`The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.
Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good- Ecclesiastes 9:16-18 NIV
I am convinced Western society has gone off a cliff and lost its collective mind. How we approach speech these days demonstrates this phenomenon.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the right to speak freely was considered sacred and unquestioned. Free speech was thought to be, by everyone except a few, the holy grail of freedom and democracy. There were of course, limits. It was never okay to yell “fire” in a crowded building. That being said, unless a person’s words were likely to cause real physical harm to a large number of human beings the speech was permitted. Not all speech was valued or appreciated. Some speech was simply endured, some was loathed, some was laughed at, but it was all okay. Those folks in the not-so-distant past were clever enough to understand that political and religious freedom and the democracy that undergirds political and religious freedom rests entirely on a person’s right to say what they want to say when they want to say it.
Unfortunately, all that is pretty much over.
In recent years a great deal of speech has been stifled, some has even been forbidden. All of this has taken place under the watchful eye of the news media and with the blessing of social media, capitalists and many in government. Ironically, this squashing of speech has been done in the name of protecting people. There are those who sincerely believe words have the power to cause irreparable harm to others and therefore should be monitored for appropriateness and censored when found to be unsuitable.
Here’s the thing:
Appropriateness of speech is totally subjective. The speech one person finds acceptable someone else might decide is wildly unacceptable. It’s nearly impossible to find two humans who fully agree on every aspect of what’s okay and what isn’t okay to say. However, the biggest problem is with who gets to decide what’s okay and what’s not. Somebody has to be the decider. It’s simply a fact that anyone who believes they are qualified to decide what should and should not be said is very likely a narcissistic monster with a colossal god-complex.
The right to speak freely matters. It really is the foundation of every other human right. Furthermore, we live in a time when dangerous ideas about life, sex, and even what is real are being promoted almost everywhere. Someone has to be the voice of reason (Ephesians 4:15 and 25). As Christians we are obligated to be that voice because Jesus called us to co-labor with Him in setting the captives free from the lies of the enemy (Luke 4:18, Matthew 10:8). Furthermore, the ability to share the gospel, call out sin and preach the Bible hinge on the right to speak freely and without fear of government interference and/or retaliation. It’s just a fact that all Christians are called to be a protective and healing influence in the society they live in (Matthew 5:13-16). This means all Christians in a free society play a part in keeping speech free. We can do our part to keep speech free by adopting the following five policies. Starting with:
Don’t be dumb-
Seriously. There is a lot of unadulterated idiocy in this cultural moment. Christians should work really hard to not contribute to any of it. Pray fervently, do research on issues and train yourself to think deeply about all sides of an issue before you speak out about ANYTHING (Proverbs 10:19).
Learn to separate an opinion from a fact, only argue with facts-
When doing research on a subject look for verifiable facts rather than just accepting someone else’s assessment of a subject. Remember, facts can be verified and repeated. Opinions are what one person thinks. An opinion formed using facts is okay, an opinion formed without verifiable facts backing it up should never be used in a discussion or argument.
Don’t allow fear to control your tongue-
Too many Christians with good ideas and well-formed opinions have kept their thoughts to themselves out of fear of not being liked. This is a big part of what got us to where we’re at in this sketchy cultural moment. Change will only come if smart believers speak start speaking their minds on the issues in a respectful way.
Don’t be a jerk-
Don’t name-call, demean or disparage anyone while speaking out on issues. It’s tempting to be rude in a world where there are so many incredibly stupid opinions literally running amuck. Just don’t. It’s not Christ-like and won’t change anyone’s heart or mind.
It’s critical we remember the battle we find ourselves in is spiritual (Ephesians 6:12). The people are not the enemy. Our job is to free people from the real enemy. We won’t do free anyone by being rude, disrespectful or mean.
Avoid contributing to the problem with your dollars-
I am not a huge fan of big, noisy, obnoxious boycotts. Boycotts pit people against each other and draw attention to Christianity in all the wrong ways. That being said, I am convinced there is more to Christian money management than simply tithing. All the money we have is a gift from God we get to manage or steward for God’s glory. This approach to money means we think hard about what companies do with or promote with their profits. There are many companies run by men and women who want to severely curtail free speech. Believers should make every effort to avoid supporting these businesses because the right to speak freely is basic, God-given and directly tied to the freedom to worship.
The world has never needed Jesus more than it does in this moment. It’s our job as Jesus followers to declare truth as winsomely as we possibly can. We can’t do that if we’re contributing to the foolishness.