February 21, 2016

Free Speech and God’s Unchained Melody

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.  (2Tim 2:8-10)

Free speech is as good as over in Australia.  Free free speech that is.  Not free speech as the liberal elite have defined it.  That’s restricted free speech.  That’s free speech for those who are willing to pay the piper and dance to the tune. I mean free free speech.

But don’t take my word for it. Please read the prescient, and in the current political and social context, astonishing, words of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s political editor, Chris Uhlmann, who has penned one of the most insightful articles on free speech in the Australian context, published in The Australian newspaper today.

Here’s a taste of what he says:

Tolerance is the totem of our age, a bumper sticker of virtue. Yet hidden in its many meanings is the doublespeak of defining what will be taboo. It is now considered tolerant to demand silence from nonconformists…


I hoped to remain indifferent to the inevitable change in marriage laws. But that will be impossible if those who cast themselves as oppressed seek to become oppres­sors. If offending the new ruling hegemony is prohibited then I stand with the right of the minority to disagree.

Stripped of their fashionable clothes, what’s striking about the tolerance police is how similar these new moralists are to the old. They pursue heretics with an inquisitor’s zeal, blinded by the righteousness of their cause.

Uhlmann’s article is brave, considering the very organisation he works for is one of the primary culprits in the move to shut down or pillory any views that dissent from the liberal narrative.

Strong minded, articulate 17 year old school girls who are natural dissenters are gold to the ABC, rolled out every time they want to scold the public who are intolerant on abortion or whatever.

Yet, those same 17 year old school girls are subject to a public  rollicking from the masters and mistresses of public virtue (thank you ABC’s The Drum for that one) when they step out of the liberal line and speak off script. Maybe Uhlmann can have a word in the shell-likes of The Drum’s producers, he is the political editor of their/our? national broadcaster after all.

While I admire Uhlmann’s work, it’s a day late and a dollar short. The tipping point has been reached. Liberal elites has worked the angles well.  The constant, and risible statement that we must be “intolerant of intolerance” is pulled out to shoot down any viewpoint that is intolerable to the self-pronounced, enlightened tolerant. Don Carson was writing about this long before Mr Uhlmann in his book The Intolerance of Tolerance.

Christian and other religious groups have left their run too late, and in the process have been exposed as having being too much like their opponents. Free speech just didn’t mean enough to Christians when their freedom to speak was not the speech bring threatened.

Now, with the SSM juggernaut firmly in control, we are in a rush to debate an idea that we cared little for over the past decades.  Th current crisis has simply exposed that free speech is all but dead, it hasn’t killed it.

Now given that free speech is the fruit of a Christian worldview, should we be at all surprised that, just at the time that worldview has receded in the West, the fruit is withering on the vine?  And did we do enough to protect it, when we deemed it not in our interests to do so, in the first place?

Uhlmann’s article provides a great historical overview as to how the revolution was actually an evolution; a slowburn takeover of the Western institutions by those with a hatred of the Christian worldview and a high tolerance of Marxism and all of its murderous tendencies.

He then makes these interesting self-disclosures:

I had naively hoped that free speech was one of the few things on which journalists in a democracy could agree: neutral ground in the culture wars. I had long feared this was not the case and so it proved.

And that was liberating: a Damascene moment of self-discovery. I had become a radical by standing still. For in an age where being a revolutionary is traditional, then being traditional is revolutionary.

That comment in bold is crucial.  The revolutionaries of the past will become (have already become!) the grey, colourless, humourless, pitiless Big Brothers/pigs in the farmyard, while those who stand up to them will be the true rainbow warriors.  That reversal has come at a cost, and the cost will only increase, but it will be complete.  The only question remains, can we bear the cost?

For the church there is a hope beyond simply a date in the future when free speech is once more liberated. That will happen, because these things are cyclical.  But our primary hope is not in that, although we can join with secular like-minded people such as Uhlmann in pointing out the hypocrisy and inconsistency of the new Pharisees.

Why is our hope at an altogether different level? Because there is no point at which gospel message is chained. God’s word is free to do what God pleases it to do. It is a liberated message; an unchained melodious word that no amount of suppression has managed to quash fully or finally down the centuries.  That’s the point of Paul’s words in 2 Timothy2.  Yes, he’s in prison, but God’s word remains free.

Paul is confident that God’s pronouncement to Isaiah that his word will accomplish what he sends it out to do (Isaiah 55:11) stands firm in his own day, a day in which speech was not free, and the cultural hegemony of pagan Rome was enforced by Pax Romana.

Will it cost us to proclaim this?  Yes, and increasingly so!  But let’s make sure it costs us to proclaim it, rather than a parody of that message, or an angry moralistic perversion of it that shuts down our opponents.

Now that does not mean we should not struggle for free speech in general, we should. That’s what it means to be good citizens.  But in the end, I think the horse has bolted.  We’re shutting a stable door on an empty stable.

There’s a real sense in which we will have to take our medicine in the culture for some time.  There’s a real concern that some Christian leaders will end up in prison in the West for the sake of the gospel, and for the sake of pronouncing the fruit of the gospel. It’s going to be an interesting couple of decades, as Christian institutions are forced to shut up or shut up shop.

All that aside, let’s put our confidence in God’s word not being chained, even if our words, or we ourselves are chained.

This will require some cultural reframing from the church.  It will require us to live as if we are on the wrong side of history for a while.  A little more humbly. It will require us to model the revolutionary righteousness that many post-evangelical churches are abandoning in their desperate and futile quest for relevance in the culture.

And it will require us to create churches that offer not just unchained words, but unchained lives too!  A sweet liberty of life grounded in the kingship of Jesus, that tastes as sweet as it sounds.

For ultimately the great unchaining the new traditionalists mistakenly believe they are offering to the culture are in fact chaining people even tighter than Marley’s ghost. And we can be confident that just as Dickens’ famous novel even more famously ends on Christmas Day, Christ’s new day will usher in a freedom and liberty beyond even Scrooge’s expectations.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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