It used to be said whenever we gather together with friends and family around the holidays, to be polite, we should avoid talking about religion and politics. Nowadays it seems it’s nearly impossible for us to talk about anything, at anytime, without offending others.
Lately, as a culture, we bristle at the very idea of being offended. I’m not just talking about reactions from sharing the good news either, though I wonder about future implications when it comes to sharing the gospel. We’ve been impacted negatively by a prominent cultural shift that has weakened our caliber of character & temperament -- we’ve reached a point where we collectively collapse into a blubbering puddle whenever someone disagrees with us -- or heaven forbid, they offend us.
Have we forgotten Christmas and Easter are offensive? Simply put, the idea that God would have to enter our world as a baby and then grow up, to die to save us (which implies we need rescuing) can be a slap in the face. Most of us recognize we are far from perfect, but we like to think we are basically good people at heart. Therefore, some people ask, “How dare God insinuate we are sinful, weak, broken, and lost without Him?”
God can communicate all of this and more, not only because it’s true, but because He is in the process of redeeming all things (for an example, read Col 1:19-23). Yes, the gospel is offensive to humanity, but it’s not insulting. The gospel offends, but it isn’t degrading either -- it’s uplifting once the message gets past our defenses. Remember, the gospel can be foolishness to some or an intellectual/religious obstacle to others, just like Paul writes about in I Cor 1:20-25.
Jesus was Crucified because He offended the religious establishment. And, remember Peter clarified Jesus was the “rock of offence,” “For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. (1 Peter 2:6-8 ESV)
If I’ve recognized a single theme which epitomizes this year, I’d say we could encapsulate the sentiment of 2015 as a year where people have become so hypersensitive and inflexible in their thinking, that people are too easily offended. And, we can’t “offend” anyone without risking retaliation or being labeled as an intolerant hate-monger. This all smacks of an immature smokescreen that has hijacked mature dialogue.
From the red cups at Starbucks to college professors telling students to wear whatever Halloween costume they want, and from fights over Confederate flags to stores who say “Happy Holidays,” to the latest PC trend, to the need for gender-neutral language on college campuses, in 2015 it has become the year where offending others is now the Cardinal sin of all times. Sadly, it’s become chic to feign victimhood and claim you are offended. This current trend will not end until we’ve become a society that embraces complete censorship of any divergent ideas.
Which is why we need to embrace being offended. I’m not saying people should ever be indecent, crude, rude, belligerent, hateful, ugly, or mean. I’m NOT endorsing racism, ethnocentrism, discrimination, or bigotry. I am saying it’s necessary to experience being offended in order to grow.
Believers need to embrace this truth, there’s nothing inherently malicious about delivering a message that offends others. And further yet, at times it’s necessary to be offended if we are to reach maturity. The Apostle Paul wrestled with this, as we read in Gal 4:16, “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?”
Emotionally, we are handicapping an entire generation of young people when we neglect this fact: Tolerance, which our culture highly values (rightly so) requires by definition that there are opposing views being expressed.
We have to get to the place where we no longer dismiss someone because they offend us, and we can no longer shelter people who might be offended by the beliefs of others. In reality, none of us are always right 100% of the time, and, our personal opinions aren’t always the most important perspectives in the room. As I look around and see how much we’ve empowered this position of weakness which can’t tolerate being offended, this whole situation where we’ve been culturally hijacked by the fear of offending others, it reminds me of the “Emperor's new clothes.”
If we can’t offend people because we are intimidated by their reactions, then sharing the most offensive message will become nearly impossible to articulate -- in fact, evangelism will probably become illegal hate speech if we allow this pattern to continue.