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In the wrong hands, words can become weapons
Wednesday, 01 January 2020 14:06
Special to the Daily Planet


A letter to the editor of a competing newspaper made me pause and ponder:

“The decline of a nation starts within like a disease and spreads slowly. Many have infiltrated our country bringing along their ideas and religious beliefs. Political correctness is deceptive and akin to socialism. My own Christian freedom is being challenged. Many, not all, that have come are the ones that is stomping on our soil to destroy the freedom we’ve held dear for centuries. Then there are the liberals, socialist, Nazis and the biased ideas of the media…. If we, who believe in God’s holy word, don’t pray and stand up for the principals this nation was founded upon, the disease will destroy us. We cannot keep silent any longer.”

I felt like I was eavesdropping on a meeting of evangelicals, a meeting where people used words and phrases with specialized meanings that everybody in the group understood.

I have a long evangelical background, from my home to college to 20 years as a Bible translator, but that was before the evangelical faith got politicized. 

One painful sentence screams from the page: “My own Christian freedom is being challenged.”

On the surface, the statement is false.  Religious freedom is safe in America. OK, Mormons are denied bigamy by law, and snake-handlers have to practice in secret.  Nothing comparable threatens evangelicals.

But when the Washington State Supreme Court ruled last summer, unanimously on civil rights grounds, that a florist was wrong to refuse service to a same-sex couple’s wedding, I understand that the writer feels it as a personal gut punch.

Likewise last September when the Duke University student government refused to recognize an evangelical student group because of their anti-LGBT stance, isn’t that — here comes that hot phrase — political correctness?

So the writer isn’t making stuff up. 

Oh, don’t we wish that were the end of the story — a committed Christian who rightly feels hurt by changes in American culture? 

But there’s more to consider. Over the last 40 years, devious people have taken the legitimate distress of grassroot evangelicals and turned it into political passion. Christian leaders, who previously worried about liberal trends in theology, discovered that politics can stir up conservatives a lot more efficiently than righteousness.

The letter illustrates for us an important tactic they use: taking real words, dumping out the dictionary definitions and packing the words with new meanings.

When the letter writer says that political correctness is akin to socialism, we know “socialism” has been given a meaning something like “the worst thing that can happen to our government.” Socialism is an economic system that many countries have adopted successfully. It’s harmless to our faith. (Maybe “socialism” still carries the strong negative connotation it had when anti-Communism was big among evangelicals. That was before Trump, when Russia was considered an enemy.)

At this point, I want to introduce you to a new organization, an unabashed hybrid of faith and politics, created, as one commentator wrote, “just in time for the 2020 Presidential Election.”

Last month, a joint venture was announced between Jerry Falwell Jr. (president of Liberty University) and Charlie Kirk (head of Turning Point USA). It’s called The Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty. Falwell is a known evangelical leader; Kirk is a right-wing political operative whose organization has the subsidiary, Students for Trump.

Kirk loves the newly defined, empty-vessel words, words that he can throw around like Molotov cocktails. He’s quoted as believing that atheism leads to socialism, for example, and in an interview with The Washington Examiner, he said: “The fastest-growing religion in America is atheism and secularism and with that is the rise of leftism and statism.” 

Statism? Statism (unknown to my spell-checker) is “a political system in which the state has substantial centralized control over social and economic affairs.”

Hold it! That definition sounds a whole lot like what these evangelical leaders want America to be — with control in their hands!

Lee Ballard is a published semanticist and lexicographer who lives in Mars Hill.




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