I was travelling outside of the United States last week when the various news sites were covering protests and demonstrations throughout the Muslim world in reaction to the publication of certain video’s and cartoons that are apparently disparaging to the Muslim prophet Mohamed. This led to a lively discussion among my international friends and they were eager to hear what I as an “American” thought about all of this.
The consensus among the group was that the United States government should use its power to remove the video from YouTube in order to protect people from further violence. I did my best to explain that the American government did not, and should not, have this kind of power. We discussed the fundamental liberties that Americans have traditionally defended and the danger of allowing the government to restrict them. It was difficult for my friends to understand how such a philosophical commitment could be so powerful that a government would refrain from taking action that would protect people from harm. I did my best to explain that unfortunately liberty often has an extremely high price. Some of my foreign friends seemed to understand this explanation and others were more hesitant.
While I believe that government censorship is indeed a threat to personal liberty, it is important to distinguish between supporting an action and believing that the government has no right to restrict it. Although I support the idea that government should not interfere with the freedom of speech except in extreme cases (i.e. you do not have the right to yell fire in a crowded movie theater) it does not mean that I agree that these increasingly frequent parodies of Muhammad are appropriate.
Unfortunately, some Christians seem to have a smug sense of satisfaction at seeing the type of irreverent attacks that have so often been aimed at us, focused on another target. Some believers apparently think that since Muhammad is a false prophet any attempt to discredit him is acceptable. The publication of properly supported historical analysis, theological evaluation, and factual criticism are all fair game but the publication of slanderous, insulting, and intentionally inflammatory art or communications is sinful and should be recognized as such. For Christians, the ends do not justify the means. We are to speak the truth.
The priority for all Christian behavior is love. We are to speak the truth in love and as far as it is possible with us, we are to be at peace with all men. Our endorsement should never be on anything that seeks to inflame zealous reaction apart from love and the truth. We have to remember that our battle is not against the deceived, but against the deceiver. Amusement at the agitation of the lost is evidence of our own spiritual deadness and hatred for those in darkness is an indictment upon our own heart.
Some may try to rationalize sinful opinions against these demonstrators by pointing to the violent hatred that they exhibit. In doing so they fail to recognize that the zealous hatred in the faces of those protestors is a picture of the ugliness of our own hearts apart from Christ. Except for the grace of God, we are as fanatically committed to idolatry as they are. They are similar to the Jews of Paul’s day in that “they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge”. Our burden for them must be to share Christ. We are to take no pleasure even in the insults hurled at those who insult us. We address Islam not with satire or slander but with the Truth. The world hates those who hate them and laughs at the discomfort of its enemies. We, however, are to love those who hate us and to pray from them.
It is not the place of the Church to try to regulate the behavior and speech of the unbelieving world. We can support the freedom of those who disagree with us to share their views in a free society. We understand that a society that protects this right is beneficial to the Church because it allows us greater freedom to share the truth and participate in the marketplace of ideas. This does not, however, remove our responsibility as Christians to oppose slanderous and irresponsible expressions. Let us pray for the grace to live by the words of Paul to the Ephesians, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Let us pray that we may live to see the Lord glorify Himself in the lives of these violent extremists by bringing them to know Christ just as He did with a young man of a similar spirit named Saul who went on to be used mightily as an apostle of grace.