For the Christ-follower, constitutional rights are tempered by biblical responsibilities. Scripture is our final authority in all matters of faith and practice. The first amendment guarantees that the federal government can never establish a state church, supported with taxpayer money and controlled by government policies. This first freedom in the Bill of Rights was designed by the founders, not so much to protect the state from the church, but the church from the state. In ordering the church, Christians do not take their cues from the constitution, but from Scripture. Likewise, the first amendment guarantees freedom of the press and free speech. So there are two great institutions that are free to speak truth to power: the church and the press. The church informs the conscience of the government, the press reports on the conduct of the government, and together, we hold our government accountable. A free church and a free press are essential for a healthy democracy.
The laws that you might use to silence blasphemy, would be used to silence you. There are governments on this earth deeply influenced by the Qu’ran and the teachings of Muhammed. In these nations, blasphemy against Allah and insults against Muhammed are met with prison, floggings, or execution. Blasphemy is the justification for gruesome terrorist attacks against the church, the press, governments, and whole ethnic groups. Therefore, publicly preaching the gospel is forbidden. As attractive as it might sound to outlaw freely spoken insults against Jesus made by Muslims, those same laws would eventually be used to silence the free speech of Christians. We prefer an open, honest, civil debate. Christians have no fear of truth.
With great freedom, comes great responsibility. In past sermons, I have respectfully criticized certain polices of our government, demonstrating how they are in conflict with Scripture. I am certain I will do so in future sermons as well. But having the freedom of speech, does not mean we have to speak freely. Scripture gives two main guardrails for our speech. Is it true? Is it loving? Therefore, the Bible forbids bearing false witness, perjury, lying, gossip, slander, libel, blasphemy, boasting, flattery, sloppy Bible teaching, breach of contract, vow-breaking, misrepresenting, misquoting, straw-man fallacies, and a host of other verbal sins. Our nation’s founders knew that without Christian ethics, freedom of speech would be abused. The press might be free to ridicule, caricaturize, mock, lampoon, satirize, and misrepresent Islam or any other religion, but wisdom and love say that this is not helpful to advance the cause of peace. Free speech should be responsible speech.
Our sovereign God is capable of startling self-defense. While Muhammed taught his followers to be willing to kill for their faith, Jesus teaches Christians to be willing to die for their faith. We are called to contend for the Christian faith with persuasive words and acts of love and service, not with angry words, guns, or bombs. Though it pains us hear Jesus besmirched in the public square, we rest in the confidence we have in a sovereign God who can and will mete out justice. Both the Old and New Testaments provide examples of blasphemers whom God struck dead. But most blasphemers are shown unspeakable patience. Like the Apostle Paul, they will be shown mercy if they repent. Since God is able to defend himself with physical force, we don’t have to. “’Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” He will deal with all blasphemers in due time. In the meantime, let us pray for them to repent.