Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christians, Ducks and Free Speech

"I told him, 'no,' and the guy [in the bar] says to me, 'What are yuh: a lesbian?' And I say, 'what are you: the alternative?'"
-- unknown comedienne, ca. 1984

"Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man's nose begins." -- Zechariah Chafee, Jr., 1919*.

I have to confess, the only bits of "Duck Dynasty" that I've watched have been when my finger slips while flipping the TV dial to "House Hunters International". Nor have I read the GQ interview with patriarch Phil Robertson, but I am aware of the debate roiling over his sudden removal from the show, apparently to do with comments he made about homosexuality. Liberals are delighted; right-wingers are up in arms over what they believe is unequal application of the First Amendment (right to freedom of expression); and in holding Mr Robertson up as the standard for evangelical Christianity, these evangelicals confirm the feelings of many homosexuals, that "Christians hate us."

Aside from providing another battleground for the Religious Right versus the Godless Left, there's an interesting point that needs to be considered: do Christians really have freedom of speech?

Yes, the US Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms both guarantee freedom of expression, freedom of worship, etc., etc., although many would argue (not without reason) that freedom of expression only applies to those who espouse the prevailing groupthink of the times. But when we accept Christ, do we not give up our freedom of speech?

Consider this:

"Let no unwholesome word proceed out of your mouth, but only such a word as is good for the edification according to the need of the moment, that it may minister grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and slander be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God in Christ also has forgiven you." -- Eph. 4:29-32 (NASB)

"... all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." -- John 13:35 (NASB)

So as followers and imitators of Christ, we don't have the same freedom that non-followers claim. We commit ourselves to speaking truth, but speaking it in love (Eph. 4:5) and, to quote Jerry Savelle, "if you can't speak the word of God, shut up!"

Take a look at any statements made by a professing Christian and ask, are they spoken in love? Do they edify the Body of Christ (1 Cor 14:26; Eph. 4:12)? Do they have the effect of expressing love towards the unsaved and promoting the Gospel, or drive them away, believing they're not welcome?

Our assignment from Jesus is to bring more people into the Kingdom, and we need to remember that Jesus didn't spend His time pointing out other people's sins. They didn't need anyone to remind them they were sinning: they needed someone to show them there was a way out. Jesus showed them that Way by loving them without condition. 

We also need to stop whining about whether we're being treated fairly by the world. Jesus warns us it comes with the territory (John 15:18-19). In other words, the world will hate us because we are His disciples; but check this out: the world hates us not because we say things against the current groupthink but simply because we love one another and love people without condition. 

Don't ask me to explain that one (how can you hate someone who simply loves others?), but here's where it gets sticky. There are other reasons why the world could hate someone. If you say hateful things, you'll also be hated by the world, because the world hates those who hate just as much as it hates those who love. In other words, if the things we say are not based in love, then we're not being hated for being Christians, we're being hated for being hateful fatheads. If we say those things while claiming to be an ambassador of Christ, we then become self-righteous, hateful fatheads.

And so, the Gospel does not get preached and people do not become disciples -- worse, all Christians are tarred with that same brush. Like the comedienne in the bar at the beginning of this piece, are we providing a viable alternative to what people see in the world? It's a question we need to ask ourselves every time we open our mouth.

So no, Christians don't have the right to freedom of speech. We give that up when we decide to follow Christ, and He has given us explicit instructions on how to talk and how to behave.

Jesus doesn't call us to judge, condemn or reject. All of those are easy. He calls us to love, receive and comfort, and leave judgment to the Father. That's hard, but God obviously feels we're up to the task.


* Inaccurately attributed to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Debating the obvious - "It is written ..." meets "It is logical ..."

Gotta give credit to Premier Christian Radio in the UK - they don't mind getting into some deep discussions about faith issues, and Justin Brierley's "Unbelievable" program is a great example. Intelligent design, same-sex marriage, Old Earth versus New Earth, all get a good airing on the program. Coming up on Saturday (Dec. 7), noted atheist Richard Dawkins will debate the existence of God. (If you want to listen to it, it starts at 2:30pm GMT, which is 6:30am Pacific time ... 9:30am Eastern ... and, of course, 11 in Newfoundland*.)

Dawkins, of course, not only denies the existence of God, but goes on the offensive against those who believe. In describing Our Father, he uses expressions like "pestilential, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." Sounds like he got his knuckles twapped a few times for making spitballs out of his hymnal during Morning Chapel at school. (I wonder how he'd fare against Native Indians who've gone through the infamous, church-run residential schools and still have faith in God and Jesus Christ.)

Of course, that's the sort of baiting language someone would use if they want to goad another person into a fight, and it's exactly why I'll be giving Saturday's debate a miss. I would completely fall into the flesh, wanting to outwit such a person with some deft, rapier-like strokes of my own verbal sword and find myself pulled down to the same level as the other person. As Noel Jones once said, "You could win an argument but lose a soul."

If, by some miracle, Mr Dawkins has a revelation of God while on-air and renounces everything he's said in the past and starts speaking in tongues, praising God, we'll hear about it soon enough. But debating the existence of God is exactly what we're not supposed to do.

(I explained my reasons a few years ago, when a similar debate took place at the University of British Columbia. The late Douglas Adams was considerably wittier in The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, when he showed how Man can win a logical argument against the God Himself, but "...  for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets killed on the next zebra crossing.")

I digress.

Even Jesus wouldn't let Himself get drawn into that discussion: during His 40 days in the wilderness, when the devil said, "if You are the Son of God ...", Jesus didn't even address that point; to do so would have allowed the possibility that He wasn't the Son of God, after all. He simply said, "it is written ..."

Noting that Jesus resisted the devil with the same tools at our own disposal, all we need to do is say, "It is written: 'In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth.'" That declares the truth and declares our faith, all in one go.

Then we can get back to what we're supposed to be doing: praying for the unbelievers, because they're God's children, too; making disciples of all nations; spreading the Gospel; being fruitful and multiplying the Kingdom; and doing all of the above in faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit. That is the greatest argument in favour of the existence of God that I can think of.

*a source of countless Great Canadian Jokes, Newfoundland's time zone is half an hour ahead of the Atlantic time zone. Some have suggested that it's because Newfoundland & Labrador joined Confederation over 40 years after the last of the mainland provinces (Saskatchewan in 1905) and therefore everything else runs later, but it's more likely due to its distance east of the mainland Atlantic coast.