“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:15). Did Jesus use hate speech when He spoke those words?
In today’s world, making any negative statement about the LGBT lifestyle might put you in jail or at least under threat of a lawsuit. Sweden passed a law in 2003 and Finland in 1995 demanding discipline for anyone who says anything negative about the lifestyles of others. J.K. Rowling, the popular author of Harry Potter fame, has been “canceled” in England because she stated that males cannot become females. The question is not whether she is right or wrong, but whether in society today it is permissible to say anything critical of anyone else. George Orwell wrote, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
Those of us who are Christians and try to follow biblical teaching do not believe that anything in the scriptures qualifies as “hate speech.” What Jesus said in the passage above is not hate. We need to define what the phrase “hate speech” means. Webster simply says hate is “strong dislike.” We would add that the words “hate speech” describe what leads to physical action against a person. Most people would say it is okay to hate an idea. We can hate the idea of rape or prejudice without an individual being involved. When Jesus taught his followers to turn the other cheek and to love their enemies, He was certainly not advocating hate speech.
Did Jesus use hate speech in Matthew 23:15 when He expressed rejection of the Pharisaical system that injured other people as well as themselves? We have the moral teachings of the Bible because alternatives to those teachings hurt others and damage the people who promote those alternatives. No one following the teachings of Jesus would do any physical harm to anyone, no matter what their lifestyle. This is in stark contrast to the alternative teachings that would enact beatings, imprisonment, and even death.
In 1906, a British writer summarized Voltaire’s philosophy with the statement, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Others have repeated that phrase many times to describe the freedom of speech principle. Did Jesus use hate speech? No, and neither should His followers.
We live in a world where freedom of speech is becoming threatened, and those in power are trying to limit what someone can say. Ultimately Christians may be faced with the same situation that Peter and John faced in Acts 4:19. Their response to those who would shut down their freedom to speak was, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
— John N. Clayton © 2021