“I Am Free, BUT….”
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
In 1993, Samuel P. Hungtington proposed a theory that in the post-Cold War, religious/cultural identities would be the major cause of conflict in the world. This seminal concept was first published as an article entitled A Clash of Civilizations. Are we, indeed, living in a period of a clash of civilizations? The recent killing of Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine staff and other Parisians by some religious extremists masquerading as “believers” has prompted condemnations around the world. Although there are some who believe that the killing was justified, most reasonable people across cultures and religious traditions condemn the taking of lives.
This unfortunate and atrocious event has triggered a crucial debate on freedom of speech. From prominent religious leaders (like the Pope) to political figures (such as the British Prime Minister), opinions are being raised in relation to freedom of expression and its responsibility. Does freedom of expression have responsibility? Is it acceptable to insult someone’s fundamental value in the exercise of my fundamental value?
The right to freedom of speech is often invoked as a fundamental right in the West. It is enshrined in the constitution or Bill of Rights. Many would go to the extent of arguing that free speech includes freedom to offend, mock, insult and provoke.
Do Christians have the right to freedom of speech? Yes, we do. Does it include the freedom to offend, insult or mock? Peter says, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16). Paul knew that he was free, but he voluntarily and willingly constrained himself so that he might be able to “win” some for God. Christian freedom comes with responsibility and limitations.
The scripture says, “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Our speech must be adorned with love always. Easer said than done, no doubt, but a principle worth trying. So, what does it mean to speak in love? Paul says, “Love does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5). On one hand, to love is to refrain from doing anything to “dishonor others” (unlike what Charlie Hebdo does). On the other hand, love is “not easily angered” to perpetrate violence (unlike what the extremists did).
Because the secular government allows us to do certain things does not mean that they are in agreement with the Christian or godly principle. If my free speech is going to hurt, or cause harm, violence or death, I need to exercise prudence. Words can kill. Words also can heal.
Tezenlo Thong, Pastor
Simpson United Methodist Church