It isn’t often that this sort of thing drops into my lap. What’s more rare, is a situation in which I agree so strongly with the atheists and so clearly disagree with the (well-intentioned) Christians. To me, the atheists ‘get it’ and these particular Christians just don’t (however well-intentioned) particularly in light of recent events in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The United States is an amazing place. Our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of speech like nowhere else in the world and that gives us, as Christians, an unprecedented opportunity to compete in the arena of ideas. I believe, as the Apostle Paul did, that Christianity is absolutely able to stand on its own in any such competition if it is given the ability to speak clearly. Our freedom allows us to do exactly that. My atheist friends may disagree with me on matters of faith but they understand that this same freedom allows them to disbelieve without fear of punishment or reprisal, whether from Christians, or Muslims, or anyone else. My Christian friends want someone to protect Jesus from being defamed when, I believe, Jesus doesn’t need protecting. First of all, Jesus is completely able to defend himself if he chooses to do so and second, Jesus chose not to defend himself when his accusers defamed him face to face.
In recent days the entire Middle East has been in an uproar over a video produced by an American and released on YouTube. In it, the Muslin prophet, Mohammad, is presented in a negative light. This, the Islamists claim, is blasphemous. They demand that YouTube remove the video, that the United States government require that the video be removed from the Internet and pass blasphemy laws preventing such things from happening in the future (sound familiar?). Free speech on the other hand requires that none of this happen. Free speech allows any of us to say things, to present a range of ideas, even offensive ones, without fear of punishment or reprisals. If the government were to prohibit us from blaspheming Jesus, then why not do the same for Mohammad?
Already our friends in Canada have passed hate speech laws that make it illegal for Christian pastors to preach what the Bible says about homosexuality (even if preached compassionately and not being deliberately inflammatory) but that same speech, unpopular or not, is still legal in the United States. If free speech is constrained to protect Christians today, it may very well be used to harm us tomorrow. I don’t like it when people burn flags, but I believe that it is a protected form of free speech that I am willing to protect. I don’t like it when the KKK or other hateful groups march and spout their venom from the public square, but it too is an important example of free speech. Just because I don’t like it isn’t a good reason to make it stop. After all, I have things to say that other people don’t like very much and I wouldn’t want someone to decide that my speech was no longer legal.
Jesus is not threatened by the people who oppose him. Christianity doesn’t need the law to protect us from blasphemy. Jesus is more than able to compete in the arena of ideas.
…for all of us.
This week one of my Seminary professors, Dr. John Byron, wonders in his blog why the church isn’t having a conversation about homosexuality. Too often we hear pastors and other members of the church saying that they are “for” or “against”, “pro” or “con,’ but how often are we actually talking about the problem and searching for what is right? Surely the Bible has something to say and can inform us as we wrestle with a difficult problem, or have we given up on the authority of scripture? I find it especially odd that Methodists, who claim to be the people of ‘Holy Conferencing’, are so quick to draw lines in the sand before having a real, genuine, and honest conversation in pursuit of the truth.