Friday, September 14, 2012

Freedom and Responsibility

This week our country was rocked by news of angry protests in response to an American-made anti-Islam film. Protests have taken place at U.S. embassies in Yemen, Egypt, and Tunisia, just to name a few. Many of the protests have turned violent.
There currently is anger directed both toward the violent Muslim protesters and also toward the mysterious producer of the anti-Islam film. Of course this is a sad situation, but it serves to bring up an interesting discussion about how freedom and responsibility work together.
Here are the arguments:
The producers are more at fault because they abused their freedom of speech in order to insult others.
The protesters are more at fault because being insulted is no excuse for responding with violence.
The Bible has something to say not only about this specific instance, but also about the larger issues of freedom and responsibility.
Two New Testament passages serve to encapsulate the New Testament teaching on these two concepts.
Galatians 5:13 says, You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
Similarly, 1 Peter 2:16 says, Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God's slaves.
It is important to understand that the freedom and responsibility in view here are not as citizens of the United States or Rome or Israel or any earthly kingdom. Rather, they are in view of our citizenship in God's kingdom. They are addressing the question, "How do responsibility and freedom work in the lives of those who have embraced Jesus Christ?"
Clearly, in these passages, the two concepts are meant to be complementary. There is real freedom in Christ. We are not held to stringent ceremonial laws. While we are given some clear guidelines (the clearest being love of neighbor), a lot is left to the wisdom and discretion of each believer. The freedom we have in Christ should be celebrated. The Apostle Paul goes to far as to say that if we embrace legalism in the face of what Christ has done for us, then Christ is doing us no good. We should revel in freedom.
But we should not abuse freedom. We should use it rightly. We should be responsible. We should use our freedom to find ways to love others in powerful and compelling ways. We should live as free and responsible citizens of the kingdom of God.
The producers of the film used their freedom. It is a freedom that is not only protected by the concept of free will, but also by the constitution of the United States. They were well within their rights to make the film.
That said, it was freedom ill-used. Instead of using their freedom to build others up, they used it to tear others down. And by doing this, they irresponsibly put Americans in danger.
Now, in this post I am not saying that hard truths should not be said. All the time believers in Jesus are called to speak truths which get us into trouble. When we reflect on God's Word on issues like sin, sexuality, gender, salvation, and eternity, it makes others mad.
But these producers, whoever they were (I have no reason to believe that they are believers), did not seem to have noble motives behind the film. It appeared to be a spiteful attempt to grab attention and incite controversy. For that, it is appropriate to hold them responsible for a foolish and selfish action.
At the same time, the Bible teaches another powerful and beautiful truth. Here it is: As beings created in God's image, no other person is responsible for our bad behavior. Others are responsible for the ways that they provoke us, insult us, and hurt us. But we are responsible when we respond to provocations and insults and pain with violent and sinful behavior.
The fact that we are responsible is good news.  Even those who have not been redeemed by Jesus are still blessed with the capacity for self-control. We are not simply victims, at the mercy of others. We are able to rise above the curses of others and respond with blessing. And those of us who are believers have an extra measure of power and motivation for this because we entrust ourselves to the judge of all the earth, and the Holy Spirit equips us to give peace when others give violence.
Those who have responded to insults with violence should not be excused. Not by our government. Not by the media. Not by anyone. Frankly, it is belittling to them if their behavior is excused. And it also certainly belittles the the loss of the victims of their violence.
Those who abused their freedom are not responsible for the violence, but they are certainly not innocent. They are responsible for their part. Their freedom is theirs to use and it should be defended by our government. But it was not a good use of the freedom our founders envisioned, nor the freedom our troops fight to protect.
 Most significantly, as believers this incident gives us insight. We must never use our freedom as Christians to excuse insulting, abusing, or neglectful behavior toward others. Our freedom is meant to give us more opportunities to love others. And we also must never excuse violent, hateful, and mocking responses to others just because of their bad behavior. In Christ we are blessed with the ability and the perspective that allows us to bless those who curse us.

1 comment:

  1. Superb and practical. In the background may be what Charles Kimball described in his book, "When Religion Becomes Evil." Both sides in this crisis seem to fit Rev. Kimball's diagnosis. Claims of absolute truth, coupled with ours is the only way. Ends justify means. Now is the time. Holy war. As Kimball points out, it's not just Muslims (or the Jews of the Pentateuch) who endorse forms of violence on behalf of the faith. And so, as we reflect on the film and the fury, let us remember the apparent common profile...and double check ourselves as well.