The freedom of speech is found in the First Amendment along with the freedom of religion, the freedom of the press and the right of the people to assemble peaceably. These are important and sacred rights. And when they were first written, they were obviously revolutionary. Nothing like this had ever been granted before to ordinary people.
It is truly a blessing! I can say what I want and you can say what you want, and neither of us has to worry about being arrested for it. I can mount the pulpit in a church and I am free to preach what my conscience tells me to. And you are free to agree or disagree with me.
Yet, are there times when our speech can be hurtful or offensive to others? In such instances, is it wrong to prohibit such speech?
I can think of a number of political rallies when congressmen and congresswomen have been shouted down and have not been able to finish their speeches. Is that right? Then there are others who, because of their political viewpoints, have been driven off college campuses because of violent protests.
Whatever became of dialogue, or listening to each other? And what about respect for others?
One of the things that is so wonderful about the Christian faith is that it teaches love for the other person. Love is more important than anything else.
When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment in the law, he said, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind, and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Love is always the priority in the Christian life. Therefore, love ought to govern all we say and do, and how we treat people.
And along with love comes the word “respect.” To respect means think well of another person and treat them well.
Granted, that is not always easy to do. Some people, because of things that they have done or said, do not readily elicit our respect. And yet, when we are told, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” the Bible does not make exceptions to that rule. In fact, one of Jesus’ best-known instructions is: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27)
Something worth pondering about these divine instructions is that Jesus never asks us to do something that he has not done. He is the great example of love and forgiveness. One of the greatest statements of the Bible is this: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) God didn’t wait until we got our act together and started behaving ourselves. No, even on the cross, Jesus forgave his executioners and those who mocked him.
How do you treat others? How do you relate to people who hold different views than you? Who say things you disagree with?
I read the other day that a kind word spoken in someone’s ear changes their body chemistry in a measurable and positive way. A kind and loving word is a gift that touches another’s spirit, and helps them physically, as well. This is really not new information. The Bible contains gems like this: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
There are so many people in our world who need encouragement. And really, what they need is for someone to show them love.
Marilyn Monroe was once asked if she had ever experienced love as she was moved from one foster home to another in her youth. She thought, and then answered, “Yes, once when my foster mother was putting on her makeup, and I was sitting on the counter watching her, she took her powder puff and puffed me on the nose. I felt that as love.” Just think of it — many decades after it happened, she still remembered that tiny act of affection as love.
The things we do or say don’t have to be large. Keep it small. Keep it simple. Loving others is big, and often much bigger than we think!
— By the Rev. John Koedyker, Tribune community columnist and pastor of congregational care at First Reformed Church of Grand Haven.