Mark Rutland: Deposing the Tyranny of the Offended

We need good, strong church leaders to overcome the sympathy addict element in the church.
We need good, strong church leaders to overcome the sympathy addict element in the church. (Lightstock )

At Live Oak High School in Northern California, Cinco de Mayo has apparently become more of a divisive issue than a joyful cultural celebration. Racial tension has gone a long way toward stealing the fun at Live Oak's Cinco de Mayo celebration. That is a sad state of affairs. Sadder still was the decision of the school's administration to forbid displaying the American flag on Cinco de Mayo. The matter went to court, of course, and the court held that the administration's concern for avoiding violence at the high school trumped free speech and the display of the American flag in an American high school.

None of this is to say that every Anglo student at Live Oak is a model citizen, nor that all those wishing to show the flag had pure motives. Student motives are absolutely not the point. Free speech is the point. Tough times require tough leaders.

Having said that, Live Oak High School and Cinco de Mayo are not really the point of this column. That high school situation is, rather, an example of a greater leadership issue. America has become a nation of enablers for the easily offended. In politics, in pop culture and, sad to say, in the church, there often prevails a tyranny of the easily and chronically offended.

Why do those who take offense get all the love and attention? Why should we constantly make way for those who literally live on the lookout for any possible offense, real or imagined?

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Purdue University received a gift from a couple in honor of their parents. The wording the donors wanted on the plaque referenced "God's physical laws." However, the wording was changed without the donors' permission on the grounds that someone might be offended and the plaque might incite a legal battle. Now a First Amendment legal battle is underway at Purdue. Why? Fear of giving offense.

This is not to give anyone permission to deliberately hurt others. For example, would it have hurt the Anglo students at Live Oak to wear the flag every other day and just skip May 5? On the other hand, the administration at Live Oak could have simply said, "Look, this is America. If you are offended by the flag of this republic, you are too easily offended and you need to lighten up. Oh, and by the way, all the nice policemen in the halls will be helping us have a fun day. Beyond that, on Cinco de Mayo, as marvelous a fiesta as that is, the flag of the republic still flies."

Where this issue of constant offense-taking becomes truly counterproductive is in the church. Every time some churchgoer gets their feelings hurt, everyone gathers around, billing and cooing like a flock of mourning doves. One of the problems is that it is frequently the same people who are easily offended. Again and again!

I think it is high time that church leaders quit enabling these "repeat offensers." The Bible says in 1 Corinthians that love is not easily provoked. When someone is regularly and all-too-easily offended, it is proof that he is short on love. The current trend is to "hold people accountable" for every verbal slip. Why can't we start to hold people accountable for inflicting their emotional immaturity on the rest of us?

Every pastor receives emails from easily wounded souls devastated by some word, joke or sermon. Those faint hearts should know their pastor's heart is right and his motives pure, but they are compelled, absolutely compelled, to express their offense. They know they will be swaddled and rocked in tender arms, their tears dabbed at tenderly by comforters who enjoy the scene as much as they do. They count on their addiction to sympathy being pandered to rather than their own emotional weakness being challenged by a church that loves them enough to tell them to lighten up and grow up.

America is falling prey to a terrible tyranny of full-time offense takers. The church is under no obligation to follow suit. Love is the key for us. Love does not want to give offense. Love also does not easily take offense. The body of Christ must throw off every ruler save Jesus only and grow into the maturity He wants us to find. We have a King, not emotional tyrants.

Even as I finish writing this column, I am absolutely certain that there will be those who are offended by this article on not being easily offended. Oh, well.  

Dr. Mark Rutland is president of Global Servants. A renowned communicator and New York Times best-selling author, he has over 30 years of experience in organizational leadership, having served as a senior pastor and a university president.

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