“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.”
The number of seemingly ridiculous anti-Christian challenges to free speech by state schools and atheist groups just keeps growing. Here are some recent examples.
NEW YORK: The board of trustees rejected a “Students for Life” attempt to register at Queen’s College, while other groups were approved. The trustees gave no reason, but ultimately the policy was changed when the students took legal action.
MAINE: The Augusta school board threatened dismissal of special education teacher, Toni Richardson, for telling a co-worker she would pray for him. They attend the same church! Legal action stopped the dismissal, but saying that phrase when students can overhear it will still cause dismissal.
MICHIGAN: Students promoted the free market ideas of a group called “Turning Point” by dressing up as dinosaurs and passing out literature. Because the literature mentioned that the ideas were based on the Bible, they were disciplined and restricted by the administration of the Macomb Community College in Detroit. A lawsuit is pending.
NEW JERSEY: A Franciscan bishop conducted a “bless the animals service” at the Bergan County Animal Shelter in Teterboro, New Jersey. It was a huge success according to personnel at the shelter. Local atheist Candice Yaacobi picked the day of the highly publicized blessing to show up at the shelter and claims that she was “traumatized” when she was “confronted by the sight of a priest in full Franciscan vestments.” She is now suing the animal shelter. The point here is not that there is any significance in blessing animals, but that professional atheist groups want to silence any view but their own.
During the past ten years, American universities have seen an incredible change in what is allowed on campus. Student groups and many faculty members are advocating that their campuses be what they call “safe spaces.” They define a safe space as an area “free of any speech that might be considered racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or offensive in any way.” Free speech is under attack since those calling for safe spaces get to define what speech falls under the category of offensive.
This is the very worst kind of censorship, and it makes any attempt at education or reconciliation impossible. It is interesting that a center of this kind of mentality is the University of California, Berkeley. Many of us remember the protests in the 1960s. At that time students complained that the university wouldn’t allow debate and discussion of controversial issues. Now at the same university students are demanding that no one should be allowed to speak who might say something the students (or faculty) disagree with. People learn best when someone challenges their beliefs because then they have to learn to defend what they believe.
Opponents have always attacked Christianity and refused to allow Christians to present the principles of Christ for debate. When you read about people responding to the message of Paul and Stephen you see people screaming to obliterate their message and fomenting violence to them physically. (See Acts 19:23-30 and 21:28-31) That violence even went to the point of making a pact not to eat until they killed Paul (Acts 23:21).