Offensive Words And Offensive Actions


When the United States formed its constitution, the framers added a Bill of Rights. First on the list was freedom of speech, religion, the press, assembly, and petition:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Throughout history some definition of these freedoms was needed. For example, in the 1960s and 70s the courts determined that burning draft cards was “free speech.” Since then other illegal activity designed to protest this or that has been deemed “free speech.”

On the flip side, more recently laws have come about to prohibit “hate speech,” which supporters want to say isn’t protected as free speech. Here’s one definition:

“Hate speech is a communication that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence. It is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like. Hate speech can be any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups and other discrete minorities or to women” (US Legal).

This idea that what a person says can be labeled as hate speech because it is “offensive” is a little troublesome. Might not atheists find statements by Christians that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, offensive? Might not homosexuals find it offensive if a Christian says homosexuality is sinful behavior?

Already we have seen pro-abortion advocates take offense at the term “baby killers.” I admit, I bristle at that term too. But apparently being called a baby killer is more offensive than killing one’s unborn baby. The courts have said a woman has a right to kill her baby, but society says we do not have a right to say she’s a baby killer.

Please understand, I am not suggesting pro-life advocates shout “baby killer” at pregnant women walking into an abortion clinic. It may be true, but it doesn’t seem grace-filled or loving, and I believe the Bible is clear that Christians should speak in a way that marks us as different from the rest of society.

That being said, I’m concerned that “offensive words” are trumping offensive actions. Today when a Christian says homosexuality is sinful behavior, it’s almost a certainty that someone will accuse him of homophobia. The declaration that the act is sinful is offensive whereas the act itself is condoned, if not approved.

What does that mean for the free speech of Christians who still believe in an absolute standard of right and wrong? Will there come a day when our religious liberty is curtailed because the statement of our beliefs is viewed as hateful? After all, when we say Jesus is the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father but through Him, isn’t that exclusive? And isn’t an exclusive attitude hateful? Well, no, not when everyone is invited to the party and those who don’t come exclude themselves, but I suspect that is a point which will be lost over time.

The other side of the coin, of course is the part about offensive actions. How offended should a Christian be at abortion or homosexuality, pedophilia, sex trafficking, drug addiction, divorce, gossip, lying, bestiality, greed, or bribery?

On one hand, I want to say, not offended at all. Sinners, after all, will act sinfully. Why should that offend me? On the other hand, if I love my neighbor as myself, I should care that others are wallowing in heinous lifestyles. I don’t believe sinful behavior is the best for anyone. I also believe there is forgiveness for all who repent and accept the payment Jesus made for our sin. Nothing is so egregious that He can’t cancel the certificate of debt, nailing it to the cross.

As I write this, and struggle to figure out all the aspects of these issues, I realize that I am responsible first and foremost to God. Should I not stand up for His truth for as long as I am able?

But what is that truth? As much as I want to see the unborn protected, the pro-life message isn’t the gospel. The overarching truth is that God loves the world and pursues sinners with the intention to bring them into relationship with Himself. He loves the unborn baby and He loves the woman about to abort her. He loves the doctor and the technicians performing the abortion. God wants them all to turn from their wicked ways and find redemption in Him.

So how do we start? By repealing Roe v Wade? By pointing out the inconsistencies of belief in abortion with other closely held principles? By evangelizing those who don’t know Jesus? By advocating for a discussion about abortion in the mainstream media? Yes to all of it and more because it’s all free speech and an extension of freedom of religion.

But the true exercise of religion for the Christian means, in simplified form, loving God and loving our neighbor.

Sometimes love involves a warning—the Old Testament prophets are filled with warnings to the people they were addressing. Stop this behavior or that will happen. That’s loving. And I’m pretty sure, the warnings are not offensive to God, but the evil behavior is.

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in May 2013.

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