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The angst of the 1960’s of my youth has been replaced by the angst of the 21st Century of my middle age.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.

Continue reading “Comments on Freedom and the Clash of Ideas”

Christian: Where is Your Focus?

If Christianity is true, individuals are not only more important, but incomparably more important, than nations.

Brothers and sisters in Christ in the United States (and anywhere around the world), I urge you to read this:

Don’t Let Your Politics Ruin Your Witness

If you don’t have the present time or inclination, consider at least this statement:

“[W]hen we blindly follow the agenda of party over the values of the kingdom, we are in danger of making politics our functional god. When our public discourse parrots the talking points of blue or red rather than the radical call of neighbor love, we are in danger of losing the credibility of our witness…..

“So how do we carry ourselves politically? Fuller spoke with characteristic wisdom on that issue as well: ‘If a wise man wishes to gain over a nation to any great and worthy object, he does not enter into their little differences, nor embroil himself in their party contentions; but, bearing good-will to all, seeks the general good: by these means he is respected by all, and all are ready to hear what he has to offer. Such should be the wisdom of Christians. There is enmity enough for us to encounter without unnecessarily adding to it.'”

“The gospel is offensive enough, so let’s allow people to be offended by it. When we replace the gospel with politics in our affections, we will draw the battle line in the wrong place and drown out the mesmerizing voice of Jesus beneath tired drone of petty partisan squabbles.”

I posted yesterday, Questions for Christians in America, out of frustration. My frustration is that so many Christians seem to be so colored by their politics that the Gospel is obscured in their rhetoric and the things they are focused on, at least on social media. The field is ripe for the harvest, and we seem to be stuck in out political tents, fixated on political platforms, defending actions Scripture condemns and  fighting for our own rights to a comfortable existence in which the world bows to us.

I don’t pretend sit in judgment on individuals in their personal walks with God. I don’t want to come across self-righteously. When I post things like that (and this), I am stirring up and exhorting myself and the tendencies I see within me. I don’t exempt myself from the fray.

But, I can’t stay silent. My soul grieves within me. We are missing opportunity to share the Gospel, to introduce people to love of Christ. Worse: we are turning people away from the Gospel by focusing too much on temporal things. We seem to be spending ourselves to protect institutions and current political positions, when eternity yawns ahead. Think about it:

“If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual.

“But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of the state or civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment.”

–C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity

Why do we spend so much time trying to reform a temporary nation when individuals with eternal value are getting lost in our rhetoric?

The following statement from Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, served in the last three Republican administrations, sums it up pretty well in an Op Ed in the NY Times (originally written in September 2016):

“Like water that refracts light and changes the shape of things, politics can distort and invert Christianity, turning a faith that at its core is about grace, reconciliation and redemption into one that is characterized by bitterness, recriminations and lack of charity. There is a good deal of hating and dehumanization going on in the name of Christ.”

We can – we must – do better for the Shepherd who died for us while we were yet sinners and gave us the blueprint for His purpose – to go into all the world spreading the Gospel (the Good news) of Christ.

Questions for the Church in America

There were many so-called prophets who said what the people wanted to hear, but they weren’t the real prophets of God.


The NPR headline reads – Survey: White Evangelicals See Trump As ‘Honest’ And ‘Morally Upstanding’. Some of the comments on social media include the following: “Nothing new to me as they are all my racist, homophobic relatives”; and “Scary”.

I am reading through the Old Testament in chronological order this year, and I am currently slogging through Kings and Chronicles. It’s a tough go, and especially tougher as I think about the current political and religious landscape in the United States. It’s hard to know where religion ends and politics begins.

The depressing thing about Kings and Chronicles is how far the people of God go off the ranch. Starting with King David, the man after God’s heart, it’s a steady downward spiral with a few brief interludes of an effort to rid the kingdoms of idols and immorality.

I say kingdoms (plural) because the people began to split under King Solomon and formed two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, immediately after he died. They spent much of their time before the Babylonian captivity fighting and killing each other!

