I’ve been reading Dr. Justin Tse’s blog with interest in light of his first semester of teaching at the University of Washington. His blog post here reminds us the importance of the diverse audience. He and I had a very interesting and in-depth conversation that implicates how we speak in church. This blog owes no small debt to that conversation.
As a first semester lecturer in a university setting, Dr. Tse encounters many different types of students from various backgrounds. So, the topic of discussion came up on what political correctness actually means. In our discussion, Dr. Tse shared a very insightful distinction between political correctness and real tolerance. Political correctness is a superficial way of speaking and acting in order not to offend but the prejudice of the person has not been eradicated. In so doing, the PC talk is just another means of promoting and upholding the system of inequality and uniformity. Real tolerance actually speaks sincerely with the goal of promoting the system of equality and diversity. In other words, the intention of the speaker as well as the impact on the listener is both important.
How does this impact the way we do church and preaching? I believe we need to see the distinction. Whenever we speak, we often assume without batting an eyelid that we are speaking to a Protestant Christian audience. We assume that there’s no visitor from a different background. How often do we hear our pastors say that they dream of a diverse church makeup where transnational and transcultural impact can be felt? What many such pastors meant is that they wished THEIR PROTESTANT INDEPENDENTLY OPERATED church (the local church) would have transnational and transcultural impact. That’s Protestant-speak! If any Roman Catholic were attending that Sunday, s/he would’ve laughed because the Roman Catholic Church is universal (transnational and transcultural). I’m not even talking about our speech to the outsider. I’m talking about our speech to other Christians who are not Protestants. The Orthodox Church could claim the very same thing as the Roman Catholic. I think a lot of times, our eagerness to convert outsiders (non-Christians) causes us to have a blind spot about our presentation to insiders (Christians). In so doing, when we present our version of Christianity, we fall far short of God’s dream, thus misleading both outsiders and insiders.
What am I saying? In our preparation to preach, we really need to learn as much about Christians who are not Protestants in order for our sermons to have an adequate representation for the Body of Christ. I dare say that most of my followers on this blog are Protestants. I’m not even talking about getting to know non-Christians yet. For any seminary student, I would spend more energy trying to learn about other types of Christians before we start preaching. Of course, we should also learn biblical studies and homiletics. However even if we get our exegesis right, it doesn’t follow that we’ll get our ecclesiology right. By speaking in such a faulty manner, we have assumed Protestant superiority and have promoted our form of unnecessary exclusivism. I’m not talking about PC here. I’m talking about something even beyond tolerance. I’m talking about an accurate ecclesiology in our homiletics. Do we really believe that we’re ONE (and equal) in Christ? If so, PC has very little to do with it.
So, if the sermon is for the church, my only question for you is, “Would you feel comfortable choosing a certain vocabulary or analogy for ALL Christians or just some Christians?” If we can’t say whatever we say to the face of ALL Christians, I wonder if we can say it at all.