I don’t use this blog to venture into the world of politics very often, but this story out of Norfolk (England) this week has given me reason to pause. At the very least, it gives a dramatic example of just how far our culture has moved from a true understanding of the Bible. Even more, it paints a chilling picture of how secular governments can use “hate speech” restrictions to silence anyone with whom they disagree.
The story involves the Attleborough Baptist Church in Nuneaton, Norfolk. Twice each month, the pastor of the Church posts a sign outside of the building. This month, the sign looked like this:
Say what you will. Some see this and roll their eyes – just another example of Christians trying to scare people into Heaven. Others look and agree. Perhaps some folks read the sign and feel convicted. But when local resident Robert Gladwin saw it, he felt offended . . . criminally offended. He promptly pulled out his phone and called the police, reporting that he had stumbled across an example of hate speech.
Later, Gladwin explained his actions to a local newspaper: “We live in the 21st century and they have put that message – that non-Christians will burn in hell – up to try and scare people into joining their mentality. It is my basic understanding that Christianity is inclusive and loving in nature. The message being displayed outside of the church could not be further from the often uttered phrase ‘love thy neighbor’.”
And on that basis, the police AGREED with Gladwin. The poster must come down. Worse still, the “incident” was recorded as an example of “hate speech”. Next time, Church, make sure you only say what people want to hear . . . or else!
My first reaction when I read this story was relief that it happened in Europe instead of in the United States. After all, free speech is a cornerstone of our democracy. From the very founding of our country, our society has been built on the idea that, “I may hate what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
But after a few minutes reflection, I realized that we are not very far behind Europe on this one. Hate speech laws have rapidly passed through law-making chambers in the United States over the past few years, and most of them are VERY loosely defined. Put simply, in many U.S. cities, it COULD be considered hate speech to publicly affirm a Biblical view of, well, just about anything. Marriage certainly spurs strong emotions, as do Biblical teachings on ethics. What about salvation? Jesus claimed to be the “only way to the Father”, which, using Gladwin’s rationale, is not very loving. Does that constitute “hate speech”? What about the Bible’s teachings about man’s sin? Heaven and hell? Judgment at the return of Christ? Where do we draw the line?
At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, I think the story out of Norfolk this week should give all Christians a moment of pause. We have all known for some time that America is a post-Christian nation, and things are changing quickly. Without question, our unbelieving culture will not stand sound doctrine much longer, and they will force us to decide how to respond. Will we cave to the “only-teach-what-makes-me-feel-validated” demands of the world around us, or will we allow ourselves to be mouthpieces for God . . . no matter what.
I know where I stand, and contrary to popular belief, my motivation is not hate. It’s nothing but love and concern for those around me.