"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?
"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.