Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why Followers of Jesus are NOT Charlie Hebdo

"Know this, my beloved brothers; let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger"  -James 1:19, ESV

Last weeks massacre in Paris in reaction to a satirical cartoon published by the famed Charlie Hebdo has sparked fresh debate about the virtues and vices of free speech.  These brutal attacks were apparently precipitated by a cartoon in that publication featuring a disrespectful and lewd depiction of Muhammad, Islam's founding prophet.

The world, it would seem, is appropriately outraged, as there is absolutely no justification for violence.  If one's ideas or beliefs can't stand heavy scrutiny--even the disrespectful kind--without resorting to violence, then whatever you believe is demonstrated to be a lie.   People from across all ideological and religious spectrum--including vast numbers of Muslims--are rightfully condemning this act.  But what most--including Christians--are missing in this conversation is that it involves two very different questions.

The first has to do with our commitment to free speech.  Nothing tests that commitment quite as strongly as being in the same vicinity as someone with a larger microphone than you who is insulting at the top of his lungs that which you have spent your life adoring and proclaiming.   The barbarians who committed these atrocities last week in Paris, to say the least, failed that test miserably.  Should Charlie Hebdo be allowed to satirically portray Islam's most revered figure?  Should Kazantstakis be allowed to portray Jesus Christ as a fornicating degenerate?  Should anyone be able to print--or say--anything they like to portray an idea, or attack one?  Should they be able to do so free from the threat of reprisal from government?  Moreover, should they be able to do so under government-assured protections from anyone who would do them harm?  For hundreds of years, the most liberal of western ideals has answered those questions with a nearly unqualified yes.  Count me as one who agrees.

But the question of whether one can think, believe, and say what they want and be confined to their own free conscience rather than government compulsion is different from the question of whether one should think, believe, or say certain things.  We may believe in freedom of speech, but for followers of Jesus, our right to say whatever we want--and our right to decide how to say it--ended the moment we proclaimed Him as Lord.

Since the Paris attacks, much ink has been spilled extolling the virtues of free speech, and much of it has been written by Christians quick to defend Charlie Hebdo's right to offend Muslims.  The hashtag #IamCharlieHebdo has been trending for days now on social media.  While the Christian worldview does commend freedom of conscience and expression, there is one thing all who follow Christ need to remember.  We don't believe such things because "We are Charlie Hebdo."

We should seek justice for those who have been victimized by the atrocities in Paris.  And yes, we should oppose any government coercion or threats of violence anywhere that free minds and free printing presses are threatened.  But carelessly throwing unquestioned support behind a lewd and ultimately purposeless cartoon is no way to do it.  If we believe support of such things is necessary for us to faithfully "preach the Gospel," then we have a very weak Gospel!

Being faithful to Jesus and His message is not synonymous with being disrespectful to another's beliefs.  As an evangelical Christian, I believe God has fully and finally revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, and in Christ provided blood atonement as a substitute for all who turn from their sins and place their faith in Him.  I believe Jesus when He said "no one comes to the Father except through me."

Consequently, I believe that other religions are not sufficient to bring one into a genuine relationship with God, including Islam.  Not only do I reject Muhammad as "the" prophet, I don't even accept him as "a" prophet.  I have studied his life in relationship with those who revere him and understand why my Muslim friends feel differently, but at the end of the day, this is the great chasm that separates our systems of belief.  If my Muslim friends are correct, then I, by worshipping Jesus as God am committing the unpardonable sin of shirk and will be damned forever.  If I am correct, then my Muslim friends will die in their sins with no substitute, no advocate, no forgiveness, and no escape from eternal judgement.  These statements will come as no surprise to followers of Islam who know me personally, and I have managed to communicate all of this without resorting to a single satirical cartoon, or linking to a single disrespectful and ignorant media post.

In other words, followers of Jesus need to realize that there is much more at stake here than the freedom to print a senseless cartoon.  Snide comments, rude insults, and disrespectful caricatures of people who follow other faiths do nothing to further the most important and eternally consequential of conversations, and such actions treat as enemies those whom Jesus died to save.   I don't know about you, but I don't want to stand in front of Jesus one day and have to answer for such nonsense.  I don't want my Lord to see me as a person who cares more about my free speech than someone else's eternal soul.

At the final judgement, "we were just exercising our freedom of speech" will not be a sufficient answer to the King of Kings.  Those of us who claim to follow Him are, first and foremost, His humble servants.  He is Lord of our mind, Lord of our tongue, and Lord of our pen.  When we refrain from joining useless and un-redemptive conversations, we aren't doing it because we fear Islam.  We do it because we love Muslims, and we fear Jesus who died for them and has commissioned us to live with them, love them, and share His message.

Might we still offend someone?  Certainly its possible.  But let's make sure if we do, the tool of our offense isn't a careless word, but a bloody cross.  After all, we are followers of Jesus, not Charlie Hebdo!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Joel, my name is Steve, and I disagree with the way you are viewing this. The reason "I am Charlie" is not because I want to go out and offend people, but because people should not be murdered over words and/or ideas.

Like it or not, freedom of thought and freedom of expression means we are "right" in the eyes of the law, regardless of what we think our say, which includes even offensive speech. The reason behind this concept is to prevent subjective restrictions on thought or speech, based upon the changing whims of what a government may find offensive at a moment in time. What if the government decides that speaking from the Bible about homosexuality is offensive and therefore illegal, as has been done in Canada, or preaching the exclusivity of Christ for salvation?

No doubt, when we meet our Lord and Savior, saying "I was just exercising my freedom of speech" will not be acceptable. Because, as Christians, we live to a higher standard than the law of earthly governments, we live for God Himself and are accountable to Him.

If we begin legislating thought and speech, we begin down a slippery slope that threatens our longstanding freedoms. Within those freedoms, you and I are still accountable to God for our thoughts and speech (although, thank Christ, I have been redeemed from my sinful thoughts and speech).

When someone murders, based on someone else's thoughts and speech, the proper attention should be placed on the actions of the murderer, because no matter how offensive someone may subjectively find those thoughts and speech, there is no acceptable argument to murder over them. And this is why I am Charlie.