Tag Archives: Free speech

The Real Battle

The political, social, and moral climate is changing, and it is changing so dramatically and so rapidly that it is hard for people to adjust. That is, it is hard to adjust if a person believes that adjustment is necessary. Take the case of Brendan Eich, former CEO of Mozilla.

In 2008, Brendan Eich gave money to a cause he believed in. He made a donation in favor of political activism that worked to preserve the time-honored definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The record of human beings on the earth demonstrates conclusively that, until recently, human beings considered the union of a man and a woman to be a marriage, and they considered marriage to be a high and honorable estate, essential to a healthy society and required for the propagation and nurture of the next generation. When Brendan Eich observed that this most fundamental of all human institutions was threatened, he gave money to people who were working to preserve and protect it. He was not alone in his views, and nobody at that time thought his views were odd, let alone destructive.

Today, in 2014, Eich is unemployed as a consequence of that donation. Yet it is not the donation itself that fated him to lose his job with Mozilla. It is his expression of his thoughts today, about that act years ago, that took him down. Brandon Eich refused to confess that he was wrong to have done such a thing and that he has seen the error of his ways. Brandon Eich refused to apologize. That is his crime.

None of the articles I have read says whether Brandon Eich is a Christian. It is not necessary to know this information about Eich in order to conclude that Christians are threatened by a culture in which a man could lose his livelihood because he refuses to apologize for doing something that was and is both legal and moral. Eich lost his job, because there are a small number of very vocal and aggressive people who believe that it is morally desirable for a person to apologize in public for doing something they dislike. Their position is that they will forgive him for his error if he confesses publicly to having erred in supporting this view. This is what tyrannical governments do to prisoners who are being re-educated.

During the years of the Cold War, news about political dissidents trickled out of the USSR and Communist China. It was not uncommon to hear confession stories about someone who had previously vanished. The criminal reappeared on radio or television and “confessed” to a “crime” and “apologized” for disagreeing with the government. During the Vietnam war, American prisoners were paraded in front of cameras to “confess” and “apologize” for the crime of fighting against Communism. Secular social and political activists apparently want to do the same thing in the USA. They have done it against Brandon Eich.

The evidence is printed for all to see in an article about Eich’s dismissal. The facts of Eich’s story are that Mozilla learned of Eich’s donation and called his attention to it. The story was made known to the media. Eich was interviewed by CNET, a leading voice in the technical world. The interviewer asked him a question: “If you had the opportunity to donate to a Proposition 8 cause today, would you do so?” It is this question that Matthew Riley MacPherson, a developer for Mozilla, considered to be an opportunity for Eich to apologize and show his contrition over the error of his ways. According to MacPherson, “Eich was given the clear chance to publicly apologize on behalf of himself and Mozilla — something called for by many, including myself. When asked if he could do it all over and do it differently: the correct answer was ‘yes’. But he didn’t say he would do it differently. It was at that exact point in time that he failed as CEO. … He failed to execute.” In other words, Eich had the same opportunity given to Galileo for saying that the earth revolved around the sun; Eich could recant. He didn’t.

Many people who are not Christians nevertheless believe that the tradition of marriage is normally and properly defined as the union of a man and a woman. MacPherson’s statement indicts every one of them for thinking wrong thoughts and demands that they be punished. This blog is focused on Christian concerns, but people who agree with Christians in this matter face the same problem. Effective with Brandon Eich’s dismissal as CEO of Mozilla, the culture has said that thinking the wrong thoughts is a crime. The culture, not the government, put Eich on trial, convicted him and sentenced him. Yet given the fact that the federal government has already asserted in numerous courtrooms that someone engaged in business has no right to act on religious convictions, it is not out of order to ask how that philosophy will take shape in both legislation and regulation.

The first paragraph of this post asked if it is necessary to adjust to the rapidly changing political, social, and moral climate. It might be wise to ask exactly what constitutes adjustment. Is it enough simply to live and let live? It seems not. When confronted, a citizen apparently will be expected to do much more than simply stay out of the way of the cultural agenda. It is obvious that there is significant momentum to expect citizens to applaud the cultural agenda, to feel ashamed of ever having resisted this cultural agenda, and to be contrite and pay a price for past moral convictions. Brandon Eich’s case teaches that adjustment is required.

