Terrorists in France attack and kill cartoonists for publishing words and pictures that Muslims find offensive—sometimes even blasphemous. The world media is appalled at the attack on what many consider a basic human right, that is, freedom of speech.
Most Christians in the United States would stand on the side of freedom of speech, but we are sometimes among the first to want to censor those who oppose what we believe to be true.
Moving out of the world arena and into just a congregational context for a minute, think about how “freedom of speech” is sometimes controlled and/or completely censored among Christians.
I personally know of one congregation where the leadership does not want non-Christian visitors to attend services because they might say something that was not true! The argument is that if they say something that is not true, then that might lead other people to follow them into untruth.
I know of another congregation where the preacher was instructed never to talk about hell because one of the leaders of the congregation doesn’t believe in hell and nobody wants to offend him.
Some forms of censorship at church are more subtle. How many of our congregations, for instance, would tolerate the preacher saying anything positive about Obamacare from the pulpit? Or what about anything negative about the U.S. military establishment? Or something complimentary of Pope Francis?
And it is not just the preacher whose freedom of speech bumps into arbitrary boundaries. I just heard about two congregations who weren’t speaking at all to each other because one of the churches refused to speak out publicly, condemning the use of musical instruments in the assembly. They were not actually using instruments, but they wouldn’t/didn’t judge others who did. They would not say the right words, so other Christians won’t speak to them!
No one really believes in absolute freedom of speech. All believe in laws against libel, that is, purposefully publishing damaging remarks about someone which you know are not true. We Americans don’t believe anyone has the right to threaten the life of the president.
Once we were driving to California when Sherrylee saw a minivan that was splashed with painted slogans all over in 1960s hippie fashion. The largest words painted on the side which we passed said, “Kill Obama!” Or so we thought.
She called 911 and reported this to the local police who promised to investigate. Shortly, thereafter, she got a call on her cell phone from the Secret Service wanting more details, and asking her if it were possible that the painted van said “Kill Osama,” not “Kill Obama,” since they had found and investigated people in an anti-Osama minivan matching her description! Oops!
God talks a lot about speech—but I don’t think He ever mentions free speech.
Today, at LST we read Ephesians 4, where the Holy Spirit through St. Paul speaks about speech. These are good words for all of us to hold on to:
15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. . . .
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. . . .
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. . . . . 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Something seems to be more important than freedom of speech and that is the truthfulness and the intent of the words, as well as the heart from which the words come.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1)