Citizenship Confusion: Sometimes "Political Correctness" Is Just Common Decency

Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.

In my last two columns I have written about the importance of charity and humility in all our proclamations and conversations. This last week, the College Republicans at Messiah College enacted that charity when they cancelled a talk they were going to host because they realized that the speaker was politically “polarizing.”

The previous week, Frances Fox Piven, a political scientist known for her leftist politics and extreme statements, had given a talk at Messiah College. The College Republicans, wanting to offer the community an alternative to Piven’s views, asked Jason Mattera (Yes, that Jason Mattera—the guy who VP Biden told, “Don’t screw with me”) to speak at the college. When one of the faculty advisors for the club, Dr. James LaGrand, told them about some of Mattera’s recent comments at another college (Mattera reportedly told a student to “take out your tampon”), the students voted unanimously to cancel the talk.

They decided that it would be better to allow the radical speech of an opposing political party to go unanswered than to contribute to the unedifying and uncharitable discourse that defines contemporary politics. The Messiah student paper quotes the VP of the Republican club as stating, “In order to have good dialogue on the issues, we need to eliminate this polarizing language, whether it’s Piven calling Tea Partiers racist or Mattera on the other side calling liberals something else.”

In our country’s public square, what is most important is “winning” the political argument. We redefine love for our neighbor (or political enemy) as “telling the harsh truth” so that we can justify unedifying and abusive language. Many Christians have wrongly accepted this mindset, confusing their heavenly citizenship (which calls for charity and true, selfless love of the Other) with our earthly citizenship (which couldn’t care less).

Unfortunately, the College Republican’s positive example of prioritizing charity over political gain was balanced out by commentary on the situation by Human Events and The Pearcey Report.

Human Events, the conservative magazine where Mattera works as editor, posted an editorial condemning Messiah College for canceling his talk. The headline reads: “Christian College Gives Pro-Riots Leftist Piven a Forum, Then Cancels Conservative Speaker.” Note how it conflates the student organization with the school, making it seem like the school intentionally censored Mattera. The editorial states that the republican students were “pressured” by Dr. LaGrand into voting to cancel the talk, a claim that the editorial provides no support for and which Dr. LaGrand denied in an e-mail to me.

It ends with this warning: “Parents who are thinking of sending their kids to Messiah College, take notice. Alumni who repeatedly get letters and phone calls from Messiah’s fund-raising department, you too. The students there are being programmed to be politically correct drones.”

Similarly, Rick Pearcey linked to the Human Events editorial at The Pearcey Report, writing: “If parents and financial supporters of Messiah College get wind of this, there may be Heaven to pay” and on Twitter: “If This Is Where MESSIAH COLLEGE Is Today, in One Generation It Will Be Expressly Anti-Biblical, Anti-Christian.”

Human Events and Rick Pearcey blame Messiah College for the College Republicans’ unanimous decision to cancel Mattera’s talk and both suggest that parents and financial supporters should complain to administration. Even worse, Pearcey warns that the school might soon be “anti-Christian” and Human Events says that Messiah produces “politically correct drones.” These are serious accusations to make about a Christian college, and they could have very real consequences for the college and its faculty.

Rather than commend the College Republicans for standing up for edifying speech, Human Events and Rick Pearcey publicly condemned Messiah College, suggesting that winning the political war is more important than speaking with grace.

About Alan Noble

(Co-Founder/Editor/Columnist) is a part-time lecturer at Baylor University. He received his PhD in Contemporary American Literature from Baylor, writing on manifestations of transcendence in 20th Century American Lit. He and his family attend Redeemer Waco, a PCA church. Alan's passion is studying how believers can be a faithful presence in culture to the glory of God and the edification of others. In addition to editing, Alan writes his column, Citizenship Confusion for CaPC.

---Follow Alan on Twitter @TheAlanNoble and on Facebook.