This demand is not a lot different from the threat Christians faced in the Roman Empire. Emperors who were called “gods” expected worship. It was an act of citizenship to bow to a statue of the emperor and to invoke him in prayer. Christians who refused to do so were thrown to the lions. In the US today, political and social activism is creating a climate that threatens Christians for even thinking thoughts in opposition to the notions that currently float at the top of secular concern.

What if a person who is a Christian runs for US Senate? Candidates who were known to be Christians were publicly maligned during the last election for being Neanderthals who were not in tune with the times. It is not a great stretch to imagine that every candidate in the next election will be grilled regarding religion and views toward the LGBT agenda. Brandon Eich’s story is the blueprint for destroying the candidacy of individuals with strong moral convictions, unless they are willing to confess and apologize for past bad attitudes. Debra Saunders says it well: “Eich’s enemies argue that intolerance of intolerance is not intolerance. But of course it is. By toppling Mozilla’s CEO, activists sent the message that having opposed same-sex marriage — a mainstream position also held by Barack Obama just six years ago — can be a career killer. It’s not enough to beat the opposition at the ballot box or in court; you have to ruin opponents’ grass-roots supporters personally, make people afraid to oppose you.”

It is not too late for enlightenment to strike the culture and turn back the venomous and violent dark forces of fear and scorn that threaten a free society. If the federal government wants to do something that will help the situation, let the president speak out in opposition to the mad dog attack on Eich. Let the Senate majority leader demand that the culture show real tolerance for ideas and religious convictions. Let the president of GLAAD declare that it is inconsistent with the values of any good citizen to destroy someone’s career over a cultural argument that has nothing to do with professional competence.

In the meantime, what must Christians do? Christians must do what Christians must do in all places at all times: grow in faith and in Christ-like behavior. Christians must nourish faith by prayer and Bible study. Christians must be faithful in the smallest opportunities to shine the light of Christ into a dark world. It is important to speak out on big issues and take the kind of action that doomed Brandon Eich to the unemployment lines, but it is even more important to share Christ all the time. Early Christians were maligned politically, because the culture that laughed at emperors behind their backs nevertheless thought the public image of compliance was important. Yet early Christians were known personally for their kindness and integrity, as is witnessed in the story of Dorcas (Acts 9:36-42).That kind of living testimony is how they earned the nickname “Christian.” It is important in today’s climate for Christians to be worthy of the nickname “Little Christs.” It is important in every era, because it is that testimony that Christ promised to reward. Additionally, that reputation will be as important to Christians running for political office as the money that funds their campaigns. The best way for Christians to survive the developing political, social, and moral cataclysm is to be faithful in the smallest things. Jesus said that his follower must “deny himself and take up his cross.” The real battle is not the battle with the LGBT agenda; the real battle is the battle with self. Brandon Eich won the battle with self and lost the battle with Mozilla. Every Christian must be ready for that sort of outcome if he fights the real battle.


Speak with Respect

Recently a friend asked me what to do when she felt led to share Christ with someone who does not believe. With all the current emphasis on speaking “correctly” in various settings, she was concerned that her mention of Christ’s name was disrespectful to people who do not believe. She had read Paul’s words to Timothy, a young pastor, to preach the word “in season and out of season.” In other words, preach all the time. It is fundamentally the message Christ gave to his disciples as he prepared to ascend to heaven when he said, “As you are going, make disciples.” Jesus said, and Paul reiterated, that we are to be busy sharing our faith all the time. My friend wanted to know how she could speak of her faith without upsetting people who do not believe.

The answer is that it is not possible to know whether the mention of Christ’s name will upset someone. Christians are called to love people the way Christ does, and if they love people, they will want to share Christ with people who do not know him. In the US today, a mention of Christ, even an invitation to receive Christ, is not against the law. It is free speech protected by the First Amendment, but that protection does not have any effect on the personal reaction of someone who thinks religion is a bunch of “ghost stories.”

