Comments on Freedom and the Clash of Ideas

If any speech or expression is deemed unworthy of protection on the basis of its content, no speech or expression is safe.


“The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom.”  (Lady Bird Johnson)

I grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, bring born at the very end of 1959. My young, impressionable mind recalls the assassination of JFK, Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember watching the riots during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the Kent State protest and shooting, the footage of the Vietnam War and the Nixon impeachment on the nightly news.

The world seemed a chaotic place, no less than it does today, on this 4th day of July, 2020.

In the 1960’s, the dissident voice championed First Amendment rights that included the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. I remember that freedom cry as a child superimposed over news footage of a burning US flag. The patriot in my young heart was equally repulsed by the flag burning and impressed of the necessity of the freedom that allowed that flag to burn.

In law school, I learned the nuances of the jurisprudence that grows out of our US Constitution in which the First Amendment is enshrined. The clash of ideas is so sacred in our constitutional framework that it allows even the idea of abolishing that very framework to be heard.

In the 21st Century, many things have changed, while somethings have remained the same. Many of the dissident ideas from the 1960’s have become mainstream, and more “conservative” voices have become dissident. I am no longer repulsed by the burning of the flag (and, perhaps, the point of burning a flag is no longer poignant for the same reason).

The angst of the 1960’s of my youth has been replaced by the angst of the 21st Century of my middle age. The reasons for may angst are much different, yet very much the same at their core. I have grown and changed in my views, but the emotional strain of the human condition remains.

I fear, at times, that the framework that protected the freedom to burn US flags in the 1960’s might, itself, be destroyed in my lifetime, or the lifetime of my children, by the fire of ideas that are antithetical to that freedom.

The ideas in colleges and universities around the country that seem to predominate promotes the silencing of dissident voices. Speaker engagements are canceled as the loudest voices want not even a whisper to be heard in opposition. Dissident speakers that are allowed on campus are shouted down.

These social, philosophical and political theories are built on the foundation of the idea that certain voices should be silenced, while other voices should be magnified – a kind of totalitarianism of ideas. This worldview would destroy the marketplace of ideas along with the idea of capitalism from which the idea of a marketplace of ideas is derived.

I am repulsed by this worldview as I was once repulsed by the burning of a US flag. The repulsion stems not from the evils in society this worldview aims to address, as I find some common ground in those concerns. I am concerned that the proposed remedy involves weakening the most fundamental freedom that protects freedom itself – the freedom of ideas and the right to express them.

The idea of “hate speech”, as wholesome and reasonable as it sounds, is inimical to a framework of freedom that protects the clash of ideas. Nowhere is freedom more necessary to be protected, than at the intersection of ideas and the right to express them. One person’s hate speech is another person’s ideas.

If we allow the idea of hate speech into the fabric of First Amendment jurisprudence, we threaten its very foundation. What we characterize as “hate” today is subject to change with changing societal norms tomorrow. No speech is safe from the label of “hate”.

While such a worldview has some appeal, seeking to right real wrongs and has laudable goals, it does so with the threat of  abolition of freedom of speech. Yet, freedom, real freedom, protects these even those ideas that are antithetical to freedom and demands that they be heard.

As repulsed as I was in my naive youth to watch the US flag burn in the streets of America, I understood the importance of allowing that expression to be heard. That I am no longer repulsed by that expression is of no consequence. In fact, freedom of speech is nowhere more vital than the protection of speech that is offensive. Favored speech doesn’t need protection. 

If any speech or expression is deemed unworthy of protection on the basis of its content, no speech or expression is safe.

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A Christian Perspective on Black Lives Matter and White Privilege

We can’t help but notice the pain in the faces and voices of our black brothers and sisters… if we are looking and listening.


I could have called this article, Black Lives Matters and White Privilege from a White Guy. I was born white, and I can’t change that, just like my black brothers and sisters can’t change the color of their skin. None of us can change the circumstances we are born with, but we can take personal responsibility for the way we deal with our circumstances.

“Black lives matter” and “white privilege” are phrases that have exploded into our consciousness in the two weeks following the death of George Floyd, the latest in a long litany of examples of disparity in treatment between people of color and the rest of us. The resulting maelstrom is an indication (maybe) that we get it and have finally had enough of it.

But what do we do about it? What does a white guy like me do about it? What does a Christian, a Christ follower do about it?

I am not here to lecture or speak for people of color. I don’t know their pain. I don’t know what it’s like to live life in their skin. I can only imagine what it’s like, but I don’t know really what it’s like.

