Friday, January 13, 2006

Daring to Offend

Thomas Paine once said, “He who dares not offend cannot be honest.” You may recall that Paine is the author of the pamphlet “Common Sense.” This is the piece that so inflamed the colonists in the mid 1700s so as to hasten their march toward independence. It is people like him who founded our country.

Wait, I take that back.

Ours is a very different country from the one they founded. Pay attention to the news on any given day and you will find the headlines crowded with instances of someone being offended. It has become the newest and most popular “right” of the American citizen, the right to not be offended. In fact, all levels of our government now make a habit of encroaching on actual constitutional rights because the exercise of those rights are often “offensive” to someone else.

The interesting thing is this: The right to not be offended exists nowhere in the United States Constitution. In practice it overshadows the actual rights explicitly protected by the Bill of Rights.

We’ve all seen examples of how this has played out politically. Courts have ordered the removal of monuments referring to the Ten Commandments from “public property.” They’ve ordered the removal of nativity scenes. A few years ago the parents of slain Columbine High School students were invited to place commemorative tiles in the school’s hallways. However, many of the parents had to remove their tiles because they contained the image of a cross. Never mind that many of those students were outspoken Christians and were remembered as such by their peers, a cross displayed in the hallway of the “public” high school might be “offensive” to some and must, therefore, be removed.

In fact, the recently coined term “hate speech” is dangerously close to becoming a legitimate exception to the first amendment’s protection of free speech. To make matters worse, the definition of “hate speech” is so vague as to include pretty much anything that could possibly be offensive to anyone for any reason. Even biblical exposition proclaimed from the pulpit.

In 2002 the Swedish parliament passed a law making it a crime to teach that homosexuality is immoral. And there are many American politicians (with an ever increasing infatuation for “international precedent”) who would just love to apply similar standards in the United States. This kind of legislation holds the potential for serious restrictions on what we can and cannot proclaim from the pulpit. In Sweden, preachers who proclaim the biblical truth about homosexuality can go to prison for up to four years. Many would like to see American preachers similarly silenced.

The real danger, however, is not being denied the legal right to preach against one particular sin, it is in being denied the legal right to proclaim the essence of Scripture, the Gospel itself. Quite frankly I can think of few things as overtly offensive as the Gospel. Just consider…

The Gospel tells the sinner, first of all, that he is a sinner. He is depraved and completely to blame in the eyes of God. That’s offensive. Secondly, the Gospel tells the sinner that he is completely incapable of doing anything about this depraved state. He is helpless. Again, that’s offensive. Thirdly, the Gospel tells the sinner that he stands ready to face God’s righteous judgment and will be punished should he remain in this depraved, sinful state.

This is highly offensive stuff. It flies in the face of a “tolerant” society. It violates the new right to not be offended and because it does it could be labeled as “hate speech.”

Of course the conclusion to the Gospel message is that these depraved sinners are of incredible worth to the previously mentioned righteous God. Just look at the high price He paid for them. He sacrificed His only Son.

The problem is this: In order to get to the wonderful conclusion of the Gospel we must first offend people with the truth. At least we do if, according to Thomas Paine, we want to be honest.


At 11:00 AM, Anonymous Carla Marks said...

I would have to disagree. The United States was founded on tolerance and the "freedom of speech" was not intended to allow vicious verbal attacks on others. That's why we've had to label such attacks as "hate speech."

Being offensive is not a Constitutional right.

At 1:11 PM, Anonymous Frank Speach said...

Carla, you are absolutely wrong about the principles on which America was founded. THE founding principle is liberty not tolerance.

In fact, the first amendment was designed specifically to protect unpopular speech. Popular speech needs no protection, everyone is perfectly willing to allow it. Unpopular speech, on the other hand, needed protection then and continues to need protection now.

Every American has the right to express his or her views -- even if those views are "offensive."

Especially if those views are "offensive."


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