The Grocery Store Debacle
I was in line at the grocery store recently. I was unloading my grocery basket onto the conveyor belt when two older women in line behind me started to peruse the tabloids while I scurried to get the line moving again. The women closest to me gave a gasp and said “I never.” I looked at her, unsure if I had done something, only to witness the reaction was due to a headline that read Jesus Had a Wife.
At this point, I was completely engaged in eavesdropping on the conversation that ensued between the two women, becoming more curious by the moment to know what had offended her to the point of making a scene. The other woman said “Oh, I know. They just can’t get any more offensive. I hope that the magazine gets [sued] for being so offensive.” The woman who was initially so shocked agreed and added “I think that it should be illegal to speak negatively against someone’s beliefs.” My ears immediately closed, my blood pressure rose and my teeth started to grit.
Don’t Offend Me
I spent the rest of the afternoon thinking about the comments of the two women. I wondered if I had ever been so offended that I desired my government to make something illegal in order to protect my feelings. The idea that Americans have the RIGHT not to be offended is so dangerous but so common that I don’t think people realize what society would be like if it were criminal to offend. Think about it. Think about every uncomfortable, offended feeling you have ever had concerning the way someone spoke about your beliefs. What if we could outlaw those statements, pictures, programs, etc.? Would you do it?
Hopefully you see the issue. If we all did that, there would be no more society. You couldn’t share the Gospel and you couldn’t promote secularism or atheism. You couldn’t say what is right or wrong, you couldn’t promote your candidate and you couldn’t share your convictions. I am a Christian. Can you imagine me fighting for the right not to offend anyone? Paul said that the cross will be perceived as “foolish” and a “stumbling block” by the world (1 Corinthians 1:23). He knew, firsthand, that the message of Christ would offend. So do we want to relinquish our right to preach this message? Do we want to forgo the commission of Jesus to protect our feelings?
Wait, Offend Me
The basis of a free society, a society that celebrates the free exchange of ideas, is the underlying assumption that we will all bare being offended in order to hold and share our own beliefs. If you want the right to free speech, you also must take the right to be offended. And to think that you can fight for one and not the other is fallacy.
Al Mohler agrees when he stated “The risk of being offended is simply part of what it means to live in a diverse culture that honors and celebrates free speech. A right to free speech means a right to offend; otherwise the right would need no protection.”1 I think this is a topic that needs to be discussed more in churches. Christians (in America for goodness sakes) tend to talk about the way culture has waged war against the church, while totally unaware that we have been promoting our own (ideally God’s) agenda all the while.
Pastors should lead the way in becoming thick skinned and good natured about becoming conversant with a culture who despises religion. Part of the reason religion is despised in many cultures is the simple fact that it tends not to listen and really engage with the ideas of the culture. How many Christians or theists do you know that are against abortion, but cannot explain why they are against it, especially in the public square? I have actually seen interviews of people at an anti-abortion rally that couldn’t answer the simplest question like “Why are you against abortion?” Such a question is NOT persecution! This is a reasonable, honest question that Christians can capitalize on if their defenses are not raised because of paper thin skin.
This word is the solution AND part of the problem. When tolerance is employed according to definition, it means we allow for what we do not agree with. This is absolutely necessary for a free society. We agree to make laws to protect us against the essential acts we cannot bare, such as murder, theft, arson, etc. to so protect order and go on tolerating the rest to protect liberty. But, when society asks for acceptance under the guise of tolerance, we slip right out of the free society we aim to create by demanding conformity to norms outside of those that are necessary.
The two women could have said “that headline is garbage, but they have a right to speak freely” and I would have been happy. In fact, I won’t say I am an advocate for free speech anymore, I fight for the right to be offended.