Language Matters

Editorial
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It’s a fine challenge to be a bi-national denomination. We get stretched in healthy ways trying to understand, respect, and support each other in our different ministry contexts. Some fallout from the recent Olympics shows that we need to be sensitive to those differing contexts in what we say as well as in what we do.

Take politics. In the United States the government boldly proposes plans for universal health care, paying down staggering debt, and ending the war. These challenges weigh heavily on the minds of our U.S. sisters and brothers.

So what can the Canadian government muster? Its only notable proposal in the recent throne speech was a slight editing of the Canadian national anthem. The frequent use of “O Canada” during the Olympic Games brought denizens of the frozen North to sudden awareness that we have a national anthem and that it contains politically incorrect language.

Unlike the U.S. national anthem that’s still good to go, “O Canada” offends in three instances:

“O Canada! Our home and native land!” makes liars of immigrants when they sing it.

(And many of us are immigrants.)

“True patriot love in all thy sons command” leaves out more than 50 percent of the population, the “daughters.”

“God, keep our land glorious and free!” discriminates against atheists and agnostics.

Popular response to this benign government proposal was as fierce as any Midwest Republican’s to Obama’s health-care package. Messing with “O Canada” met with a thundering NO. The Harper government backpedaled faster than you can say “Canada” backward.

It appears that Canucks are as patriotic as their neighbo(u)rs to the south. But political correctness doesn’t seem as high on the agenda and offense isn’t taken as quickly. For example, my spouse isn’t particularly distressed by “sons.” I’m a first generation immigrant but gladly sing “our . . . native land” And your average Canadian agnostic doesn’t much mind placing a call to Someone who may not be in.

Why? Because Canadians tend to believe, perhaps naively, that their society at least tries to do a good job of not discriminating. And actions are seen to speak louder than words.

Isn’t Canada guilty of injustice? Of course it is. But Canadians for whatever reason don’t care to measure every word—certainly not in historical works like “O Canada.”

So should we as Christ-followers both north and south of the 49th parallel be politically correct in how we speak?

I believe we should be politically sensitive, monitoring and measuring carefully the context in which we speak. What is pleasing speech in one instance can be horribly hurtful in another. Let’s follow Paul’s admonition in Romans 14-15, neither to judge nor to offend each other or anybody else. Our speech must reflect our true citizenship in God’s kingdom. Good diplomats train and discipline themselves to say the right thing in the right way in the right place.

As representatives of King Jesus in Canada, the U.S., and worldwide, we need to do that too. What we say and how we say it really matters (James 3).

We’re hardly called to pharisaical, picky political rectitude. But we are called to always speak the truth in love (Eph. 3:15-16) and act on it.

In our bi-national context, let’s watch our language, eh?

About the Author

Bob De Moor is a retired Christian Reformed pastor living in Edmonton, Alta.

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