Exercising Freedom of Speech as Christians
Here is a guest blog post from our Advocacy Director- Enjoy!
In the past week, Muslims worldwide have been protesting in front of U.S. Embassies and Consulates, These protests were allegedly sparked by the creation of a film called the “Innocence of Muslims” which denigrates Islam and the Prophet Mohammad. More information is surfacing suggesting that these protests, at least the attack on the Libyan Consulate, were planned and were not spontaneous. Terms such as “manipulated spontaneity” have also been suggested. Yet, we know that the creation of this offensive film provided a pretext for protests.
How should a Christian view these events?
We know that Christians are to be Ambassadors for Christ and are to esteem others more highly than ourselves. With this perspective, I think we can unequivocally condemn the content of this film which intentionally mocks Muslims and their faith. Mocking and denigrating is not the way to demonstrate Christ’s love or to share the Gospel.
On the other hand, free speech is a critical component to freedom of religion. Without it, how could one share any belief with others? How could we have honest dialogues and theological debates without this safeguard? In the United States, we cherish the freedom to share our opinions with others. We should be able to do this without the threat of physical harm.
Millions of Christians worldwide do not have this freedom. Many Muslim majority countries believe in the concept of “defamation of religions” that the Organization of Islamic Countries (formerly Organization of Islamic Cooperation) tried to mainstream through UN resolutions between 1999-2010. Essentially this belief seeks to criminalize anything that offends a faith. But does a faith or an ideology have rights? A major criticism of this concept is that it tries to protect an ideology instead of protecting the rights of individuals. It also gives precedence to the sensibilities of listeners at the cost of free expression. As you can imagine, this opens the door for all kinds of ambiguous accusations against people for defaming or blaspheming a faith, however that is interpreted. What exactly is considered blasphemous and who is the arbiter of these decisions? Unfortunately we see Christians, Muslims, and other faith minorities falling victim to these ambiguous laws in Muslim majority countries. Victims are often imprisoned and punished without fair trials. The overall effect of the defamation concept is to silence any dissenting views from that of the majority population in a country or that of the ruling authorities. You can easily see how this severely limits religious freedom.
Some would say that the makers of the film “Innocence of Muslims” should be punished. And if so, what was their crime? Others argue we must not say or create anything that might offend others. If that is true, how does it affect one’s potential to engage in intellectual and curious discussion about religion?
I think the response of Christians should be to always speak the truth in love. The truth is often offensive to those not willing to hear. So we must balance sharing our views in a way that is worthy of and honors Christ. I’m reminded of what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10, that “all things are lawful but not all things are profitable.” While the context is different to this situation, I think the basic truth conveyed in the latter half of this chapter applies. We should glorify God by seeking the profit of others over ourselves, and in this way we can lead many to Christ. How else will they hear the truth?
Do you agree with this perspective? How do you think Christians should balance our freedom with speaking the truth?