a lot of bad press by listening to some useful advice from pundits of political correctness – the art of not offending the sensitivities of his audience. But I guess, if this was true, Jesus would have equally stayed on course and perhaps gotten himself into the same kind of trouble, if not worse. Last week, we saw Jesus begin his public ministry by preaching in the synagogue of Nazareth. He stacked up brownie points for his gracious and inspiring words, words that promised healing and liberation. Things rapidly and dramatically changed when he began to challenge their ideas and convictions. Jesus reminded them that God’s salvation is accorded to Gentiles too, not just Jews. They were not so elite, not so chosen, and not so exclusively special. Their prideful expectations were subjected to a humiliating reality check and this enraged them, so much so that they wanted to throw Him headlong over a cliff. No sweet comforting words here, just the plain painful Truth.

This reaction is to be expected. Isn’t it quite natural that when we hear words pleasing to us, we accept them, but when they disturb our consciences we might well dismiss them as worthless. There are people who choose a church where they can experience good feelings from warm and fuzzy words, nothing disturbing nor demanding should pass the lips of the pastor. Today, we are reminded that it is true that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a great word of consolation and refreshment, but it can also be harsh and demanding, as Jesus himself could be harsh and demanding. Our “precious” Saviour is also the unpopular Prophet who confronts sin and challenges our preconceived notions of salvation and prejudices.

Many, including leaders in the Church, are subjected to the temptation of preaching the gospel shaped by political correctness. We shy away from making difficult gospel-based demands of the people while choosing to tamper not just their words but inevitably the values that underlie those words. Political correctness always seeks to preserve a good image whilst attempting not to offend anyone. And it is never too difficult to offend someone in today’s age. When we speak of Jesus as the Son of God, we risk offending the Muslims; when we quote from St Paul we risk being labeled a misogynist (woman-hater); when we refer to ourselves as the People of God we risk being accused of being religious bigots; when we rail against abortion, we risk being judged as being unsympathetic to the plight of the women; and when we speak of the institutions of marriage and family, we risk excluding those who practice alternative lifestyles. The end of this ideology is that there are no absolutes, no absolute moral norms, no absolute Truths. In fact, political correctness seems to be the antithesis of truth. Political correctness seeks never to offend, while Truth always carries with it the potential for offense. But the truth is that Jesus did offend many people. He offended his hometown, he offended his family, he offended the leaders, he offended the crowds, he offended his own disciples. Too often we are so preoccupied with trying to avoid offending anyone, we end up offending God. Jesus once taught, “Blessed is he who does not take offense in me” (Luke 7:23). Looks like the pundits of political correctness had forgotten this last bit in trying to please the whole world, all and sundry, except the only one who matters.

Proponents of political correctness would often argue that Truth is divisive, in that divides the community. They feel that many well intentioned Catholics, though divorced and remarried, living in irregular unions, dissenters of Church teachings, should not be made to feel as if they are excluded and isolated. Truth is perceived as intolerant and a serious barrier to community cohesion and inclusiveness. They are convinced that love includes and should never exclude. But if the Church is to make room for everyone, it may mean having no room for the Truth. By definition, truth does separate – it separates the truth from falsehood. It divides those who want to know the truth from those who do not want to know. Thus, Jesus sitting in judgment divides the goats from the sheep. Truth is indeed intolerant but its intolerance is directed to lies and sin which seeks to hide behind the cover of euphemisms. In fact, Truth in itself is not divisive. It does not spell the absence of love. It is people who become divisive when they are unwilling to accept the truth.  

Many would lament that the Church is losing many of its members because they feel that her demands are too rigorous and her teachings too hard. This is a common argument cited in favour of greater accommodation – making Christianity softer and its message more palatable for a wider consumption. The myth is that people will stay with the Church if she makes it easier for them to do so, which means amending not just Church laws but even gospel values and teachings so that the Church can be seen to be more inclusive. But statistics of membership patterns among liberal Protestant denominations show otherwise. Some Protestant denominations like the Anglicans have been making accommodations over the years, but they have not been able to stem the trend of decline. In fact, these politically correct churches have been accused by their own members of being so busy in accommodating other people’s views they have forgotten to put forward their own claim, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. In their obsession to be politically correct, they have forgotten what it means to be Christ-correct. When we sacrifice truth at the altar of popularity, we risk not only losing our edge and identity, but also damning ourselves and others to perdition.

Today, political correctness has become a substitute for God in unbelievers and a poor substitute of the gospel to those who truly require liberation from a culture of half-truths, manipulated information and outright lies. What is more worrisome is that there is an inherently religious aspect to political correctness. It reduces everything to human accomplishment whilst downplaying and even disregarding the sacred. In other words, political correctness substitutes man for God. Many, if not most of the problems in this world today are the results of people rejecting the true God and replacing Him with a false god of good feelings that Political Correctness gives them. The antidote for Political Correctness is the Real Thing, Jesus Christ. Christ is not some esoteric good feeling we get from politically correct words; He will actually fill the yearning we have for God.

There is an urgent need to recover our nerve as Christians. We do not need to be obsessed with walking on egg-shells in attempting not to offend others, especially when this means offending God and betraying the Truth which he wishes to communicate to the world. Christians, who hold firm the gospel of Christ, are bound to offend others. We don’t have to feel embarrassed about our faith. We do not need to apologise for being Christians or for believing that Jesus is the unique and universal Saviour of the World and that He is the Truth, the Way and the Life. Although apologies are not needed, apologetics is most necessary – we need to give a reasonable explanation for our faith; we need to defend Jesus not just with reasonable arguments but also with our lives. We must never mistake our witnessing of Christ for arrogance. It is a demand of faith and love. It is time to step out of the shadow of political correctness and speak the Truth with Love. The Pope reminds us that Love and Truth are not antithetical but rather Love or charity is always in service of the Truth and that Truth springs from the well-spring of Love. To separate the two would only spell disaster – it could lead either to a politically correct gospel devoid of its essential truth or its opposite, a harsh demeaning religion that does not know the meaning of love nor compassion. We must, therefore, never forget that on the Last Day, we will be judged by Christ, who is both the Saviour and Judge of the world, guided by what is acceptable to God and not by the common vote of a jury of peers dictated by what is acceptable to man.


  1. Your last sentence particularly resonates with me. How much simpler decision making would be if we could hold on to this truth as our guiding principle. A thought provoking piece, Fr Michael.

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