I stood in the sanctuary talking to a law-enforcement friend about a recent bust he’d made. “Man,” he said laughing, “it took about three of us to subdue this guy. He had what we call ‘retard strength.’”
He must have noticed me looking awkwardly at my feet because he quickly said, “I’m over 40—I don’t have to be politically correct.”
You often hear the term “politically correct” spoken by the churched through clenched teeth. It’s a boogeyman that, too many, represents a huge loss of liberty, as if saying something off-color or insensitive strikes a blow against “the man.”
But I didn’t feel uncomfortable because my friend was being politically incorrect; I felt uncomfortable because he was being insensitive—and mean.
If you knew me, you’d know that I’m the last person to be lecturing anyone about appropriate jokes. My humor offends people so regularly, I have to spend a lot of time lubricating my relationships with apologies.
But there are jokes I’m tired of Christians being comfortable hearing, telling, and laughing at. In fact, there are jokes I am tired of hearing fall lazily out of my own mouth.
Sometimes I feel like we’re a little uptight about racial issues. But I had a Japanese friend tell me, “that’s because you’re a middle-aged white guy.”
“I know that when you say humorous things about my culture, you don’t intend to be racist,” he said, “but as the minority, I go from interaction to interaction where I’m reminded, by one stupid comment after another, that I’m different. To you it’s a couple funny comments, but you don’t see the fact that I hear this crap all day long. It’s a constant reminder that I don’t fit in. It’s exhausting.”
He’s right. I don’t think about it, and I should. My beliefs should be informing the way I think about and treat people. They should be inclusive.
For God’s sake, if Jesus taught first-century Judaism anything, it was that racial stereotypes have no kingdom value. (Lk. 10:25–37)
I make pseudo-sexist jokes too often. I don’t do it because I believe women should be barefoot and pregnant; I do it to parody what I see as obviously outdated ideas about gender.
But I’ve been thinking about this one a lot lately and I’m changing my views.
Sexism hasn’t stopped being a issue. The church still bickers about what women should and shouldn’t be able to do.
If I’m perpetuating archaic gender ideas (even in jest), maybe my actual views don’t matter. The only difference between me telling a sexist joke and an actual sexist telling a sexist joke is that I (and a maybe a few people who know me well) know I am kidding. That’s probably not a big enough difference.
What do I lose by not relying on gender stereotypes for humor? Lazy jokes that are only funny because terrible people truly believe them.
I have a confession. I occasionally drop the “R” word as an adjective—sometimes even as a pejorative noun.
Despite the fact that I have a little brother who’s extremely developmentally disabled, I still describe ridiculous things as “retarded.” I don’t mean to do it. I’ve just been conditioned to see it as acceptable. If you hear me say describe anyone or anything as “retarded,” you have my permission to slap me.
That’s the issue with a most of these things. We let culture condition us to be accepting and even cavalier with ideas that should be abhorrent. To think that it’s okay to draw a verbal correlation between things that annoy me and people with Down’s Syndrome is one of them.
This is only the beginning of jokes about disabilities that I hear Christians make . . . jokes that I’ve made.
Jesus ushered in a new kingdom by waging war on a broken and sick creation. He did this by making the healing a priority. It probably wouldn’t hurt if we valued the disabled enough to stop thinking that disabilities are funny.
If dummies like me aren’t calling things “retarded,” they’re calling things “gay.” It’s another disparaged minority we invoke to communicate our displeasure.
But more than just misusing the word “gay,” guys use homosexuality as a joke between each other. A favorite go-to joke among us guys is to challenge each other’s masculinity and imply that our buddies are gay. Sadly, the humor lies in the implication that there’s something wrong with gay people.
A gay friend once told me that when he was younger, this kind of teasing between guys constantly made him feel like it was never safe to confide in men. From his perspective, the way guys teased each other about being gay told him that there was something wrong with him. This was a quiet sort of terrorism inflicted by well-meaning guys who just didn’t think about the implications of their humor.
Caring for the Other
The common denominator between these topics is that they represent some form of “other.” One thing that followers of Christ should have in common is their desire to protect and advocate for minorities, the weak, or anyone society deems as less than important.
Humor often comes at someone’s expense. I probably won’t stop making dumb jokes, but hopefully, I’ll stop being willing to get the kind of cheap laughs that Christ probably finds embarrassing—if not infuriating.
After all, you can tell a lot about a person by what they’re willing to laugh at.
Agree? Disagree? Did I miss a topic? Let me know about it in the comments.