There is a lot of angry speech in the world. Signs are popping up alongside the rural roads in my hometown that make me wince. Heading down the Grade after church this morning I saw that someone had tacked a sign to a tree denouncing President Obama as the antichrist. If we are looking for where the line is drawn between free expression and speech that should be called into question, Christ drew that line. He told a crowd on a mountainside that anger directed toward another human being is tantamount to murder.
In a recent discussion about free speech a friend pointed out that those who do not live in free nations do not understand that what is spoken in public in a free country is not vetted by our Government. With freedom comes responsibility. In America, each person is responsible for his or her words—in court if their speech is deemed defamatory or hateful and, according to Christ, before God if the dignity of another person is disparaged.
Although it may be distasteful, freedom of speech guarantees people the right to publically discuss the gamut of sensitive issues, but a line is crossed when invective is hurled at the heart of an individual or a group. The more we let our arrows fly, the less accomplished we become in participating in meaningful discussions.
I don’t think there is a person among us who has not had an unflattering epithet pop into his or her head. Because most Americans so value free speech we are usually willing to overlook a diatribe as poor taste unless the consequences are extreme ( for example, a teenager dies as a result of bullying). Christ sets the bar higher than the courts. To call someone silly or stupid (or worse) is to elevate ourselves above someone else, we all have done it, and it’s a sin.