By Elizabeth Prata
On the topic of speaking, let’s go to God first-
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. (Proverbs 18:21).
Civic life second-
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”. (Constitution of United States of America, First Amendment, 1789).
There are many verses in the Bible that instruct or warn its readers about how to speak. Speaking is highly important for learning, for sharing, for fellowship, and so on. If you’re a Christian, speaking was life when you confessed with your mouth, in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, of prayer, and of repentance. God could have made the mechanism of coming to Him anything at all, but He chose confession ‘with your mouth.’ (Romans 10:9). Proverbs above says death and life are in the power of the tongue.
In our civic world, the Founding Fathers knew how important it was to be able to speak freely. Exchanging ideas knits a community, ignites young minds, even founds a great nation. Thomas Paine’s pamphlet “Common Sense” sparked the American Revolution.
History.com says of that pamphlet’s impact, “Common Sense” advocated independence for the American colonies from Britain and is considered one of the most influential pamphlets in American history. Credited with uniting average citizens and political leaders behind the idea of independence, “Common Sense” played a remarkable role in transforming a colonial squabble into the American Revolution. At the time Paine wrote “Common Sense,” most colonists considered themselves to be aggrieved Britons. Paine fundamentally changed the tenor of colonists’ argument with the crown…” (Source).
After the Revolution, our First Postmaster, Ben Franklin issued a “1758 decree that all newspapers would be transported by postal riders for the same, uniformly low rate, according to Winifred Gallagher’s book, ‘How the Post Office Created America: A History’. That greatly increased the colonists’ access to information, particularly about what was going on elsewhere in the world.” (Source). Franklin knew that the open exchange of ideas was vital for a nation to thrive. He also founded the nation’s first free library, open to the common man.
Ideas, freely circulating are important to any society. Who can forget the great speeches of yesteryear?
“Give me liberty, or give me death!” is a quotation attributed to Patrick Henry from a speech he made to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775. Henry is credited with having swung the balance in convincing the convention to pass a resolution delivering Virginian troops for the Revolutionary War. Among the delegates to the convention were future U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson”, according to Wikipedia’s entry.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech, which begins this way, seems relevant today-
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
President FDR’s Day of Infamy speech after the Pearl Harbor attack which launched men to the draft board; President John F. Kennedy’s Ask Not speech, which propelled men to the moon; Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have A Dream Speech, which launched men toward race relations and finally a black president.
In this essay The Insoluble Problem of Free Speech, we read what speech IS: “Speech is a hybrid in that it partakes of both thought and action. Thought is inward, silent, and concealed. So long as it remains purely inward, it has minimal effects on the world. Speech is the expression of thought, whether vocally or via the written word or other forms of communication. Messages in a bottle, on a t-shirt, or in a gesture are all forms of speech.” (Source).
The essay goes on to further explain that there is speech that’s an expression of thought, and speech that produces action. If the speech produces negative action, then it is harmful to society. Yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater where there is no fire is speech that produces harmful action, while speech that asks what you can do for your country, sends men to the moon. In the current fog of war we’re enduring now, the issue that some have is, they claim the President incited a riot with his words, speech that caused negative action. Their solution is absolutist however, squashing all speech from a segment of the population they dislike, even speech that merely expresses thought.
Speech is powerful. Ideas stir the heart and mind. They change lives. They flow with power. They inspire. If man’s oratory can be so transformative, think of what God’s words will do?! His words are eternally life-changing!
Now, what happens when speech is suppressed? Concepts cannot flow. Men cannot exchange ideas. The public square is silent. Withering, that is what happens. And after community withers, anger sets in. How do I know? I’ve lived through it before.
I lived in a small town where for decades, a small group held on to power. They were Democrats. Town Hall’s Department heads were populated by people related to each other. You couldn’t get a job there unless you had ‘the right last name.’ Their arrogance had shrunk to the point where the Fire Chief felt used town fire equipment in broad daylight to hook up to the town water line and fill his pool. Where the Election Clerk casually threw away write-in votes ‘because she didn’t like the names’ written there. Where a top School Administrator used the school credit card to buy paint and have the school maintenance men paint his house. They held power and they wielded it for their own benefit and without a second thought.
The only newspaper was in cahoots with the powers. There were no blogs yet. The internet was young and not used widely, where it was even available. We had to rely on the landline phone, the coffee counter gossip, and the newspaper for news, that was all we had. When we went to vote, it was often based on ‘misinformation’ given to the public by the paper. Oops, they’d say after. We could not make good decisions about our civic lives. Redress was nearly impossible. Even sending a letter to the editor was no good, as the editor either didn’t publish it, or he’d publish it with a humiliating rebuttal wrapped snark for all to see.
You might say, well, don’t buy that newspaper, but it was mailed to every home. Misinformation, lies, innuendo, and protection of the (Democrats) running the town was embedded so deeply that the people’s ire was rising exponentially, yet frustratingly since there was nowhere to go with the anger. Sound familiar? Free speech was squashed at every turn.
At a certain point, I’d had enough. The current state of journalism incenses me. And I say this as a former journalist. In this town where Dems had a monopoly on citizen speech, it caused a deep fracture in civic life, and an abiding anger. Monopoly that is, until I came along, started my own newspaper, and broke their monopoly.
To Tyrants-In-Training, you might think that having everything your own way, suppressing the other side’s ideas, and tight-fistedly holding on to power is a good thing – but it squashes growth, it incenses people, and it stultifies a community. Put that template onto a nation and you have a powder keg. A town or a nation needs ideas to flow, speech to be free, and people to feel heard and validated.
As for Christians…we have seen that conservative ideas are being canceled. We see that conservatives are being deplatformed. Soon there will probably be explicit denial of our biblical speech. That’s a likely next step in this incremental lurch toward Babylon. Sharing Bible verses, having online Bible studies, proclaiming the Gospel, sharing sermons, will likely be tightened. God’s speech will never be denied, He always protects His word. His word is eternal.
So what to do? We need to pray for creativity in the sharing of Biblical speech. We need to think of new ways to share these eternal ideas. If man’s speech needs to be free for the health of the community, God’s speech needs to be free for eternal the salvation of the lost, a much more important proposition.
So, our true desire must be that we’re ready when they come to us and say And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. (Acts 4:18). We all want an open society where we can speak freely online or off line in the real world. We cherish that. But are we preparing for the REAL suppression of speech, when they say you may not speak of Jesus? Have you prepared your heart and mind what to do and how to respond? The Apostles went on and spoke of Him anyway.
Later, they were rounded up again, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us responsible for this man’s blood.” (Acts 5:28). You know what Peter replied, “We must obey God rather than men”.
Will we be as fervent about free speech when doing so may cost us our life?