Many of you probably watched the Democratic debates earlier this week with varying levels of approval or disapproval, and if you’re into politics, you probably posted something about it at some point, or read someone else’s post.
Maybe even Mike Huckabee’s.
So, the former Arkansas governor and ordained Baptist minister took to Twitter with what I’m sure he thought was a pretty funny jab about Bernie Sanders.
It’s the kind of thing that a lot of people probably say at some point – who doesn’t know that a lot of third-world residents sometimes eat dog? Who hasn’t made some off-the-cuff comment about it while eating at a Chinese restaurant with a less-than-stellar health rating? I suspect Gov. Huckabee probably never expected anyone to be offended. He just wanted a funny way to talk about Bernie Sanders’ tax-heavy approach to government.
He should have known better. And as much as many conservative Christians would like to defend it, it was a dumb thing to do.
Let’s put aside the idea that people are too sensitive today – you’ll get no argument from me on that. Put aside the fact that because he unnecessarily made the remark about North Korean chefs, no one is talking about his legitimate criticism of socialist taxation policy. Here you have a man who wants to be president of the United States (at least I think he still does), which means the president of the people who like him, the people who don’t like him and the people who don’t know anything about him, but might just be sensitive about being reminded of how their countrymen have unconventional eating habits.
That brings with it a responsibility to try harder, to be better, to not be Donald Trump. Talking to a wide range of people means trying to connect with as many of them as you can – it’s not about winning points with your inner circle for wit and not caring if the other people “don’t get it”. And Gov. Huckabee should have gotten that point, because he allegedly knows the Bible.
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6 ESVST)
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29 ESVST)
In other words, Christians shouldn’t have the attitude that “I’ll say whatever I want, and if they can’t take a joke, it’s too bad for them.” We can’t always control what people think about us, and there’s no question that the world is going to find ways to hate us for trying to live godly lives and standing for godly principles. But that doesn’t mean we throw the door open and go out of our way to provoke it. We’re called to sound speech “that cannot be condemned… having nothing evil to say about us.” (Titus 2:8) And living in a society of people who are really sensitive (sometimes selectively so) doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility to try.
Paul talked about being “all things to all people” for the sake of the gospel. He wasn’t saying that he lived like sinners or engaged in immoral activity so people in the world wouldn’t think he was “too good”; he was saying that he didn’t want anything to distract someone who might be interested in understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul hated the idea that he might offend a fellow Jew with his conduct to the point that the person would no longer be willing to listen to the word of God – and so he continued to honor Jewish tradition, to the point that he even directed his protege Timothy to be circumcised, so that the issue of a mixed-race uncircumcised Jew wouldn’t distract a Jew who might find it objectionable.
It would be hard to argue that Paul thought they were “right” to be sensitive. But he wasn’t going to jeopardize his work for something so unimportant. So, if the issue of eating meat was going to offend someone to the point that their faith might be damaged, Paul wasn’t going to let it be an issue:
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. (Romans 14:17-20 ESVST)
I don’t know if the governor is racist or not. I sincerely doubt that he hates North Koreans. But I do know that he sent out a text that he should have known would have offended people. Is the priority to build a consensus across political and social boundaries? Or is it to inject a negative image about a group you’re allegedly trying to win over to your side – even when there were any number of other ways to make the same point?
As Christians, our priority isn’t about exercising our right to say whatever we want. It’s glorifying God and showing His grace in our lives. Let’s not ruin it for a good punchline.