Culture At Large

Free speech, hate speech, love speech: responding to AFDI

Jarod Grice

“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Anyone who has kept up with the news this past week is likely uncomfortably familiar with the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). On Sunday evening, two armed men opened fire during an AFDI-organized event in Garland, Texas. News has surfaced since revealing the gunmen’s alleged association with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). A quick reading of the stories may suggest that it was a random, ineffective terrorist attack on American soil, ending with the perpetrators dead and only one victim injured. But is it that simple? Well, not exactly.

AFDI, led by Pamela Geller, is listed as an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The event organized by AFDI was a contest for drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, purportedly in the name of free speech. In the aftermath of the attack, voices from all over have been calling for justice, peace, revenge, unity and a storehouse of other actions.

For many Christians, this has created an air of ambiguity in terms of how to respond. We are left with what we feel are two opposing options. Because terrorism is evil, we may feel as though we must align ourselves with groups like AFDI after they’ve been attacked. Or, in a rush to speak out against the intolerant actions of AFDI, we may feel we should downplay the evil committed by the perpetrators. Perhaps there is a third alternative.

If we believe that we worship a Savior who is humble but not passive, bold but not disparaging, just but not unforgiving, then we will likewise be people who embody these characteristics.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul encourages believers to consider the good of others above our own rights. This principle applies today. In a democracy that allows events like AFDI’s - which push the envelope of free speech regardless of the damage caused - there is rarely the consideration of what is beneficial for others. As Christians, our responsibility is to follow the example of Christ, as He made Himself low to elevate others. As Bonhoeffer reminds us, all men are subject to the same grace we undeservedly receive through Christ.

Does this mean that we ignore the wretched evil of AFDI’s attackers or groups like ISIS? Absolutely not. Again, as Bonhoeffer reminds us, “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Therefore, we have the twin obligations as Christians to speak heartily against evil and to stand for justice in the name of Christ. Exactly how we do that speaks volumes about what we believe of the character of Christ.

If we believe that we worship a Savior who is humble but not passive, bold but not disparaging, just but not unforgiving, then we will likewise be people who embody these characteristics. One such group would be the Christians who joined Jews and Muslims to form a “peace ring” around a Cincinnati mosque on the very day that the AFDI event took place. Loving examples such as these are especially relevant in the wake of the shooting in Garland. As we stand in the face of terror in our world we must adopt a posture of love and humility, even as we proclaim with confidence that evil will one day answer to the Great Defender.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith, Other Religions, News & Politics, North America