---For questions, comments, or interest in speaking engagements please email me at noble.noneuclidean [at] gmail [dot] com.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    A couple things:

    1. Oh, hey, Messiah College. I know a girl who went there, and she’s one of the kindest, sweetest people I know. They’re good people, there.

    2. There’s a false equivalency between calling the Tea Party racist and telling an audience member to “take your tampon out.” One is a reasonably supportable assertion and conclusion that has the ability to be nuanced (ie, I can reasonably claim that, based on the rhetoric about welfare queens and taxes that I have personally witnessed from Tea Party members that the movement has a tendency toward recruiting racists and has an unusual number of white people as representatives for a “populist” movement). The second, however, is a sexist insult with no basis in reality and is incredibly offensive (it’s a “clever” way of accusing an angry woman of it being her time of the month and therefore that her argument illegitimate, and reasserting “rational” superiority over her.). To pretend that they are at all the same, as the VP of the club does, is a little silly. But I am glad that s/he recognized the potential powder keg of the offensive speech (though one would hope that the potentiality of offense had been recognized before they invited Piven to campus as well, but, better late than never, I guess).

    3. I hate the use of “politically correct” as an insult. Really, asking someone to be PC about something could more easily be summed up with Wil Wheaton’s one rule for life: “Don’t be a dick.” So when I read the editorial accusing Messiah of creating “politically correct drones,” I just roll my eyes. When someone resorts to the “you just want everyone to be politically correct and trample on our free speech” argument, I give up on the debate. If I ask you not to, say, for example, call something “retarded” in front of me and you refuse to respect my feeling in the matter, then we really have no place to move forward in the debate because you are refusing to respect me as a legitimate opponent and instead are choosing the low tactic of insulting me. So those who oppose “political correctness” seem to be arguing for their right to be a dick, which doesn’t bode well for reasonable debate.

    All in all, good assessment of the situation. I’m glad that Messiah made the effort to promote solid and clear speech focused on reasoned discussion rather than insults and inflated rhetoric. It’s something we all could learn from.

  • http://pushofpikes.wordpress.com Stephen P. Hale

    LOVE this article, and I love what the Republican group did.

    Personally, I’ve shifted to being a Democrat in the last few years (reading the Bible did that, if anyone cares). I too am tired of the political rhetoric that is damaging our discourse. I can see that Keith Olbermann is just as much of a problem as Sean Hannity.

    I applaud Messiah College’s Republicans. I wish they were able to find a good speaker who could address these same issues in a more calm manner, though. The discourse is important, but manners and honesty are important, too. We need to refocus on POLICY!

    I hope the Democrats on campus noticed the Republican group’s Christ-like example. I hope this event has, at least on campus, reminded people that, before we are Americans, before we are Democrats or Republicans, we are Christians.

    Bravo!

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @Dianna

    I agree that those two statements are apples and oranges but both are offensive. Mattera’s is offensive toward women and the other makes stereotypes people involved in a political movement.

    This is a small thing but you said “All in all, good assessment of the situation. I’m glad that Messiah made the effort to promote solid and clear speech focused on reasoned discussion rather than insults and inflated rhetoric. It’s something we all could learn from.”

    Correct me if I am wrong but Messiah College had very little to do with the decision to cancel Mattera–it was a decision made by the campus organization–the “College Republicans.”

    Anyway–I just say that for clarity purposes. This fact makes Rick Pearcy’s comments even more irresponsible as he is making VERY strong claims against Messiah College–who did not in fact make this decision. Seems a pretty glaring case of misdirected criticism.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    Ah, yes, mistyped and called it the college instead of the club. My mistake.

