On Saturday August 12, the daily news cycle was consumed by the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. As the clash between white supremacists and counter protestors intensified, a normally peaceful city became the center of world media reports. It remains there as of this writing.
Exchanges between people of faith have become testy at best. Followers of Christ are judging one another’s faithfulness on a) whether their condemnation of the white supremacists is sufficiently hostile, and b) whether or not Jesus is of the political right or left. Responding to these events is a natural outflow of the emotions they raise. Hopefully, in the hours and days to come calmer heads will prevail. It seems that there is much we can learn from them as well.
The First Amendment Protects ALL Free Speech
As Saturday afternoon turned to evening, an ex-patriate missionary confessed, “All of my friends here ask ‘why are white supremacy movements legal in America? Why can they still do what they do?’” The simple answer is, because the U. S. Constitution grants them the right to free speech.
The First Amendment is both simple and succinct. “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.” The body that enacts laws and the rule of law cannot abridge the freedom of speech of anyone.
Freedom of speech is protected even for those who who hold beliefs and utter expressions that many find vile and contemptible. This writer finds no place of agreement with the positions of any one believing in the supremacy of caucasians or any other race. The fact that I find their speech repulsive does not have any bearing upon their right to say it. I also found it repulsive when protesters in Minnesota chanted, “Pigs in a blanket, fry’em like bacon,”1 and others in another time “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now.”2 However, those who chanted these slogans were also protected by the First Amendment.
What the First Amendment does not guarantee is that people must listen. Nor does it guarantee that others will not vehemently oppose such opinions. For that reason, the debate on social media has been healthy. It has not always been orderly, but individuals have had an opportunity to disagree openly. There has been an exchange of ideas. The likelihood that opinions were changed is slim, but the debate continues.
Violent Action Is Never the Proper Response
Violence committed in protests and riots accomplishes nothing! When violence broke out in Watts in 1965 or fifty years later in Baltimore, nothing was accomplished other than destruction!
As vile and repulsive as was the language shouted in Charlottesville, no laws were broken until physical action took place. The beliefs and expressions from those in alt-right groups are in diametric opposition to God’s truth and the promise of equality that exists in the United States Constitution. Still, they were no more than disgusting language. Unfortunately, unchecked anger and hate resulted in physical encounter and injury. When an individual chose to become a terrorist by launching an automobile into the crowd, hate reached its climax.
Returning to the Constitution, citizens are guaranteed the right of peaceful assembly. Violent action, however is not a right. Not for the alt-right, the Antifa, Black Lives Matter or any group protesting anything.
The Church Must Play a Role In Healing
Should the church speak out against hate? Of course it should. It must!
However, we also must remember that Jesus died for each protestor. No matter how hateful their speech, no matter how vile their thoughts, God’s desire is to redeem them through Christ. How we find opportunities to express His love for them is much too complex for this post, but find them we must. We must not allow our disagreement with others to boil into hatred. If we do, Satan has the victory.
The words of the Apostle seem quite appropriate. Lives are not changed when people conform to the pattern of life championed by the world around them. However, people are truly transformed when their thoughts are changed…when their desires become God’s desires!3 The church must challenge itself. Are OUR minds truly transformed into the mind of Christ?
We must move actively into the world to become the redeeming power to which Christ has called us. We cannot recoil from the ugliness and hatred that we have seen and continue to see. We must engage it! Without God’s Word, God’s love, and God’s hope, the world in which we live will continue in turmoil. May we become more committed than ever to redeeming the world one life at a time!
1 “‘Pigs in a blanket’ chant at Minnesota fair riles police.” August 31, 2015. CBS News.
2 Reid, Joy-Ann. The Truth about the ‘dead cops chant.’ July 21, 2015. MSNBC
3 Romans 12:1-4. New International Version.