This problem really is a problem in some countries around the world. Not too long ago, a new convert to Christianity in Morocco was arrested because he “shook the faith” of a Muslim. This new Christian is so happy in his faith that he can’t shut up about it. His Muslim neighbors complained that he was always inviting them to church and talking about Jesus. In prison he was tortured by guards and abused by fellow prisoners, but he said, “Before I became a Christian I had no peace, but now I have peace all the time.” In prison, subject to torture and beatings, he had peace. He is currently out of prison on condition of being silent about Jesus, but he is not silent, despite the risks. He reminds us all of the statement by Peter to the high priest in Jerusalem: “We must obey God rather than men.”

In Iran, a Christian and a Muslim had a quiet conversation in a park. They were in the capital city, where Evin prison holds many Christians imprisoned for being vocal about their faith. These prisoners are all convicted of being threats to national security. During the conversation, the Muslim spoke of the religious police who circulate all over the city and of the many rules and regulations that control daily life in Iran. He said, “This place feels like a prison.”  The Christian in this case had to be discrete in his response to this statement. He had friends in Evin prison who had carelessly agreed with such statements, only to discover that the statement was made as bait to entice them to criticize the government. He did not hesitate out of “respect” for the Muslim’s unbelief but rather as an act of serpentine wisdom. He truly must beware. If a Christian in Iran speaks of Christ to a Muslim, he does so knowing the risk he is taking.

In the US, Christians are not yet at risk of arrest for sharing the faith. I greet people in the name of Christ without knowing their beliefs, because I love to share Christ. Even people who look a bit puzzled and turn away do not seem to feel that this greeting is illegal speech. In the US we speak freely because free speech is protected. However, this state of affairs can change and may change. Without even repealing the First Amendment, it is possible for the Supreme Court to frame the wording of a decision about speech that categorizes faith sharing as outside the protection of the First Amendment. It is hard to imagine how that could be, but with daily assaults on the free exercise of religion, some assault on free speech about religion seems almost inevitable. Already, the word “proselytizing” has begun to surface as a scornful description of faith speech.

When Christians speak to anyone about Christ, the motivation is love. Love is both respectful and powerful. Real love is willing to do the hard thing in order to bring blessing to the loved one. There certainly are people who are adamantly and angrily opposed to the sharing of faith speech in public. They do not want to hear anything about Christ. They might be very angry if someone said, “Jesus loves you.” Christians need to be wise about when they  speak and what they say.

Fortunately, before Christ was crucified, he promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would always be with them to guide and inspire their words. He also promised them that they would be hated and reviled, even persecuted. Christians who obey the guidance of the Holy Spirit need to speak when they receive that guidance, but when they do, they must also be ready to accept whatever response they receive. Those to whom they speak may think the Christian is kindly sharing something good, but it is possible that those people will erupt angrily, lashing out and accusing the Christians of hate speech or even unconstitutional acts.

There may be reasons to be silent on some occasions. Jesus taught that Christians are not called to barge in like roaming cattle. The guidance of the Holy Spirit is the only reliable guide for speaking or being silent. A Christian must certainly respect the human value of each person, but a Christian must expect and be willing to ask for the respect of those who do not believe. Every person is entitled to respect for being human, without regard to what he believes or does not believe. When a non-believer rails against a Christian for speaking of what he believes, the Christian has the same right as the non-believer to speak up for respect. Not aggressively demanding respect, but quietly asserting a right to be respected. A non-believer has the permission of God Almighty to refuse to believe, but the non-believer does not have God’s permission to speak abusively or to engage in outright assault. In the US, believers should be able to speak with courtesy and respect in conversation with unbelievers, but there is no guarantee that the response will always be in the same vein.

Christians must respect everyone, but they must always follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If a Christian speaks of God’s love to someone who reacts violently, Christians must continue to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in love and grace. To speak of God’s love to someone who rejects him is not a lack of respect; it is an act of profound love.

What is your experience when you speak of Christ to people who reject him?