    And I am still going to dispute you on the idea that the two situations are equally offensive. All the arguments I have heard discussing the potential racism of the Tea Party have tended to come from a place that has support for the declaration. Studying the demographics of the party (they have a distinct lack of diversity), looking at the implications of the policies they support – particular their “official” (or, as official as they can be – maybe “aggregate” is better) stance on immigration, and understanding the rhetoric that many of them use (if I have to hear “illegal” as a noun one more time…) leads me to the conclusion that many have racist tendencies. And, “Hey, that’s a bit racist” is how I have heard many (trustworthy and level headed, not inflammatory) liberals phrase things. That is far less insulting than “take your tampon out,” which has no mitigation and is merely relying on a sexist trope to undermine an opponent’s argument.

    Sure, it may hurt to hear that a movement one identifies with has a tendency toward racism, but that assumes that racism is something inherent and cannot be actively changed – if it’s a stereotype, then you can help to change people’s minds. On the other hand, being told that your argument is illegitimate because “it’s your time of the month and you’re just out of whack emotionally” isn’t the same level of offense at all. One makes a comment about something that can change; the second says that “who you are is wrong.” Apples to oranges, indeed.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    I never said they were equally offensive. In fact that is what I meant by apples and oranges.

  • Wayne

    Dianna, how do you define “racist?” The Tea Party is calling for smaller government, and enforcement of the laws of the land. To oppose concessions to “illegals” (there’s that word) means they are opposed to those who cross over the borders without permission as those who are breaking the law. BTW – large numbers of those “illegals” are from somewhere other than Mexico…read Middle East, and it has become a main avenue of advance by Jihadist who would do harm to you and me if given the chance. For the Administration to declare in public that it won’t enforce the Immigration Laws, and will even seek subsidies for those who enter illegally, and then sue states that are trying to enforce the laws of this land, displays a level of hubris that is unprecedented. Opposing illegal immigration is not racist, it is pragmatic.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    Wayne, you have successfully proved my point. Thank you.

    And Drew, I took “but both are offensive. Mattera’s is offensive toward women and the other makes stereotypes people involved in a political movement.” to mean that while they are different situations, they are offensive in different ways, and my point is that an observation of “this is kind of racist” is offensive only to the person who perceives an accusation of racism as an attack on their character, rather than a chance for introspection and change; whereas a sexist attack is sexist, period. There’s nothing that can lessen that offense. So, I apologize for any misunderstanding, but in my mind, the situations are so different that they cannot even be adequately compared.

  • Adam Carrington

    Dianna,

    Interesting comments. I agree with the wrongness in Mattera’s comments. But with Tea Partiers as racists, what do you make of self-defined Tea Partiers being so supportive of Presidential Candidate Herman Cain? And do you find a problem with the lack of racial diversity at the Occupy Wall Street protests? While not the entirety of your basis for accusation, it does seem important for you in the Tea Party instance.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    Adam, is there a lack of diversity in the OWS protests? Every photo I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot) features a massive amount of diversity – indeed, many reporters have commented that there is a massive number of African American and Latin@ people there. They’re not all white college students, if that’s what you’re thinking.

    Examples: http://motherjones.com/slideshows/2011/10/occupy-wall-street-eviction/meditation-circle

    http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/09/occupy-wall-street/100159/

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/photos/occupy-wall-street-20111002/0370853

    Looks pretty diverse to me.

    And I find the Herman Cain argument to be a red herring – it’s the “I can’t be racist! I have a black friend!” argument. While individuals in the part may not identify as racist, the platform as a whole is one that promotes institutionalized racism. Think of their stance on defunding Planned Parenthood, which would disproportionately hurt impoverished minorities, an objection that is frequently met with scorn. Think of the stance on immigration, with numerous “show me your papers” laws. Think of comments made by Tea Party representatives (I’m thinking particularly of that flash in the pan Sharron Angle’s “you guys actually look a little more Asian to me.”). Not to mention the birther movement, which has racist roots (He doesn’t look like the default American, therefore he can’t be!). There have also been extremely objectionable comments made about how Herman Cain would be the “real” first black president, and so on.

