The "Hate Speech" Card

Western society, as it slips inexorably into greater unbelief and alienation from God, has created new laws--both written and unwritten--concerning what is and what is not permissible to say in public. “Hate speech," as it is called, seems to be the only intolerable thing to the worldly mind of our day (c.f. John 8:43). As a secular, humanist society defines what constitutes hate speech, we observe something of a self-protecting cycle – the world is not tolerant of any speech it deems unacceptable. Woe betide any who seek to swim against this particular rip current! The church (at least, the true church concerned for the truth) is in for a torrid time.

At the forefront of this movement is so-called freedom of choice - freedom to define one’s own identity in any walk of life – sexuality, gender, even species (would you believe it?) Anything that stands against this self-definition is branded hate-speech. That is to say, disagreement has become a crime and being offended has become the new virtue. It is an inherently immature position. It does not allow for intelligent discussion or difference, but rather proudly seeks to assert its dominion over any other position, regardless of the validity of that position. It is a censoring of truth; a shutting down of opposition; a silencing of disagreement.  In the name of tolerance, the only thing it cannot tolerate is disagreement.

This position has nothing to do with establishing the truth of what is correct, it is simply a smoke screen whereby a section of society can excuse their open rebellion towards God. It uses ridicule (“Don’t you know this is the 21st century? Don’t you know times have changed?” and Don't you want to be on the right side of history?). It uses media as a platform and prohibits access to its platform for any dissenting voices. This is not a search for truth, but a suppression of such. It is marked by a closed mind, governed by pride, alive and well in the world around us--and yet this attitude is also alive and well inside of the Church.

When they join a Presbyterian or Reformed church, ministers--as well as congregants--take some form of vow in which they promise to submit to the governing authorities of the church--so long as they are in accord with God's word. Members promise submission to elders and elders and ministers promise subjection to each other--especially with respect to the wider courts of the church (i.e. Presbytery and General Assembly). Moreover every Christian has the duty of mutual submission, to count others better than one’s self, and to hear the counsel of godly brethren. How then do we observe the hate speech mentality in the church?

I have observed, time and time again, that whenever an individual receives counsel from a minister with which he disagrees, immediately he declares his counselors to be prejudiced and unworthy of a hearing. Sadly, I’ve seen ministers do this very thing too. Men who have promised subjection to their brothers in the Lord--ordained to office in Christ’s church--playing the “hate speech” card whenever they have been justly criticized. Too readily, Christians have smeared and slandered their brothers by declaring counsel about their actions to have been “biased,” and their person “compromised”--when in fact all they have done is brought the truth to bear on a particular situation.

The sad fact is that when Christians fail to hear biblical, true and wise counsel, they think and live like the world; they are simply unwilling to hear the truth. Like the world, their minds have become clouded by pride and the desire to protect themselves from biblical scrutiny and criticism. Like the world, they immediately shut down any disagreement with their position and separate themselves from brothers who are actually prepared to bring faithful wounds that we all need (Proverbs 27:6). Counsel is ignored. Counselors are slandered. Such individuals remain ensconced on the throne of their own pride and sin. How very sad! How very immature!

Instead of turning a blind eye, we ought to call this behaviour what it is, namely, sin. When our own desires and opinions have become so important to us that we cannot hear those around us, when we seek to silence God-given counselors, when we slander and smear the reputations of those giving counsel (in order to paint ourselves in a better light), we are living in sin. It is one of the saddest things in the world that this is the way that the church so often operates. Notwithstanding the fact that human courts can (and do) err and that human counselors can be wrong, when individuals ignore and marginalize counselor after counselor--even publicly demean them--the real problem lies not in the counselors, but in the thought-life of the individual.

Sadly, when human counsel goes unheeded, God then acts outside of these normal means, to bring repentance. Better to be humbled by counselors than to be humbled by the often-severe chastening hand of God! It is better to hear God’s will through his Word brought by brethren, than it is for God to chasten and discipline until one hears. There is a limit to how long God provides such chastening to those who shut their ears to biblical and wise counsel. What a terrible tragedy, when God removes his hand of chastening and leaves a sinner consigned to his or her sin!

All Christians--and especially those called into ministry--must surely know how wicked and self-justifying are our minds. We can concoct any number of “self-defenses” against criticism. When Jesus died, God criticized us to a far greater extent than we could imagine. Yet, He simultaneously forgave us, who are who looking to Christ by faith, all of our sins. The cross enables us to receive the most severe criticism and correction from bothers and sisters. In the Gospel, what is often labeled "hate speech," is God's great "love speech" to us. The "hate speech" defense is alive and well in the church. Let’s be mature enough to get rid of it by realizing that we have received the greatest of all criticisms at the cross.


Related Resrouces

D.A. Carson The Intolerance of Tolerance

Erwin Lutzer Christ Among Other Gods: A Defense of Christ in the Age of Tolerance

Alfred J. Poirier The Cross and Criticism


*Image used with permission by Adam Ford

Matthew Holst