Winston Churchill once said, “Some people’s idea of free speech is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back that is an outrage.” I can think of nothing which better describes Leftists on Twitter aghast that conservatives might soon be able to freely state their opinions and convictions online again.
But it is not just broader society which struggles with this idea of open discourse and the challenging back and forth of ideas and positions. Within the American church as well, how best or whether to debate issues provokes no small degree of anxiety from some.
Take for instance this thread from Tim Keller posted this week in which he bemoans unity and fellowship between professing believers being destroyed over political differences. As he highlights in this post, Tim tweeted earlier this week that “Churches must not maintain unity at the expense of the gospel. Churches should not destroy unity or fellowship over political differences.”
Fortunately for me that he did highlight that tweet in a place I could see it. I’m still locked out of my own Twitter account, and would not be able to read it otherwise. But that really is my point.
Free speech to the Left, inside and outside the American Church, means that they are free to be morally ambiguous where it suits them, downright strident and inflexible where they please, and anyone who says otherwise is being divisive and should be silenced.
While we’re on the topic, I will add that calls for unity from Tim Keller sound an awful lot to me like calls for unity from Joe Biden. Both lead in with innocuous and fine-sounding sentences and phrases which no one could reasonably deny, then bring in the hook that blasts opponents and critics before saying we all need to rally together. No tag-backs, I guess.
But the idea of free speech is inseparably tied – historically, theologically, philosophically, and politically – to both the conviction that we have a God-given right to speak, act, and live according to the dictates of our conscience, and the reality that the annals and chronicles of the human story down through the ages are filled with instances of bullies, charlatans, manipulators, cheats, scoundrels, and tyrants trying to silence the consciences of those who disagree with them.
Sometimes these latter efforts take the form of mandates; other times they appear as prohibitions. Sometimes they are false advertising; other times they are disingenuous omissions of important details.
And, yes, sometimes even calls for unity mask the stifling of rigorous debate and cross-examination. Whoever can beat everyone else to the buzz-word presents themselves as the embodiment of the noble ideal. He who speaks next with an objection is the divisive one, the intruder disturbing all our peace.
Yet even just taking Keller’s thread from yesterday for example, he leads off in large font as follows:
“I recently wrote about how churches should not destroy unity or fellowship over political differences. The replies show that many American Evangelicals have no coherent understanding of how to relate the Bible to politics.”
Oh, yes. That is very unifying. Thank you for solving all our troubles in such exemplary fashion, Tim. Nothing like telling those who differ with your takes that they are incoherent, absurd, nonsensical, irrational, immature, and ungodly to show us the way.
Yet in what follows, you do as you often do, feigning confusion over whether God’s Word speaks to voting for candidates who believe a certain kind of murder must be legal and our tax dollars should go to promoting and subsidizing it, then leave the door wide open that obedience to God’s commands to care for the poor may be satisfied with our tax dollars paying for welfare programs. But here also, which is it? You can only pick one.
For that matter, we would do well to remember Proverbs 18:17 in all such cases, particularly when one side of the debate is allowed to speak freely and unfettered in a way the other side is routinely not.
“The one who states his case first seems right,
until the other comes and examines him.”
But then that is the point of saying one’s peace and then stifling cross-examination, isn’t it?
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