Not since the sixties have we seen the campus population so fully energized in pushing its causes. After a three-decade drought of activity, the past year ushered in a storm of controversy. The parched soil is being flooded with two buzz words: politically correct, or PC for short.

As most readers of popular magazines know by now, the PC movement seeks to obliterate “oppression” and promote “diversity.” Unlike the old radical vanguard, however, this new movement is dedicated more to cultural than economic equality.

The rise of this new orthodoxy is seen most clearly where you might guess—on American campuses. Today’s “blue book” exams receive high marks from PC professors when they discuss the oppressiveness inherent in Western values. The correct answer, claim critics, includes an acronym that is becoming as popular as PC, “DWEMS”—dead, white, European males. Augustine, Milton, Shakespeare, Aristotle, Plato, Ovid, Voltaire are all DWEMS. On correct campuses, these “oppressors” are held in contempt.

Some critics have called the PC movement the new McCarthyism. Those who are PC, they claim, require you to think “correctly” about affirmative action, animal rights, radical feminism, bilingualism, censorship in the pursuit of tolerance, gay rights, non-European origins, and so on. In some places, the consequence of being “incorrect” has led to public humiliation, ostracism, or even a disciplinary hearing.

At the University of Texas at Austin, for example, a required text for English composition is no longer based on a range of topics. The course now centers on an anthology called Racism and Sexism. Some professors charge the course is no longer on writing, but oppression.

Some activists are not satisfied with cleaning the curriculum but want their agenda to govern life outside the classroom as well. Newsweek reports an incident involving a sophomore at the University of Connecticut who was found guilty of violating the student-behavior code when she posted a sign on her dorm-room door reading: “People who are shot on sight: preppies, bimbos, men without chest hair and homos.” She thought she was being funny, butthe university didn’t laugh.

In an administrative hearing she was found guilty of publicly offending persons who have been oppressed because of their sexual orientation. She was not asked to take the sign down and apologize but ordered off campus and forbidden to set foot in any university dormitories or cafeterias.

How can anyone, especially Christians, reject or even criticize a movement committed to the elimination of pride, prejudice, and unfair social advantage? Isn’t this the essence of New Testament love? After all, who wants to defend racism or to be sexist or homophobic?

Yet there is a dark side to the new egalitarianism: its paradoxically oppressive style. It promotes a kind of political activism that the Washington Post has described as falling “just short of fascism.” These new social reformers go about their business with a grim, unflinching determination.

In PC land, the middle ground disappears. Either you are pro-gay rights or you are homophobic. Either you are fighting for feminist causes or you are a chauvinist. John Taylor, in an article in New York magazine, writes, “In the past few years, a new sort of fundamentalism has arisen precisely among those people who were the most appalled by Christian fundamentalism. What unites them—as firmly as the Christian fundamentalists were united in the belief that the Bible is the revealed word of God—is their conviction that Western culture and American society are thoroughly and hopelessly racist, sexist and oppressive.”

The hard edge of today’s idealism stems from a sobering observation: The old appeals for sensitivity and tolerance—namely, social unity and harmony—are apparently dead. The only thing left to do is circle the wagons, stay with one’s own, and denounce the American melting pot as nothing more than a crock pot. For these multiculturalists, differences are absolute and irreducible. Cultural differences are not to be understood but separated.

This leads to one of the ironies of the new sensitivity: It numbs us to whatever pain and suffering lie beyond our chosen circle.

The demand for legal and linguistic redress is self-evidently just. Incidents of bungling offensiveness are legion. But the result for many well-meaning Americans has been to sweep all differences under the rug and suppress rather than confess any uneasiness with someone who is different.

This self-imposed blindness is actually the same frightful oppression in a different cloak. PC followers attack not just the opinions of their critics; they are fighting the right of their critics to disagree. That is dangerous. It is dangerous not just because free speech is guaranteed by our country’s Constitution, but it endangers the human heart. Buried thoughts and feelings have a high rate of resurrection. And they almost always emerge unexpectedly and uglier than ever before.

The alternative to the new “sensitivity” is not the old indifference, however. The alternative is love.

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Reflecting on the life of Francis of Assisi, Carlo Carretto writes, “It is not enough to change laws, you have to change hearts. Otherwise, when you have completed your journey of social labors you shall find yourselves right back at the beginning—only this time it is you who will be the arrogant, the rich, and the exploiters of the poor.”

The gospel releases the oppressed and liberates hearts. It lifts us out of the struggle that is present in every age—the struggle of selfishness, arrogance, and pride. It transcends all cultures, constructs, and conventions. The love the gospel calls us to requires more courage than the two-fisted promotion of cultural diversity.

By Les Parrott III, who teaches psychology at Seattle Pacific University and is a fellow in medical psychology at the University of Washington.

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