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"Is Free Speech Biblical?"

Updated: 3 days ago

Assorted Passages

By Drew Zuverink

Let me make 2 things very clear right off the bat.

First, I believe that the freedom of speech is one of the best things about this country. So when I write about this idea, I am not thinking about it from a United States perspective. Instead, I am curious if, in the kingdom of God, its citizens have the right to "free speech."

Second, I'll be very honest, I just started wrestling with this idea two days ago. I am not claiming to have this completely figured out. Instead, I am inviting you all into a conversation where we can think through this together. This blog post is my attempt to get you to think deeper, not my attempt to tell you what to think.

So what is free speech? Judging from conversations I've had in the past, it seems like most people think that it's the freedom to say whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want, to whoever we want. Is this accurate though? I don't think it is.

According to the U.S. Supreme Court has often struggled to determine exactly what constitutes protected speech. The website also lists a few examples of speech that is not protected by the first amendment. Here are just two of them:

  • The freedom of speech does not give a student the right to make an obscene speech at a school sponsored event.

  • The freedom of speech does not give people the right to incite imminent lawless action.

Even in America, free speech does not give us the right to say whatever we want. To be honest, free speech can be a little bit difficult to define - as evidenced by the U.S. Supreme Court's own admission. But like I said, I'm less interested in what the kingdom of America says about our speech, I'm more interested in what the kingdom of God says about it. I only mention those things to show that when we use the term "free speech," we might be using two different definitions.

So what do citizens of God's kingdom have the right to say? By the way if you're a Christian you are a member of God's kingdom. He is our king, we are his subjects, and he has given us commands to obey. Also, when it comes to our speech, there is no difference between our spoken words and our written words. God's commands refer to both..

  • Do we have the right to tell crude jokes? "Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place." Ephesians 5:4.

  • Do we have the right to slander people? "Put away anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth." Colossians 3:8.

  • Do we have the right to curse people? "With the same mouth we bless God and curse people who are made in his image. This ought not be." James 3:9.

  • Do we have the right to belittle people? "Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense." Proverbs 11:12.

  • Do we have the right to insult people who have insulted us? "Do not repay insult with insult." 1 Peter 3:9.

  • Do we have the right to speak harshly? "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harssh word stirs up anger." Proverbs 15:1.

  • Do we have the right to vent our anger? "A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back." Proverbs 29:11.

  • Do we have the right to say whatever we want about someone who is acting sinfully? "In your anger do not sin." Ephesians 4:26.

  • Do we have the right to name call? "Whoever says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell." Matthew 5:22.

  • Do we have the right to speak without love? "If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." 1 Corinthians 13:1.

By no means is this an exhaustive list, and some of these bullet points require more nuanced answers, but they're worth thinking through. Here's my conclusion in the form of a question, is it possible that there are times when the U.S. Constitution says we have the right to say something but Jesus would say we don't? I think so. And if the president of the United States says I have that right, but King Jesus says that I don't, then plain and simple - I do not have that right. I don't care what my country's law says, if King Jesus tells me that I can't do something then that's the end of the discussion for me.

We are members of God's kingdom and his laws are different than some of our American laws. I believe this includes what we do and don't have the right to say. I also think free speech is a great idea for a country (we probably shouldn't lock people up for insulting each other), but I think there are higher standards within a church (some of the requirements for eldership is literally the character of that person's speech). Don't take this statement too far, but invoking our constitutional right to free speech probably shouldn't carry much weight within a church community. Ultimately, our speech is going to be judged by God, not the founding fathers.

May we all work dilligently to conform our speech to the standards of God.

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