Suppression of Christian Speech Magnifies Writing Role
They killed Christian preachers like Peter and Paul, Perpetua and Polycarp and untold thousands of others. Why? Because they were outspoken about Christ-centered values.
Who were the killers who wanted to silence the Christian worldview that gave hope to a dark world? The usual suspects–the politicians and special interest groups who saw the Christian focus on spirituality and human dignity as a threat.
The pattern we read in Act 19:8-41 is being repeated today. People speak for Christ, but, as it was then, others “slandered the Way in front of the people.”
The murders of Christian leaders led, in part, to the explosion of Christian literature. The martyrs continued to speak through their writings.
A Recent Attack on Christian Speech
In a February 2017 report in the Bristol (UK) Post, journalist Laura Churchhill told of Michael Overd and Michael Stockwell who were assailed for preaching by about 100 people at a shopping center.
What caused the riot? Overd and Stockwell were preaching from the King James version of the Bible and authorities said, “they crossed the line” by saying that sin exists and Jesus is the only way to escape it (Acts 4:12).
Of course, we know that like-minded authorities felt the same way over 2,000 years ago and they crucified Christ for these same revolutionary ideas. His followers suffered death because they shared the same values that politicians and special interest groups hated.
The Bristol police were proud of the fact they had iron-clad evidence of wrongdoing by the street preachers. The Bristol Post quoted Police Chief Inspector Andy Williams as saying, “The court has today determined that these men crossed that line and used their platform to comment on other religions and sexuality using disparaging and offensive language.”
The Inspector added, “They recorded their preaching on a Go-Pro camera which captured the exact words used and the reaction of those listening. They were fully aware of the impact their preaching was having on their audience and the resulting tension it was causing.”
The police, in an extreme action, sought special sanctions against Overd. They wanted to impose a “Criminal Behaviour Order” to restrict his street preaching according to the Bristol Post.
Fortunately, the British court did not kill Overd and Stockwell for preaching. They charged each of them $2,600 (US equivalent) which included a “victim surcharge,” according to the Bristol Post.
But this story of the oppression of religious speech did not end with the penalty. In June 2017, the Bristol Crown Court overturned the conviction of Overd and Stockwell according to a report by Geoffrey Bennett in the Bristol Post.
It seems the testimony against the Christian men was just hate speech of a different kind. The proud strutting of the Bristol police, and their desired suppression of Christian speech, was in vain.
According to the news report, “Judge Martin Picton, who was accompanied by two magistrates for the hearing, said they had no difficulty in concluding that the prosecution had not proved the preachers showed hostility to members of another religious group.”
It appears that the police caved in to public opinion rather than do the right thing and disperse the riotous group of about 100 people. The Bristol Police seem to have put political correctness above British law.
A Chilling Effect on Religious Speech
Even though the Bristol street preachers were vindicated, suppression by police and the ensuing legal case has a chilling effect on Christian preaching.
Crown Prosecutor Ian Jackson was brazen enough to tell the court, “…statements made by the preachers may have been in the King James Bible, translated in 1611, but that did not mean they were acceptable in 2016,” according to the Bristol Post.
Most Christians would agree that the KJV is far too antiquated to be useful, but non-Christians do not realize that the exact values are expressed in newer translations.
While Christians should always preach with grace and love, they should decide if that is what they are doing. Politicians and special interest groups will always want to interpret Christan values and speech as, “harassing, alarming or distressing” as they did in Bristol.
A Clash of Values
This suppression of Christian speech is not happening only in Britain. People with biblical values are being bullied as “haters” simply because they disagree, in good conscience, with the latest social or political trends.
Non-Christians, both in political and social realms, are trying to dictate what Christians think and say. If Christians stand tall for historic values, they are branded and publicly ostracized.
No news there. That’s precisely the tactics the enemies of Christ used to suppress Christian speech in times past. The Romans slandered Christians, then fed them to lions to quiet them. The same spectacle continues in the modern public forum.
