|Vol. 16 No. 12 December 2014||
By definition, hate speech is a controversial term for speech intended to degrade, intimidate or incite violence or prejudicial action against someone based on one’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation or disability. The term covers written as well as oral communication.
The accusation of hate speech has been used at times against religion. In 2010, a preacher in North West England was charged with causing “harassment, alarm or distress” after a police community support officer (PCSO) overheard him reciting a number of sins referred to in the Bible, including blasphemy, drunkenness and same sex relationships. In 2008, Zondervan and Thomas Nelson publishers were sued for the Bible translations they published, which state that homosexuality is a sin. Is Christianity and the Bible guilty of hate speech?
Certainly Scripture is clear that truth is to be spoken, but to be spoken in love (Ephesians 5:15). A Christian’s speech is to be with grace or gracious (Colossians 4:6), and one is to be ready “always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). Certainly no one should speak in a way that is intended to hurt or incite one against another.
To speak of sin, however, and what the inspired Word of God says about it, is not to degrade, intimidate, incite violence or prejudice. It is to teach truth and instruct in matters that have spiritual significance. Hearing something with which one may personally disagree doesn’t always mean it is wrong or hateful. Would you sue a doctor who reveals a person has cancer and could die from it, simply because you didn’t want to hear it? If a mechanic noticed that you had defective brakes, but refused to mention it because of the cost of repair, would that be right?
What some call hate speech in Christianity is not hate speech at all. To expand the definition so no one will say anything with which another may disagree destroys the very nature of effective communication between individuals, groups or societies. The apostle Paul asked some in his time, “So then am I become your enemy, by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16). He went on to say that they had been severed from Christ, fallen from grace (5:4). Silence would have had eternal consequences! It was a great sign of love to place himself at odds with them so that they might not be eternally condemned but saved instead. No one could doubt his genuine motives, as he wrote, “My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).
Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Christians are told, “Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1). One of the ways Christians are to imitate God is to distinguish between right and wrong, the way that leads to life from that which leads to death. It is not hateful, then, to love someone enough to tell him or her the truth that Scripture reveals. It is the ultimate expression of hate to refrain from speaking the truth in love that can save, and by that silence, others will be eternally condemned. As Jesus said, “If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments (John 14:15),” and “ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).
Have you noticed how many churches are trying to “repackage” what they offer to make it sound more modern and attractive to people? A denomination in one town has signs out that it has changed its Bible class time to “Foundational Studies,” and worship time is now “Fellowship Opportunities.” It reminds me of a billboard that I saw a while back; it read, “Church 2.0: Upgraded for the new millennium.” Of course, it was a play on computer language to attract attention. It certainly caught my attention. Does the church need upgrading?
Well, since the church is comprised of people, in a sense, we all need upgrading. If we think of the term upgrade as a synonym for growth, there is always room for improvement in our lives. We are to measure our lives by Christ (Ephesians 4:15), which continually encourages us to reflect more of Him in our lives. In our attitude to please God, we should excel still more (1 Thessalonians 4:1). In our love for each other, we can excel still more (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10). In the flesh, we have a constant battle with sin. If we’re honest with ourselves, there is always more we can do to be like Christ.
On the other hand, if we are thinking of the doctrine and practice of the church, of something different than that revealed in Scripture, then to upgrade is to destroy the Gospel message and forfeit our salvation. Jude reminds us that the faith has been “once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Paul warned the Galatians that anyone preaching a different gospel, either himself or an angel from heaven, would distort the Gospel of Christ and fall under God’s curse (Galatians 1:6-9). Paul exhorted Timothy to hold fast the pattern or standard of sound words that he had taught him (2 Timothy 1:13).
Unfortunately, it’s in this second sense that the billboard speaks. In an effort to attract numbers, the authority of Scripture is quickly abandoned. Salvation, worship and Christian living are all brought in line with what’s palatable to modern ideas. This may appeal to the sensibilities of humanity, but not to God. Salvation, worship and Christian living are to be God-focused. It is Deity who is to be worshipped, not human will (Colossians 2:23). When we substitute our ways in place of His way, we’re the ones who loose. Church 2.0? No thanks. I prefer New Testament Christianity, and the assurance of eternal life it alone provides.