To Dissent is not the same as To Hate

If you read this blog very often, you are familiar with many of the issues in our culture that challenge, sometimes even threaten, the freedom of Christians to live in the US in a manner consistent with their faith principles. You are probably not surprised, even if you haven’t yet heard the news, that Emory University in Atlanta has decided to remove Chick-Fil-A from its food court because of the owner’s position on homosexuality. This university was founded in 1836 and named for a man who “dreamed of an American education that molded character as well as the mind.” If this man could visit the offices of the college administration today, he would surely request that his name be removed from the institution.

If the people who instigated this action had made a reasoned analysis that required the removal of Chick-Fil-A because it is a poisonous influence on the character of young people, the news might be more palatable. However, the news is that an aggressive campaign by LGBT activists on campus led to this decision. Students in Emory’s LGBT alumni group, GALA say that “Chick-Fil-A has already become a symbol of hate that causes active harm.” This allegation, based entirely on the fact that the owner of Chick-Fil-A has exercised his First Amendment right to express his position on a social issue, uses rhetoric that has successfully avoided saying what the real issue is. News outlets allow them to say that the company is guilty of hate instead of demanding to know what Chick-Fil-A has done that is hate in speech or action.

Christians cannot readily agree how to respond to the volume and variety of cultural challenges to traditional moral values. Those who are advocating the changes complain that Christians are asking for privilege when they advocate for traditional values and stand for their right to express those values in word and deed. In fact, the values Christians advocate have been considered the normal, commonly-accepted values for centuries. If the globe were all one country, most of the traditional values Christians stand for would be the dominant values, Western Europe notwithstanding.

However, this observation is irrelevant. This observation could even be interpreted as whining. We live in the USA, and we live in this culture, and in this culture, the voice of Christians is increasingly being suppressed and drowned out by other voices. With regard to the problem arising at Emory University, there are even many Christian voices who do not agree with the traditional Christian view that homosexuality is sin and that gay marriage is a contradiction in terms. That fact further reduces the impact when any Christian speaks up for biblical values. Should we feel tromped on? Abandoned? Upset? Angry?

Jesus warned us that our way of life would not be the popular one. He said, “The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) If he is right, then we must be on the right path, because the crowd is thinning out. If he is right, we must be on the road where we belong, because it is hard.

One of the hardest things about this path is that while we travel it, our enemies continue to bombard us. Not only do they object to our arguments against their intentions; they also object to our having opinions at all. The allegation against Chick-Fil-A is a case in point. Never at any time has the owner of Chick-Fil-A said anything insulting about homosexuality or gay marriage. He has, however, exercised his God-given right, protected in the First Amendment, to express his opposition to gay marriage and he has donated money, also his right, to organizations that advocate for traditional marriage and family values. His religious convictions shape his political speech and action. Every citizen has the right to express his political views, a right Hillary Clinton famously supported during the 2008 presidential campaign. Sadly, because Chick-Fil-A’s owner has done so, LGBT political activists accuse him of hate. If being opposed to somebody’s view constitutes hate, then the LGBT activists around the nation must be complete hate-mongers, because they hold views directly opposite to mine.

If I asserted that view, I would be taking on the attitude of the people on the other side of this political/cultural chasm. If I asserted that view, I would also be rejecting the teaching of Christ. Christ taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who abuse us. This means that even though we are called hate-mongers or accused of venomous speech, Christ expects us to respond with love. We can and must dispute with the people who assault what is right, but we must not engage in name-calling and vicious sound bites. When one United States Senator feels comfortable calling another United States Senator a “wacko bird” it feels as if the underpinnings of civil society are wobbling. Those of us who claim the name of Christ must depend on Christ to give us words for the conversation that express our message without demeaning our opponents.

Jesus never said it would be easy. We must pray for the guidance and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. We must trust that God is still sovereign in the affairs of time and space. We must be willing to suffer for our convictions, willing to be insulted and ostracized, maybe even willing to lose friends, horrifying as that sounds. We must never forget that in this battle, we are called to be the sweet scent of Christ in the stinking mayhem of the culture wars.

Dan Cathy has demonstrated how to be the sweet scent of Christ in this conflict. Read the story that models a way to stand respectfully on principle at http://tinyurl.com/ajboucy