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Vol. 79 - No. 7
July 2008

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

               

The Main Reason I Love the USA

          Actress Brigitte Bardot got into trouble recently in her native France. Miss Bardot is a passionate animal rights advocate–and was horrified to learn that, in Islam, there is a yearly festival that involves animal sacrifice (usually the victim is a sheep). So she wrote a public letter vociferously denouncing this practice. She was indicted under French "hate speech" laws, and ended up being assessed a hefty fine for expressing her opinion.

          There’s a famous quote (sometimes mistakenly attributed to Voltaire) that declares: "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." When I was in school, those words were held in high regard as exemplifying one of the greatest of human ideals–free speech. Alas, in many parts of the world, that ideal seems to have been laid aside.

          In Canada, Maclean’s magazine is in the midst of a "hate speech" case. The magazine published an article critical of Islam, and now, like Bardot, they face a large fine. Another hate speech prosecution in Canada involves a Roman Catholic magazine that published articles defending traditional teachings on sexuality. A Canadian "anti-cult" ministry–a group that publishes literature similar to our own Pastor Kern’s book on the Jehovah’s Witnesses–recently had to relocate to the United States because they faced prosecution under the hate speech laws.

          All these people did was say things–things that were deemed offensive to certain groups. They were hauled into court for expressing critical opinions.

          I try not to criticize other groups in my sermons–the sermon is a place to proclaim the Gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection, and negativity in the pulpit often drowns out that Gospel. But certainly, when I teach adult Bible classes, I honestly lay out the differences between Christianity and other traditions. I wonder if, in nations with "hate speech" laws, my Bible teachings would be subject to prosecution.

          Part of "freedom of religion" is the freedom to critique people you disagree with. Sometimes religious people get pretty worked up in such critiques. There’s even a Latin phrase for it: rabies theologorum, "the rage of the theologians". Read some of Luther’s sermons–they should be printed on asbestos! This is not my personal style–even when critiquing others, I try to be polite!–but traditionally, religion has involved a great deal of verbal head-butting. To make such head-butting illegal and subject to criminal prosecution is to seriously curtail religious freedom.

          One of the Canadian governmental officials prosecuting Maclean’s magazine said something revealing in public testimony: he contemptuously said that "freedom of speech is an American concept". He was right–and that’s why we celebrate July 4! That’s why we thank God for our country! Praise God for a country where you can say whatever is on your heart.  Praise God for a country that still cherishes that great ideal: "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Because that’s the kind of country where religion can flourish, that’s the kind of country where God’s truth can be trumpeted.

          I am regularly offended by other people’s speech. I am offended when an artist immerses a crucifix in a jar of bodily fluid. I am offended when a poster advertising an "alternative lifestyle" street fair lewdly parodies the Last Supper. I am offended by plays and films that obscenely mock my Saviour and my faith. I am offended by groups who spout hatred toward other people, especially when it’s done in the name of religion. I am offended by such things, and often think: "There oughta be a law!" But then I come to my senses: If the law silenced them, then it could just as easily silence me. In order to have my freedom to speak about Jesus and His blood, I have to give others their right to speak. That’s what America, and freedom, are all about. In a way, it’s an application of the "Golden Rule" that Jesus gives us: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

          What I want from my country is a fair shake at getting out the message about Jesus and His love –and America, God bless her, gives me that fair shake.

          This July 4, I will be toasting and celebrating our country because it stands–rather alone in today’s world–as a bulwark and bastion of free speech and freedom of religion. May we appreciate that freedom, and use it to honor and praise the Lord who has made us His own through the blood of Christ.

          God loves you and so do I!

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