Privileged Protection and Awesome Responsibility

All of you are going to Hell” – the sign was huge, red with white lettering. It was fastened to the back of a green van,  the side of the van communicating something equally encouraging. Two trucks parked a bit ahead had large messages painted on the sides. One boasted of knowledge that we had all been spawned by Satan and the other repeated the mantra that folks like us were going to Hell. All of this was 2 blocks from our home in Cambridge and the irony is that we saw these as we were returning from a stimulating and encouraging Sunday morning in church.

Freedom of Speech. It is a privileged protection and an awesome responsibility. Only days before our neighborhood became the target for these messages, my husband and I had been at a lecture on the apostasy law in Pakistan. As I passed the signs I couldn’t help but think that the messengers have no clue what a privilege it is to live in a country that allows freedom of speech.  It was fully their right to be there and broadcast what I consider to be messages that are at best unwise and at worst vitriolic and hateful. No one would think to arrest them or charge them for breaking a law and this gift is not enjoyed world-wide.

Cambridge, Massachusetts has become our home and a place we care about. Several times in the last couple of years messengers bearing prophesies like those detailed have come to call down wrath. To be sure Cambridge at times makes me cringe, and at other times makes me angry. 02138 was voted the most opinionated zip code in America and at times it is so tolerant that it is intolerant of those who respectfully disagree. But it’s my town and like a family who can criticize their own but dare not let another criticize, I will defend it.

Far beyond those details, the messengers  make my life, as someone who longs to reflect truth and light, far more difficult. The message appears to be given with no love or concern for the audience, just vitriolic words of wrath and damnation with those proclaiming the message seemingly exempt from the wrath of their brand of deity.

And though I desperately want to rip the signs down shouting “You have no right to present God in this way” and let those around me know that this message is one of extremism and that the God I love walks among us, knows our hearts, and loves with a love that is deeper than deep, I respect freedom of speech. I know that the privileged protection of speech used on vans with venom also protects me. It protects outwardly through the law of the land, and it protects inwardly by challenging me to carefully weigh words and meaning so that I may not abuse this protection.  Freedom of speech is a gift to be used carefully and protected continually. Words have great power, my prayer is that I use them responsibly.

“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all”.  ~Noam Chomsky

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  ~Voltaire

3 thoughts on “Privileged Protection and Awesome Responsibility

  1. such a challenging post Marilyn. I find the quotes at the end particularly powerful. I’ve struggled so much with people being so tolerant that they are intolerant to those who disagree with them. Part of the ‘reentry’ process I guess. It’s equally hard to standby and see people who spout vitriol and hate. I guess that is the challenge. Just how much do we believe in freedom of speech?


    1. I found the quotes so powerful as well. Across the ocean from you I echo your struggle. And how do we, as Christians, model freedom of speech in a way that glorifies God?


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