The first amendment secures Americans the right to speak their minds, but the mind (and mouth) of the believer must be guided by more than the first amendment.
The Bible warns us about the unbridled tongue, set on fire by hell and dripping with deadly poison (Jam 3:6, 8). The tongue is small yet its destruction can be widespread, like a forest ablaze from a thoughtless spark (3:5).
Do Christians give much thought to what we say in society? Now, sure, the argument can be made that Christian convictions are often opposed by persons with public platforms, and sharing biblical positions can provoke the consternation of the media and secular elites (see, for a recent example, the Chick-Fil-A imbroglio).
But I’m not talking about that. I’m aware that in 2012 it seems Christians can’t utter “unpalatable” parts of our biblical worldview without backlash. What concerns me here, instead, is how some Christians vent their frustration and outrage.
If you’re a Christian with conservative political views, there are like-minded figures who don’t always express themselves with words honoring Christ. One minute they may be praising the Lord, and then they get on Facebook, Twitter, or their blogs and curse people made in the image of God (Jam 3:9).
I’m thinking in particular of how conservative Christians sometimes speak of their governing authorities. The issue isn’t policy disagreements. The issue isn’t the role of satire. The issue isn’t exposure of injustices, broken political promises, or constitutional violations.
The issue here is whether we’re still obeying commands like 1 Peter 2:13 and 2:17, which call for obeying and honoring even the highest office in the land. The issue is whether we realize such submission and honor is God’s will for us (2:15).
Christians are the people who must “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation,” and “be constant in prayer” (Rom 12:12). The issue is whether our political concerns become prayer concerns, for Christians should intercede for those wielding political authority (1 Tim 2:1-2).
In our society we have the privilege of voting our conscience and electing our officials, and we have the protection of voicing our opinions. But shouldn’t it concern us that the mouths of some believers sound more like political attack ads than exhortations to trust in Christ alone for salvation?
With an election coming up, I’m seeing a lot of posts and tweets full of anger, and not the righteous kind. In a culture where rage can be packaged in a small amount of characters and then published for all to read, Christians should be more cautious. Corrupt talk has no place in our mouths or our social media (Eph 4:29). We’re new creations, so bitterness and wrath and slander don’t fit with the life we’ve been called to live.
On judgment day we will give account for every idle word spoken or written (Matt 12:36), and this eschatological reality should give us pause. All Americans–Democrats, Republicans, and Independents–will gather before the world’s true Lord, and “by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (12:37).
Since believers are free in Christ, we should be more (not less!) careful about what we say and how we say it. James 3 trumps the first amendment, always. I think it’s wonderful that Americans have freedom of speech, but that is never a justification to sin with our speech.
So, in what we say and how we say it, let’s consider whether it honors the Lord and is in keeping with our Christian confession. Engaging the political realm on any level is an important endeavor, so let’s make compelling arguments and advance the public discourse without compromising our convictions or dishonoring the governing authorities established by God (Rom 13; 1 Pet 2).
We can speak from a biblical worldview without being hateful, we can express our political disagreements without being hostile, and we can speak openly without speaking sinfully.
No matter who’s your president, governor, or mayor, let’s honor the Lord and the authorities he’s established. Whatever culture you’re in, the way of wisdom is always best: “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (Prov 13:3).