Encouragement From The Word

Free speech and loving others: The Tyndale Affair

            One of the somewhat paradoxical things about the Christian faith is that in its ‘fundamental’ or ‘radical’ sense – and I use those terms literally, to mean ‘basic’ or ‘foundational’ – it allows for disagreement.  The spirit of the gospel of Christ is that Christians accept that not everybody is going to accept the good news.  This, over time, formed the foundation for democracy and free speech in the world.

            It is sadly ironic, then, that sometimes, believers can gain notoriety for suppressing free speech.  An example of this occurred this week when Tyndale University College & Seminary, the school at which I have been both student and teacher, announced that a friend of the institution was hosting an invitation-only breakfast event to raise the profile of the school.  What was newsworthy about this?  The speaker was to be George W. Bush, the forty-third President of the United States.  News reports uncovered that a number of students and alumni, and even some faculty, had raised a petition to have the event cancelled, because they disagreed with what Bush stood for as U.S. President and didn’t want him associated with Tyndale.

            Sadly, the event was cancelled.  No official word has connected the cancellation to the brouhaha that came about when the speaker was announced, but many people have surmised that the school was responding to the outcry.

            Either way, I think that’s unfortunate.  Whether or not any or all of the faculty, students and alumni agree with Bush’s policies or the way he expresses his faith, it flies in the face of the freedom of expression for which the church stands to cancel an event because of such a protest.  A saying that is often attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire (but was actually penned by someone else who was summarizing his beliefs) resonates with basic Christianity:  “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” 

            The Christian faith, at its core, is about defending rights, because people – all people – matter to God…even those with whom we may disagree. 

            Free speech is all too easily suppressed in our world today.  Often, it’s about secular society suppressing Christian free speech.  It’s particularly sad when Christians go about seeking to suppress free speech.

             None of God’s representatives in the Bible, from the prophets to the apostles to Jesus himself, sought to arm-twist anyone into the kingdom.  We have no record of any of them disrespecting those who chose to believe differently.  Sadly, the record of the church has not been stellar in this regard throughout church history, but the goal of faithful disciples of Jesus should be to be tolerant, in the original sense of the term:  to allow people the freedom to be wrong.

             There are differences of opinion and interpretation as to what Scripture says about such things as war and social policy.  The gospel indicates to us, however, that we should be loving toward even those with whom we disagree.  The church must model this for society.

             Disputes happen in local churches everywhere, but thankfully, they don’t usually make the news.  My prayer is that we who are disciples of Jesus will strive, daily, to allow for freedom of expression, even when that expression doesn’t concur with our understanding of truth.  After all, Jesus said, “You have heard that the law says, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’  But I say, love your enemies!  Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5.43-45a, NLT).

5 thoughts on “Free speech and loving others: The Tyndale Affair”

  1. I agree with you Jeff, that the Gospel compels us to reach out in love and to welcome and care for one another without the necessity of agreeing about all things. So I know you will still love me when I disagree with your statement that “The Christian faith, at its core, is about defending rights, because people – all people – matter to God…even those with whom we may disagree”. The use of the word “rights” that has spawned the self-centred, entitlement spirit of our age – while originally godly in its goal of protecting and treating vulnerable and mistreated people as God calls us to do – is not the core of the Christian faith. I would say that Christian faith is foundationally about putting one’s trust in the Lord of Creation would sent his Son to live and die and rise again for the whole of His Creation. Any time we treat anyone as less than beloved of God or on God’s homecoming invitation list, we err and stray from our faith. Sadly, the vocabular of “rights” seems to take us in other directions, not originally intended by civic leaders (many of whom were Christians or formed by Christian teaching)

    with love and confident in our brotherhood in Christ,

    1. Brother Ken, you have helped me with your comment. When I wrote about ‘defending rights’, there was something in me that did not feel just right, and I think you have hit the nail on the head. While I believe, as you do, that human rights are gospel imperatives, you are correct to say that ‘rights’ as they are viewed in present-day society have fallen off the rails of the core of our faith.

      Of course, we ought never to doubt that *the* core of our faith is God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, and our salvation in him and in him alone through his atoning death and resurrection. And I so appreciate your use of the term “GOd’s homecoming invitation list”. What a great way to put it! Thanks so much for the corrective. Blessings and peace!

  2. Hi Jeff, although I disagree with much of George W. Bush’s policies, you gave me a perspective that I haven’t considered. I have always believed that all people have the right to freely express themselves, but I have never applied it to G.W. Bush! Thank you for your imput. Chuck

    1. Chuck, I think most people are, if they stop to analyze themselves, illegitimate liberals: open to all thinking except that which opposes theirs! 😦 Whether or not we appreciated GWB’s policies, I think it’s fair to say that he believed he was advancing freedom by what he did. And those who opposed his speech in an event under Tyndale’s auspices were not advancing freedom at all, sadly. Blessings.

  3. Love your position on this Jeff. YES, the gospel indicates to us that we should be loving toward even those with whom we disagree. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone! Thank you for your bold stance and your love of the gospel my friend!

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