Delicacy is the quality most feigned by obnoxious people. To claim, “I am offended,” gains the moral high ground. It does not matter if one is on the left or the right, religious or not, northern or southern. The belief that one’s own feelings should matter while those of other people do not is an evil trap. Practicing this belief is sinful. And it is socially acceptable if others agree. My experience of ministry demonstrates the sin of delicacy ruins the lives of ministers and destroys congregations. It is time to put a stop to it.
Offended With Intention
“Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?'” (Matthew 15:12) Jesus’ response is not that of the gentlemanly European who will either apologize or “give satisfaction.” The manners of his time do not require him to respond with concern when someone expresses false outrage. “One of the lawyers answered him, ‘Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.'” (Luke 11:45) Calling out an injustice offends people who either commit or benefit from injustices.
A co-worker of my father’s told me how awful the union members on strike were to her. “Join the union lady; we’ll get you some damn more money.” Somehow this person took offense at the cuss word rather than the perceived injustice. Being offended allowed her to dismiss any claims the strikers made. An upside-down moralism would then say the strikers hurt their claims. It did not she was inconvenienced and needed an excuse.
False outrage is a typical ploy of those who refuse to listen to real grievances. The only way to respond to it is to ignore it. A colleague once claimed, “I am offended,” when someone pointed out to him the Bible was once used to defend slavery. The discussion was about how the Bible is used to oppose the rights of LGBTQ+ people. He was offended by the comparison. I replied, “I don’t care.” And I don’t care, as we say, “if you are offended,” because I know what such a person is doing.
Pearl Clutching 101
It is amazing about who gets to be offended. The disciples worry that the scribes and Pharisees may be offended. Why? Is it because they have power? Or do they believe Jesus must be acceptable to them? These are the questions interpreters ask and answer. These questions are always in the back of our minds too in our own situations. The real jerks are those who intentionally offend and claim some kind of persecution for their actions. Who then, hypocritically, seek to offend others and ridicule them for being offended. It is a catch-22 with such people. Former President Trump often played this game with fascinating results.
I was not surprised he got away with it either. Pastors watch this game be played constantly. The nastiest people claim hurt feelings while causing harm to others. Usually the game is played against them. It is Pearl Clutching. People who clutch pearls are so upset they get the vapors (as we say in the South). Those who do this expect other people to come to their aid and hold the “offender” accountable. Or they may perhaps get a two-minute spot on a 24 hour news channel.
The practice is infamous within families and volunteer organizations. As I already said, it is socially acceptable if others want to agree. But when others do not agree, the person tends to recover miraculously. Church leaders should resist giving in to this practice.
Offended By Something Real
Attitudes that were accepted as due course now offend some people. There are good examples of this. Racial injustice is the latest example of how an attitude used to be the norm. No one argues for racial injustice. They will argue about what constitutes racial injustice. And some of these arguments are offensive. People who wish to continue racial injustice have ways of arguing by subtle means including “dog whistling.” It is morally right to oppose injustice and to rectify it.
It is anti-Christian to deny another person’s right to exist even if we disagree with their ideas, attitudes, beliefs, or lifestyles. The practice of seeking to offend another person called “triggering” violates this principle. Social media are often used to make comments intended to provoke anger. They are also used to feign outrage when nothing outrageous has been said. Some people cannot discern the difference. They violate this principle without understanding why they do. But honest people will try to understand.
Being offended does not mean one automatically is more moral. Causing people to be offended does not mean so either. But some people will not see what they do is wrong. Some people cannot see until it is pointed out. Others will figure it out. But all will be offended by telling the truth even speaking the truth in love. Don’t let a social practice become a barrier.