There is no question that Christians must respect all people regardless of their political, social or religious views. Of all groups, we know that “All have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and that God will judge us all. Thus, disparaging others in a personal way is wrong.
However, discussing and debating ideas is not hate speech. In a free society we live in a marketplace of ideas. No ideas should be suppressed just because there is disagreement. That includes Christian ideas. In a free society, all ideas deserve a hearing and the good ones achieve ascendancy and the bad ones end-up on the trash heap of history.
Whenever anyone brands the ideas of others as “hate speech” to win a debate, they are guilty of gross intellectual negligence. They display hate themselves when they use that logical fallacy. They seem to conveniently remain blind to that fact.
The claim that speech related to any particular idea is somehow protected, and augments against it, are hateful, is the essence of intolerance. The Soviets ostracized, imprisoned and murdered millions for “wrong thinking.” Today, political groups and those with a particular social agenda are following that same pattern.
There is a clear clash of values in our society. Christians have an obligation to be kind to all, but that does not mean we have to adopt values that are the opposite of our Bible-based Christian values.
Capitulation is not a Christian value. We must stand our ground against values that make us less human and less spiritual.
What Suppression of Christian Speech Means for Christian Writers
Some Christian leaders do not think the bullying of Christians is the same as the persecution of the past. They tend to think that if we ignore it, it will go away.
That does not seem realistic. Christian values are being suppressed at an ever-increasingly rate in the marketplace of ideas. It’s like the story of the frog. If you place a frog in boiling water, it will jump out. If you put it in cold water and turn up the heat, the frog will quietly cook without protest. Contemporary society is the water, Christians are the frog.
If Christian speech is being increasingly excluded from the marketplace of ideas, and branded as “hate speech” by those against us, then what alternatives to we have to spread the Good News of redemption?
Christian writers have a crucial role to play. We could tip the balance in the public expression of ideas.
Sadly, too many Christian writers have abdicated their moral and spiritual responsibility. In contemporary times, it probably started with the horrid but profitable “Left Behind” series of the mid-1990s. It then moved to fabricated stories, purveyed as truth, about sentimental visits to heaven. Then, there are those Amish-centered bodice-rippers from which so-called Christian publishers profit so richly.
Most Christian books are junk food for the soul.
No, I’m not saying publishing catalogs should be filled only with Bibles and scholarly doctrinal books. But I am saying we are bereft of manifestos that bring people to Christ.
Where are the modern equivalents of Divine Comedy, Pilgrim’s Progress, The Cost of Discipleship, or even In His Steps?
Such books are not being written to rouse the masses. Faith is not being revived and our society is not being changed. We will ultimately win the spiritual war in which we are all involved (Ephesians 6:12), but right now we losing too many battles.
Christian speech is being suppressed, so it is time for revolutionary Christian writing to flourish gain.
A Challenge to Christian Writers
This is more than a challenge to write books that will change lives and the world on a massive scale. It is also a challenge to write blog posts, Facebook content, news articles, letters to the editor or to politicians, even make comments on news or commentary posts. Challenge the assumptions of the anti-Christian mob in ways large and small. If Christian expression is being smothered, let us not go quietly.
A word of warning. It is Satan’s trap to tie your writing to partisan politics. Right or left, political views soon pass. Only spiritual truth endures. Most “right-wing Republican conservatives” today are surprised to know that before the Fundamentalist Controversy of the early 1900s, Bible-believing Christians were the social liberals.
So, we cannot tie the message of Christ to patriotism or political party preference. The Apostle Paul settled that matter long ago in Galatians 3:28. Christian writers today must focus on spiritual truth, not political or social preferences. And they should not confused the two. Christian writers will have to work harder to have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:15-16).
Christian speech is being suppressed. There is more opportunity than ever for Christian writers. However, that door may also soon close. My challenge to you is to write 1,000 words each day, in a blog, a comment or a book, to promote Christian values in the marketplace of ideas. Let the world know, in ways large and small, that Jesus Christ continues to offer help and hope in a darkening, divided world.
Commentary by the Editor