Facebook, friends, free speech, and political correctness – which of these things is not like the others? Which seems most out of place?
This past Wednesday night, as I was wrapping up the end of my hitch of eight days on schedule, I received a private message on Facebook. An old friend of mine from high school wanted to politely inform me he was thereby blocking me from seeing any of his future posts. He assured me it wasn’t personal, that he still has the most profound respect for me as a friend and brother in Christ, but he explained that his professional and personal life is just too full of criticism and conflict as it is, and so he’s tired of me seeing the things he posts on Facebook and feeling free to comment on them with questions, counterpoints, and debate.
This is not the first time I’ve had someone on Facebook tell me they were tired of me weighing in on the things they post, but this certainly is the first time someone I regarded as a close friend, albeit an old one I hadn’t seen in years, was the one telling me they’d had enough. This is the first time someone who I regard as a Christian brother, who says he regards me also as a brother in Christ, had privately messaged me to say he is through with subjecting himself to my dissent.
I messaged my old friend back and expressed my shock and disappointment. Welcoming him to call me sometime this week if he has the time and inclination, I told my old friend I really didn’t understand why he was doing this. He protested, assuring me again he has the utmost respect for me. I replied that usually the way I indicate to someone how much I respect them involves me listening intently to what they have to say, not telling them I cannot bear to hear any longer their thoughts, feelings, opinions, and beliefs. He said, “We’re just going to have to agree to disagree then.” I said, “It seems to me more like you want to agree to not disagree.” And that was the end of the discussion, for the time being anyway.
All of that brings me to the present post, which I began writing last week when I was chin deep in as much work as I could stand, and maybe a little more, and for that reason did not have enough time and energy to complete, polish, and publish my thoughts. Only Wednesday night did I find a compelling reminder why this post needs to be written and why I should want to write it now.
Unless you’re some sort of hermit, are deaf or dumb, you and the vast majority of the other 7.3 billion people on planet Earth engage in communication with one another on a daily basis. You greet, you bid goodbye. You ask how others are, you express concerns, disappointments, hopes, surprises, and plans. You coordinate your work, seek information, answer questions, attempt to persuade and dissuade, and strive continuously to know and be known in a multitude of ways. Can you even imagine life without the spoken word?
If you’re anything like me, talking is usually as subconscious as breathing. It just sort of happens. A thought in my mind, a feeling in my heart – unless it’s a delicate, highly-charged conversation, the words are on my lips within an instant of when they’re conceived. That isn’t to say I’m not thinking while I speak. On the contrary, my mind is at its most active during a good conversation. It’s just that my focus isn’t ever on actually talking, but on the ideas I’m expressing, or the questions I want to ask of the person I’m talking with.
Do I and most other Americans take free speech for granted?
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read about other cultures and periods in history where free speech was squashed, so I’m not completely ignorant what a blessing it is to have a protected right to free speech in my own country. Thank God we don’t live in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, right? In those societies, there didn’t even have to be proof that a man had written or spoken a forbidden thing. If you wanted him arrested in the night and either thrown in prison or brutally executed, it was enough to whisper accusations to the right people that he had spoken disloyal, politically incorrect things.
In the United States of America, however, we pride ourselves on being “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” and chief among our cherished freedoms is free speech. The God-given, inalienable right to speak freely is literally the first amendment in The Bill of Rights, right alongside the freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our conscience. The ability to speak our minds, to declare and defend our values, beliefs, convictions, and opinions is foundational to all our other liberties.
Indeed, with the at least nominally representative form of government the Founders gave us, the need for open and honest public discourse was obvious: the people must discuss the issues freely and be able to argue for this or that course of action without fear of being thrown in jail by petty tyrants like England’s King George III, whom the 13 colonies fought and defeated. That is how our policies and laws are decided upon, more or less directly. We discuss the issues amongst ourselves, and we make a choice collectively by voting in officials who will act on our collective behalf. But if we cannot discuss the issues in an open and honest way, if all the outcomes of our dialogs and public discourse are predetermined by a few narrow, wrong-headed prejudices, over-simplifications, or misapprehensions of what qualifies polite and appropriate discussion, we will have greatly diminished our ability to collectively identify and address challenges and opportunities, effectively hamstringing our political process.
The right to free speech is diametrically opposed to political correctness.
All the same, political correctness is a noose around our collective necks which is being pulled tighter with each passing week. Who can keep up with all of the things which now are supposed to offend us? The phrase “hard-worker” was recently deemed offensive and politically incorrect. According to the federal government, it is now politically incorrect for boys who pretend to be girls to be barred from the girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms in the public schools. Systematically, each and every objective, universal distinction between good and evil, between wisdom and folly, is being attacked as unfair, unjust, ignorant, and hateful. Quick to fill the void left when the old standards are driven out, the new distinction is rushing in with a vengeance. And folks, the new way we’re supposed to tell the difference between right and wrong, between sense and nonsense, is by examining whether a thing being said or done presupposes any meaningful distinctions between people based on their character or judgment. In other words, if you frown on someone’s behavior and life choices as evil, insane, ungodly, and harmful, you and your antiquated notions are the real threat.