    While I agree that the Tea Party as seen in individuals I am friends with may not be consciously racist, there are still a lot of stances and policies and comments that are racist in nature, and therefore I don’t believe “The Tea Party is racist” is too far fetched of a claim.

  • Adam Carrington

    Dianna, I must say I find some of your arguments too clever by half. Support for Herman Cain, along with support for African-American public officials like Allen West or Latinos like Marco Rubio seem to be based in common cause on issues. I don’t see how such support is a red herring or connects with the argument you put on it. Are Republicans like Rubio and Cain also racist, since they support policies that you ascribe to racists or racist attitudes?

    And I think your claims of institutionalized racism need better definition. Are you saying that Tea Partiers are racist but hide it well? Or that they are not racist but unknowingly support policies that are racist? It seems you are saying both. But I don’t as a general rule agree with either assertion. I see many policies of the Left, while well intentioned, are not effective to the plight of urban and minority areas. Attempts to question the effectiveness of these good-intentions are too often met with cries of racism rather than a good discussion of whether the old ideas actually help or not. And defunding Planned Parenthood, for example, was entirely about abortion (I think the growth of crisis pregnancy centers shows that pro-lifers want to care for those in difficult pregnancies without the destruction that Planned Parenthood’s abortion provision brings).

    What concerns me is this: In the end, the claims of racism against the Tea Party movement as a whole seem too often like an attempt to silence rather than engage opposing views. I’ve been amazed at how stupid these people are supposed to be in their views yet how they are accused of hiding alterior motives in often very subtle combinations of code-words and knowing glances, one’s that seem to fool those African Americans and Latinos who support and are supported by them. These claims too often turn accusations of racism into political capital at the expense of truly seeking out the individual and institutional racism that does exist. The accusations which many times are so blantantly for political benefit turn off many persuadable persons to seek true racial reconciliation and reform.

  • Dave S

    I am quite offended by people calling the Tea Party racist. I have seen nothing but politeness from Tea Party people in person, and to balance the few crazies one might see on TV or the internet, I have seen just as many racist things from leftists, such as Jon Stewart using Step’n Fetch’it voice to mock Cain. Liberal racism is of the “pateralistic” type: you poor people need people like us to help you out. But it is still just as real.

    Calling everyone who you disagree with a racist degrades all debate in this nation. Like the boy who cried wolf, real cases of racism are not going to be taken seriously because every conservative is called a racist all the time. “You’re a racist” is now already a punchline for jokes.

  • Jordan Ekeroth

    Alan, do you have any idea how the events are being processed on-campus- perhaps from your email to Dr. Lagrand? I can’t seem to find any references in the student paper besides the one you linked to. Also, I really appreciate that the article makes it clear that it was the republican club who invited him, and then rescinded the invitation as a specific response to his recent comments.

    It’s unfortunate that no one on the uninvited side seems to be responding very maturely. But of course, it’s always easier to be rude from a distance.

    Also, am I the only one who sees the whole situation as a sort of “Reverse Dawkins.” Ie: Mattera apparently really wishes someone would put a chair out for him… Haha…

  • Alan Noble

    Jordan,

    From what I know, Dr. LaGrand received close to a hundred emails in response to the Human Events article, many if not most of them were very hostile. The college president also received some emails, from what I can tell from the Human Events comment thread, where many readers bragged about the harsh emails they had sent off.

    I also believe that the College Republicans are currently working at finding another, less offensive conservative speaker to replace Mattera’s talk.

    Dr. LaGrand has a very detailed and thoughtful article on the entire event which I hope he will publish soon. When he does, I’ll update this column with a link and share it on Facebook.

  • Alan Noble

    One of the most disturbing parts of this debacle is that the Human Events article was shared or commented on 1.4k times on Facebook. And there is a very good chance that most of those readers did not check the facts themselves, leading them to believe the HE account, thinking that Dr. LaGrand and Messiah College are a bunch of Marxists. For a scary experience, read the comments section of the HE article.

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