I can only speak for myself and speak to what I know about Jesus and how he informs us to live in a hostile world full of injustice. I can only speak to people like me. And so, I want to address these phrases and what I think Jesus says to people like me (white Christians) at this tipping point in our history in the United States.

I want to address the phrase, “black lives matter”, not the organization.

To acknowledge that black lives matter is like acknowledging that a house is on fire. When a house is on fire, we call the Fire Department, and no one says, “What about all the other houses?” They don’t need the our attention in that moment.

To acknowledge that black lives matter, we are saying that someone is sick and needs help. When a family member is sick and needs medication, we don’t say, “What about the other people in the family?” They don’t need our help at the moment.

To acknowledge that black lives matter isn’t to deny or ignore the fact that other lives matter. The problem being addressed is that black lives haven’t mattered enough.  We need to give our attention to the issue of racial disparity because our history shows us that black lives haven’t mattered nearly enough!

When we talk about white privilege, I know many people who don’t feel very privileged. Many white people are born into poverty, with physical or mental disability, or into dysfunctional homes and other socio-economic, personal and other circumstances that are difficult. White privilege doesn’t discount those things.

White privilege simply means that white people don’t have the added disadvantage of being a person of color. White privilege means that our difficult circumstances have nothing to do with our skin color. We don’t suffer the added difficulty of racial disparity.

We can acknowledge and agree with our brothers and sisters of color that black lives do matter and that white privilege does exist. Simply acknowledging that (instead of responding that “all lives matter” or that white people suffer difficulties too) is a big step in the right direction. It means we are listening. It means that we care.

Now for the following Jesus part. How might a Christian find direction on these things in Scripture?

Continue reading “A Christian Perspective on Black Lives Matter and White Privilege”

Focus on Love to Remain on the Narrow Path

The narrow road is where the innocent and the wise travel in the maturity of love.


When the church reaches “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ…. [t[hen we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there….” Ephesians 4:13-14

This a verse that ended a sermon in a series on the love chapter – 1 Corinthians 13, given by Jeff Frazier at Chapelstreet Church, The Greatest of These, May 24, 2020.

The sermon began with the observation that 1 Corinthians 13 is not really the “ode to love” that we often think it is. The First Century Corinthians probably didn’t embroider 1 Corinthians 13 and hang it on their walls. Paul was chiding them for all the things they were not doing and doing wrong.

The Corinthians were a worldly, wealthy, educated and diverse people. If Corinth had magazines, they would have been candidate for the list of 10 best towns in which to live in the First Century Roman Empire. They were sophisticated in all the ways of the world.

But they fell short when it came to love.

Love, of course, is the greatest attribute of a Christian. That’s the point of 1 Corinthians 13. (1 Cor. 13:13) Though the Corinthians were rich in many things like eloquent speaking, even prophecies and faith, Paul says even those things mean nothing without love. (1 Cor. 13:1-2) A person could even give all his wealth away and offer his body to hardship, but without love, nothing is gained, says Paul. (1 Cor. 13:3)

The Corinthians thought they were pretty hot stuff. They had much in this world and much in the way of talents and resources, and because of that they were boastful and proud.

The beautiful list of what is love is a list of what the Corinthians lacked.

We could read it this way: the Corinthians are not patient or kind. They are envious, boastful and proud. They dishonor others and are self-seeking, easily angered and keep records of all the wrongs done to them. They delight in evil and do not rejoice in truth. They aren’t protective, trusting or hopeful, and they don’t persevere. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

The Corinthians were full of jealousy and pride about their own spirituality, and they didn’t appreciate each other. (1 Cor. 12:16 -22) They were puffed up with their own knowledge. (1 Cor. 8:1) They were given to argument, strife and disunity over which leaders to follow. (1 Cor. 1:10-12) At the same time, they tolerated sexual sin, greed, idolatry cheating, slander and drunkenness in their members. (1 Cor. 5:1-5, 9-11)

The Corinthian church was rich in the way of worldly wealth and talents. They were even full of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but they were poor in the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23)).

Paul goes on to say that love is the greatest fruit of the Holy Spirit. Love is the ultimate goal of the Christian, because God is love (1 John 1:9), and He desires us to be transformed into His image. (Rom 8:29) We don’t need wealth, resources, talents, knowledge or even the gifts of the Holy Spirit if we have love.

Love, including all the fruits of the Holy Spirit, is the sign of mature Christianity.

Jeff Frazier said that Paul could have written the love chapter to much of the American church, and I think he is right.

