In the beginning, God created freedom of speech. If you follow the Genesis account, God placed humans in the Garden of Eden and gave them the right to agree or disagree. One of the primary ways that we express agreement or disagreement is through speech. I believe the most divine thing that we do on any given day is express who we are and what we believe. When societies suppress free speech, we suppress the divine. We take away the opportunity for people to express and live into all that God created them to be. The uncensored word is what makes us human and is also one of our closest connections to emulating God. God could have controlled speech from the very beginning. God did not. God made us in God's image to speak how we felt led to speak... even if it is to our detriment.
The Gay Christian Network met in Portland, Oregon over the weekend. The folks from Westboro Baptist Church showed up with their typical hateful signs and posters. The posts on social media championed those who stood in front of them and shouted them down. Confrontations with Westboro have consistently produced videos and images that are very powerful. While I hate what they speak about, I am so glad that they can and do say it. I am convinced that the people of Westboro Baptist Church are responsible for the dramatic advances in marriage equality and gay rights over the last decade. Over and over again in my work, I have been able to sit down with Christians and ask them, "Do you want to be like the folks at Westboro?" The answer is always a resounding, "No." With the ability to see what hate looks like in the flesh, I am convinced that Westboro has helped many Christians change their mind on human sexuality and gender orientation. On some level, I am thankful that God can use the lunatics among us to bring about God's will. If the people at Westboro were silenced in the past, I doubt the Gay Christian Network would have held a conference in as favorable of a national climate as they did this weekend.
The events in Paris over recent days remind us that freedom of speech is under attack. I spent part of this afternoon looking at the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that were published in Charlie Hebdo. While I found some of the drawings and captions to be disrespectful and distasteful, I don't believe that anyone should die over what was drawn or said. People should be able to express their thoughts even if it is to their own detriment. The uncensored word is the only way that we are going to have honest interaction. True progress is not possible when people are not free to express their thoughts. God knew this at the moment of creation and so should we.
In the midst of thinking about free speech, the image of French Muslim police officer Ahmed Marabet being shot point blank on a Parisian street is etched into my mind. Why was Marabet killed? The short answer is that people were enraged over speech and desired to silence it. I believe we must stand with Ahmed Marabet, the cartoonists and writers at Charlie Hebdo, Westboro Baptist Church, the Gay Christian Network and all other groups of people that desire to express their thoughts. Followers of Jesus know "...out of the heart the mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). When you don't know the hearts of people, you don't know who needs to be saved. Furthermore, to be silent in the face of terror is to extinguish pieces of the divine in the self. People of faith must stand for free speech. God is with us in this effort.