Christians, Hate Speech, and Censorship

What should be a Christian's stance on censorship? At least three things have prompted the question for me.

1. Actress Kathy Griffin was recently censored on TV for her acceptance speech at the creative arts Emmys - for a denigrating statement about Jesus, which was considered by some as "hate speech." (I first saw this reported on CNN.) That incident made me wonder if all of talk about hate crimes is not being aimed at Christians specifically (who, for example, would call homosexuality a sin or Islam an evil religion) but really anyone in the culture who says anything denigrating about a minority religious, ethnic, or social group.

2. Over the last week I read Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, a dystopic science-fiction novel about a future world where books are illegal and fireman don't put out fires, they start them - burning books and the houses where they are found. Can you think of a worse nightmare than that? Scary.

3. Several days ago I watched the film V for Vendetta which is about a future Great Britain ruled by a totalitarian government. (To cover my tracks, I should probably say that I don't recommend or approve of the film. It contains graphic violence and offensive language. But it was very thought-provoking philosophically.) It has been called one of the most pro-gay movies ever made. It does not contain graphic sexuality, but it does portray lesbians in a positive light while it demonizes religous fundamentalists and those who oppose homosexuality. The "hero" of the film is a vigallante who executes vengeance on the corrupt government through assassinations and terrorism. It's actually pretty hard to find a good guy in this movie!

So, all of this has me thinking, what should be a Christian's stance on censorship and how are we to engage a culture that is increasingly hostile to moral absolutes? I'm not sure what the answers are and am interested in your thoughts. Here are just a few brief thoughts to kick off the discussion.

1. Christians should never speak or act in a way that is unbecoming to the good news of salvation for sinners through faith in Jesus Christ. This immediately screens out hateful speech - i.e. any kind of speech that is hateful in tone and manner. Falwell's name-calling of Ellen Degeneres back in the 90s certainly did not adorn the gospel or do Christians any favors. It is true that homosexuality is a sin, but it doesn't warrant name calling or meanness any more than other sins like lying, stealing, or self-righteousness and bigotry.

2. Christians do have a responsibility to be faithful proclaimers of the gospel and God's Word. This means that we must speak about all sinful human behaviors (including homosexuality and our own sins, whatever they may be) as (1) rebellious to God, (2) destructive to human beings, and (3) deserving of God's judgment. Christianity is not merely about moral absolutes. We dare not equate (or give others reason to caricature) the message of the gospel with moralism. But on the other hand, the message of the cross makes no sense until it is understood within a worldview that affirms God as creator and law-giver, man as rebellious and accountable, and Christ as redeemer and restorer. There simply must be some understanding of the moral structure of the universe for the gospel to make sense.

3. It seems to me that when Christians shift the battle-lines away from preaching the saving message of the cross towards "reclaiming" the culture and gaining moral turf in the culture, we risk losing our ability to speak from within the current culture as redeemed people. We start viewing people with a different religion or morality than ours as the enemy, instead of fellow rebels in need of redemption.

Do you agree or disagree? What should a Christian think of censorship? Give me your thoughts.


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Ben Canfield said...

I don't know!

cgl said...

Interesting post. I don't think that "hate crimes" are aimed at Christians (at least right now) I can't stomach the concept of a hate crime (the phrase itself seems redundant). I love Fahrenheit 451. The best and most encouraging part was that they memorized books. I thought, shouldn't I be doing that for if or when my Bible is taken from me? Now to the point. I think censorship should be fought where culturally appropriate in ways that do not threaten the gospel message. In the US I certainly can call myself a libertarian and handle myself in a Godly way that does not offend someone in such a way that it ruins my testimony. Overseas, in say a Muslim field I doubt that any activism I might have concerning sensorship could possibly be beneficial. I think sensorship starts a culture down a slippery slope that ends up denying God given human rights (which I beleive in actuality are not that numerous). Christians are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and when it does not threaten the gospel, should stand up for human rights as we can, through the Holy Spirit, impart some measure of common grace.

Brian G. Hedges said...

Chuck wrote: "I think sensorship starts a culture down a slippery slope that ends up denying God given human rights . . . when it does not threaten the gospel, [we] should stand up for human rights as we can, through the Holy Spirit, impart some measure of common grace"

Good words. I think that's right. What I've been thinking is censorship, even of material offensive to Christians, does pave the way for losing the freedom of speech - and the freedom to share the gospel and preach Christ at all.

kt said...

A related question I've wondered about is whether the same should apply to the rights of homosexuals (obtaining a marriage license, etc.). I'll admit it makes me feel a little nervous, but doesn't it seem like the logically consistent position?

Brian G. Hedges said...

You know, C. S. Lewis believed there should be two kinds of marriage: state-sanctioned marriage and Christian marriage sanctioned by the church. And in state-sanctioned marriage, he believed that the biblical standards of divorce/remarriage should not apply.

Accepting homosexual marriage is a step further, but on a similar principle. I personally think we should fight that as long as possible, because it would involve the redefinition of the word marriage. I am more open to the idea of legalized civil unions with benefits, health-care, etc.

To some degree these issues go back to the whole "can you legislate morality?" question. I think the biblical answer is "you can punish certain forms of immoralty" - i.e. immorality that brings physical harm to other people and their property.

What makes this hard in a culture like ours is when the moral structure of the society begins to fracture because of pluralism and moral decay. To use an over-used analogy, when a ship is sinking, no amount of rearranging the deck furniture will do much good. You have to fix the leak.

Only the gospel will fix leaks.