Continue reading “Focus on Love to Remain on the Narrow Path”

Don’t Let Fear Win: Keep the Conversation Going


“When two enemies are talking, they aren’t fighting. It’s when the talking stops that the violence starts. Keep the conversation going.”

This is how Daryl Davis concludes his TedX Talk, Why I, as a black man, attend KKK rallies, December 8, 2017. Yes, that right, a black man who attends KKK rallies!

Let that sink in a little bit.

It’s not that Daryl Davis has any affinity for the KKK. He certainly doesn’t, but he is an outside-the-box thinker. When he came to the realization that racial prejudice exists as a young naive boy, and that it was aimed at him (it took some time for that to sink in for him at 10 years old), he began to aks questions. He wanted to know how people could hate him if they didn’t even now him.

That question led him to read books on white supremacy, black supremacy and similar topics, but he couldn’t find an answer. He figured, then, that the best way to get an answer would be to go to the source. By that time, he was an adult.

His curiosity led him to invite the Imperial Wizard, the national leader, of the Ku Klux Klan to meet with him. He was told, “Do not fool with Mr. Kelly. He will kill you!” His curiosity, though, was stronger than his fear.

His secretary set up the meeting, as requested, in a local hotel room. His imperial guest knew only that the interview was to be about his involvement in Klan. No one told the Imperial Wizard that his interviewee was black.

The man showed up right on time, and in walked Mr. Kelly with his armed body guard . They froze when they saw their host, but they entered anyway as Daryl Davis invited them to sit down.

The meeting was tense. About an hour into the meeting there was a strange noise that Davis thought came from his guest. He was instantly ready to lunge from his seat to take down his guest and his bodyguard as those previous words of warning percolated in his head. (“He will kill you!)

Daryl glared into the eyes of Mr. Kelly with the intensity of a man demanding to know what caused that noise! The Imperial Wizard glared back at him with the same urgent intensity as the body guard looked from one man, then to the other with his hand on his gun. Anything could have happened.

In a moment, Daryl’s secretary, Mary, realized what happened and began to laugh. She had filled a cooler with ice and cans of soda pop for the meeting. She knew immediately that foreign noise was merely the cans falling with the melting, shifting ice. They all laughed in relief at the sudden fear that foreign noised caused in their ignorance of its source.

The story gets better, and the lessons to be drawn from it are especially poignant in this time of increasing political, racial and religious polarization in the United States. I think also, of another man who died only yesterday who left a similar legacy of conquering fear. But first, I will tell the rest of the story of the black musician who invited the Imperial Wizard of the KKK to meet him in a hotel room.

Continue reading “Don’t Let Fear Win: Keep the Conversation Going”

Putting the American Church into Perspective

Our perspective should be colored by God’s global and eternal purposes, not by the smaller, immediate “world” that we know.


A recent article in Relevant Magazine online, Report: 8 in 10 Evangelicals Live in Asia, Africa and South America, was there to greet me this morning when I opened Facebook. The article title, and the concluding statement put things into perspective:

“[T]hese figures … underline an important point about the vast racial and ethnic diversity of the evangelical strain of Christianity — a diversity often neglected in American conversations about faith.”

Evangelicals make up a little over 25% of the Christians in the world, and only 14% of the Evangelicals in the world live in the United States (993 million of 660 million evangelicals worldwide).

Let that sink in.

Let’s take another step back. Let’s gain a little perspective. Let’s look at American Evangelical Christianity for a moment from the larger perspective of the world.

More Evangelicals live in China and India, taken together, than in the United States (66 million and 28 million totaling 94 million). Almost one-third (32%) of all Evangelicals in the world live in Asia (213 million). Another 28% of Evangelicals live in Africa (185 million), doubling the number of Evangelicals in the United States! More Evangelicals live now in South America (123 million) that the United States.

These numbers show that American Evangelical Christianity is dwarfed by the number of Evangelicals worldwide, and the gap is widening.

A Christianity Today article in 2016 observed that Iran has the fastest growing evangelical church in the world. (Which country has the fastest-growing church in the world?) A 2019 article by a missions organization reports that Afghanistan has the second fastest Tgrowing church in the world. (You’ll Be Surprised Where Christianity Is Growing – And Where It Is Not) A 2018 article in the Houston Chronicle article reporting on the results of a conference at Rice University indicates that Christians in China are estimated to exceed the number of Christians in the US by the year 2030. (China, officially atheist, could have more Christians than the U.S. by 2030)

What does all of this mean for us?

Continue reading “Putting the American Church into Perspective”