Saturday, February 09, 2008

Is "calling a spade a spade" Christlike?

So, here's the news article:

Lawmaker apologizes for calling unmarried pregnant teens "sluts."

Words have meanings. They also have cadence, nuance, emotional and ideological overtones: An adjective tells us not only about the noun which it modifies, but about the speaker who uses it.

What, then, to say about a lawmaker who refers to unmarried, pregnant teens as "sluts?"

If by "slut" one means simply: "A person who engages in illicit sexual activity which, had it taken place between a married couple, would have been entirely appropriate" then the lawmaker has used the word correctly, given his assumptions about morality. Moreover, his use of the word tells us what those assumptions are: Persons should not have sex unless married.

Is that all there is to the subject? Should we endorse the lawmaker? He has apologized for the statement; should he instead have defended it as accurate?

I don't think so. He may not have known exactly why; in fact he may have been insincere, but his apology was appropriate. His statement was sinful and if he is a Christian he ought to recognize that. We must hope he has sought the forgiveness not only of unmarried pregnant teens and their sex partners, but also of his maker.

Why? Doesn't Christianity hold that sex outside marriage is a sin?

Why, yes, it does.

And if the correct definition of the word "slut" is that given above, then isn't using that word to describe unwed mothers and their sex partners merely an honest, accurate description? Isn't it merely "calling a spade a spade?"

No. It may be those things, but it is not "merely" those things. There is such a thing as being sensitive to both the "fundamental" and the "overtones."

In music, a vibrating string produces a recognizable note (the fundamental), but hidden in that sound is the same note, one octave higher, and another note, an octave and a fifth higher, and the original note two octaves higher, and more notes in still higher octaves displaced from the fundamental by intervals of a major 3rd and a minor 7th. The loudness of these overtones greatly influences the timbre of the instrument and, thereby, the role it can play in an ensemble.

The word "slut" is an abrupt expectoration of a word; it is like a pistol-shot, and its use in a sentence has overtones of verbal violence. It is difficult to use without sounding hateful.

I do not argue that a Christian should never express hatred in a sentence. Sometimes hatred has a proper object: Lies, Hypocrisy, Addiction, Cowardice, Foolishness are justly hated by the Christian. Aversion to such things is what hatred was made for. But Liars, Hypocrites, Addicts, Cowards, and Fools are not appropriate objects of hatred: They are children of God, made in his image, and we are exhorted to "hate the sin, but love the sinner."

The lawmaker, whose name I have not used here because he is far from alone in his error (I, at least, have made similar errors) and because the lesson is general in application, did not say that teens having sex out of wedlock are children of God behaving in a slutty manner. He said they were sluts.

The lawmaker, then, has made the error of describing a fellow human being as nothing more than the sum of his/her sin. This is a non-Christian attitude, and is itself a sin, requiring repentance and reconciliation to the injured, and to God.

I would add that other overtones are present in the use of the word "slut" here: The lawmaker sounds holier-than-thou, self-righteous. This is sadly the norm among American evangelical Christians in the public eye. (I do not say "among American evangelical Christians, generally" because the media have a habit of only reporting stories which fit a pre-existing narrative; their narrative about evangelicals is that they are self-righteous prigs; therefore, those are the only Christians who make it into the papers.)

If the lawmaker is actually a self-righteous prig, then of course that too is a sin and a particularly deadly one. If he is actually a humble sort who sounds like a prig through poor word choice, then he has accidentally contributed to the discrediting of the cause of Christ, but at least does not suffer from the soul-cancer of Spiritual Pride.

In either case, God forgives him and we must, also (else we have no promise that our own sins will be forgiven; see re: "The Lord's Prayer"). But where he has stumbled, we can hope to walk straight.

Unwed sex partners are behaving in a slutty fashion, male and female. Fair enough; let us say so, but in a way which shows compassion, which distinguishes between the sin and the sinner. If we've been prissy Pharisees, condemning those around us while our hearts are full of rot, then let us repent and learn humility, humbling ourselves before Our Lord sees fit to humble us! And as illicit sex is apparently a perennial symptom of human frailty in a fallen world, let us be seen adopting not only the children born of such mistakes but the children of God who made them, drawing them into our families and friendships for the sake of their own hearts' healing.

God, I'm fairly convinced what I just wrote was correct. If I have erred, show me how; if not, then give me the grace to live up to these ideals, which are so far above me. Amen.

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