Let me just say this: the United States is NOT a nation of God’s people like Israel was. Yes, we have been blessed by God. Our “founding fathers” (more or less) honored God and used some biblical principals (among other things) on which to form the Constitution and laws by which we are governed. BUT, The USA is not God’s chosen people like Israel was.

We shouldn’t flatter ourselves that way. The Roman Empire became a Christian nation too after Constantine. England, and France, and most of the European countries were Christian nations even more than the US is today. Church and State were married together in governance through the Dark Ages (though it didn’t stop them from warring with each other either).

There is only one people to whom God chose to reveal Himself and to enter into covenant relationship for the purpose of blessing all nations by setting the stage for His own humble entry into history and eventual sacrifice for our sins. Those chosen people aren’t us. God already accomplished His purpose for those chosen people, and now He is on to redemption of the world for all who would follow Him.

We can say with biblical confidence that God ordained Donald Trump as President (Romans 13:1), but for what purpose? God gave Israel King Saul when they demanded a king, but their demand for a king was a rejection of God. Is Trump the king we wanted?

Not that God is thrown off by those things. He works His purpose regardless of the vagaries and ambivalence of His people. I am not concerned about God accomplishing His purposes. He will! But what about the church in America? Where do we stand?

Continue reading “Questions for the Church in America”

Some Consolation in the Biblical Illiteracy of Modern American Christians


This piece I post not without some trepidation. I throw it out into the blogosphere nevertheless. For what it is worth.

I was listening to a podcast this morning by an atheist, turned Christian apologist, who commented that an “overwhelming number” of American Christians do not know what scripture says about key issues, including salvation. The comment stood out to me, so I googled it.

I found a Lifeway article that doesn’t focus on Christians, per se, but on Americans generally[1]. (We’re supposedly a Christian nation, right?) The article focused not on the content, but on how much of the Bible people have read. While the article didn’t focus on people who call themselves Christians, it began to paint the picture.

A whopping 53% of the people polled had read no more than “several passages” or “a few stories”. Twenty three percent (23%) had read no more than “only a few sentences”, and ten percent (10%) of the people polled hadn’t read a single word of the Bible.

I am not completely surprised, though I would love to see the percentage of those people who have a strong opinion about what the Bible says.

About fifteen percent (15%) of the people polled said they had read “at least half” of the Bible. Another twelve percent (12%) said they had read “almost all of it. Only twenty percent (20%) of the people polled said they had read all of the Bible, but only nine percent (9%) had read all of it more than once.

Clearly, we are not very Bible literate as a nation, though we have strong opinions on what we think the Bible says. That goes for people who have strong positive opinions and strong negative opinions.

Interestingly, I found an article written by a well-known atheist that suggests most Christians don’t understand the fundamentals of their faith.[2] He concludes, “This survey shows that a lot of people take on a particular religious label, not because they have a full understanding of what that faith believes, but for other more superficial reasons. Maybe their parents raised them in it. Maybe they were led to that religion by a friend. Maybe they attended a service and found it welcoming and inspiring.” Anecdotally, I see some truth in that statement.

It’s not just atheists making that observation. An article by the Barna Group, a Christian organization, finds that most churchgoers have “never heard of” the Great Commission.[3] Another article commenting on a similar survey concludes that most Americans are heretics and claims the results show that even “those who wear Christianity on their sleeve” … “Christmas-treed the survey, espousing all kinds of unorthodox views”.[4]

I found many articles by Christian leaders expressing concern about Bible illiteracy among people who consider themselves Christians (calling it a big problem[5], a scandal[6] a crisis[7] and an epidemic[8]), so it seems there truly are an “overwhelming number” of American Christians who do not know what scripture says about key issues – to circle back to where I started. And, where do I get off this feedback loop?

Continue reading “Some Consolation in the Biblical Illiteracy of Modern American Christians”

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”