#Charlottesville and "Free" Speech

One of the questions that has been asked in the aftermath of the horrific events in Charlottesville this weekend is, "What do we do when hate groups, like white nationalists of all stripes, want to spew their demonic racism in public places?"

Some groups say we should shut it down, that we shouldn't tolerate hateful rhetoric that has likelihood to incite violence. After all, first Amendment rights are not absolute, and the city has the power not to authorize or give permits for demonstrations like this. Others say that because of the constitutional right to free speech these white supremacists need to be tolerated on the principle of freedom--or else whoever is most powerful in the moment will simply be able to shut other people up--however disgusting their views might be. 

While the debate about our civic life is deeply important, I'm more curious about how the principle of "free" speech became the arbiter what we choose to say. I'm shocked when people, in particular people who purport to be Christian, say something intentionally hurtful or heinous and then follow it up with, "What?! It's a free country!" One of the consequences of giving the Constitution of the U.S. practically biblical status has been that many people don't think about whether they ought to say something simply because they can say it. 

As a Christian, I follow a creed higher than the Constitution, and my speech is not free. My speech is constrained by the principle of love. It is not a virtuous mark of authenticity to say whatever it is I feel. The biblical letter of James shows us how what we say has the power to eventually direct how we think and act. A Nazi slogan, chanted for years, might cause you to drive a car into a crowd. A lack of self-control with our tongues can be devastating for others and also for your own soul.

He says, "The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." I cannot think of a more apt description of an underground movement of white supremacy that has been mostly "talk" on the internet for 30 years, erupting in the deadly fire of Charlottesville. And do you know the specific type of hellish speech James rejects? Speech that would praise God out of one side of your mouth and curse people, who've been made in God's image, out of the other side. 

To put it bluntly, Christianity unequivocally condemns racist and white supremacist speech. It is not free. It costs. It costs human beings their dignity, and it could cost you your soul if your not careful.

So if you're considering using that beautiful mouth of yours...please remember that it's not free. It is a servant of love.