Before long, if that time has not yet fully come, we will find that what we say on the Internet, even in a private message or email, will very easily get us fired, or prevent us from being hired in the first place, or else it will get us lawsuits and fines, or we’ll be thrown in jail over “emotional damages.” If you say something which can be construed as discriminatory or offensive to any of the limitless number of minority groups which daily multiply under the tutelage of the progressive left, the liberal giants will come for you, and they will grind your bones to make their bread.
Sure, you’re free to say what you please. The catch is that if what you’re pleased to say has been restricted by the ever-evolving new sensibilities, there will be unpleasant consequences for saying it. It’s like the old Henry Ford quote from when he was asked about what colors were available for his new and very popular automobile, the Model T.
“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”
You can say whatever you like, so long as we like it too.
God’s people should try to be polite, but not politically correct.
I’ve seen this coming for a few years, yet I had hoped there would at least be some refuge from political correctness in the company of family and close friends, especially those who are Christians. Alas, my hope has proven naïve, and there may not be any place safe to rest from the ever-expanding public outrage machine. The choice before us is that which faced Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they were ordered to worship the statue of the king – we can bend our knees and bow, and prove ourselves unfaithful to Yahweh our God, or else we can expect to be thrown into a hot fire.
The world has such thin skin, it cannot and will not bear the rebuke, admonition, or dissent of the saints. But surely God’s people can, will, and must submit themselves to one another for accountability, encouragement, and correction. Surely God’s people should be the last to insist on blind, unreasoning affirmation of all viewpoints and life choices. If any segment of the population should have a stomach for unpleasant truth or the possibility that they might be in error on some points, it should be the Christians who are assured that because the world hated our Savior, the world will also hate us and persecute us.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
We cannot change or adapt the essence of who God has called us to be in Christ Jesus in order to placate and appease the world, or else we will have forfeited the essence of our faith. It is not coincidence or happenstance that the world hates Christians, and we should not take it personally as if the fault must lie with us when the world rejects us, nor should we think it an appropriate defense to one another for our conduct and treatment of the truth or our brothers if we can say that we are thought well of in the world, by worldly people, and therefore have earned deference in the church and among our fellow believers.
Being Christians in the first place presupposes we’ve accepted the reality that we are sinners who have been called to confess our sins and repent of them. It is anathema to the Christian experience that we would go around acting like our feet don’t stink. In light of these things, why would Christian brothers and sisters say to one another ‘I want nothing more to do with you because you are suggesting I might be mistaken on some points’?
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
True enough, Christian brothers might part ways if they had no longer any hope of carrying out a constructive conversation, whether because of stubbornness or bad blood. If each brother believes the other holds intractable positions or does not possess sufficient respect for others besides himself that he would sincerely listen to what they have to say, weighing the truth of the statements, sincerely answering sincere questions, then even Christian brothers might part ways and conclude that further interaction was not edifying either to them individually or to the body of Christ as a whole. Yet it seems to me that in such an event the most appropriate course of action would be for a Christian brother who has reached the end of his patience to make such assertions, if he holds them, especially when they are a part or the entirety of his reason for wanting to cut off further discussion. Not least because making such an assertion plainly known to the party you believe has committed an offense or holds an un-Christlike attitude gives that brother an opportunity to defend himself or to consider whether he may be in error, whereas refusing to state plainly your belief that your brother is not walking in the light deprives him of the reasonable opportunity to reconsider his ways and repent if need be.
But in this day and age how do we know when a Christian brother is being contentious and rude, and when instead our sensitivities have been watered down and tainted by the increasing obsession with political correctness and affirmation in the culture around us? Perhaps more to the point, how do we make certain what we are really wanting is not flattery when what we say we want is encouragement and affirmation?
Don’t blame it on the dysfunctional algorithms or impersonal nature of Facebook relative to “real life.” Instead, step back and realize that Facebook is to a large extent what we make of it, a blank slate. You might as well blame a blank sheet of paper for what you choose to write on it as blame Facebook for being trashy, superficial, or insensitive. It’s time for us to rediscover and recommit to exercising our right to free speech. Maybe, just maybe, even on Facebook and Twitter and the internet in general, we should stop squandering the opportunity we have to engage in meaningful discussion, and instead embrace the responsibility we have to address injustice, to know and understand truth, and to walk humbly before our God.
Next time you consider blocking a “Facebook friend,” remember there’s a real person on the other side of your internet connection, and be considerate of them. Ask yourself whether your motives for wanting to block them are pure. If there’s something they’ve done which you took offense to or find objectionable, have you followed the teachings and commands of the Savior and gone to them privately?
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”