Meekness and Free Speech

It’s 12:30 am, and I work tomorrow. But I had to make note of something before I got to bed. Trump won the New Hampshire primary tonight. It was a landslide. I went out to Tuesday night trivia that my friend hosts as I do every Tuesday. I decide to wear my Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” hat. It seemed like a good night to celebrate the win.

I always get occasional weird looks from people. I am well aware of the feelings liberals have associated with Donald Trump. But I am also so well-versed in the guy’s ethos, that I take none of it seriously. And I see no need to censor myself in order to cater to the willful ignorance of others. I understand that wearing the hat might court assumptions that I am a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, chauvinistic, and Islamophobic bigot. The problem with all of those terms is that they mean  very different things to different people. They are unhelpful for thoughtful dialogue, but they are exceedingly helpful in an effort to censor other people.

A tall young man, maybe twenty-five, starts mean-mugging me within inches of my face. I stare back and lock gaze with him. I assume he’s joking. I talk about how Trump won the primary. I ask him if he’s excited. He pouts like a small child. I think he may have been trying to intimidate me. It certainly wasn’t working. Then cue the name-calling. I assume he’s joking. I laugh and pat him on the back. “Don’t fuckin touch me,” he demands. The tensions escalate. My blood pressure begins to rise. My girlfriend chimes in and tells him to chill out. He says, “fuck you,” to a woman half his size.

Meanwhile his short friend chimes in. He calls me all of the buzzwords. He says I am ignorant, racist, homophobic, Islamohophic, etc. He tells me to get rid of my hat. He talks about how he’s a PhD student, hoping to prove how enlightened he is. He goes on. Meanwhile, as my girlfriend cries after the other guy yelled at her I motion for the bartender. I tell her these guys got to go. She comes around and starts talking the taller guy down. The little guy talks about his need for a safe space. I am not even joking.

The bartender, a friend of mine, takes the taller guy over to the other side of the bar to talk him down. I call out the little guy for a little bit. I say nobody cares about his PhD. I say if he wants a safe space he can get the fuck out of there. I tell him I’m not any of those things, and he makes assumptions about a hat that says four words- MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. I tell him he is so enlightened that he tries to censor me. I say this is not way to have a conversation. He starts to calm down and becomes apologetic. He extends an invitation to discuss. I tell him I forgive him, but that this is no time to engage in a discourse. I probably cussed him out more than I should.

This is the second time this week I have somewhat narrowly avoided a physical altercation. The other day I was dealing with a horrific troll at the gym. Fortunately I am pretty good at keeping my cool, but I don’t take well to people trying to censor me. As my nerves calmed down and I headed home I started to reflect.

As an evangelical, how well had I handled this situation? I was glad that I had stood my ground, but certainly I could have been more loving even in the midst of confrontation. I did forgive him. That was the righteous thing to do once the little guy apologized. But I didn’t need to curse at him. I was livid. I am still livid. The way people like this try to censor free speech is incredible. Because they have feelings about a hat, I am supposed to surrender my rights to what I wear or publicly express, even if it is not actively harming anyone? Not only this, their approach to express their indignation is to begin a vicious altercation.

I began to think, “Should I not wear this hat?” Not because of the altercation, but because of what it communicates to these people. The Apostle Paul says he is a Greek to the Greek and a Roman to the Romans. Am I losing evangelistic opportunities because I wear this hat? I don’t think that I am, but it seems a worthy thought. What are my intentions? Am I trying to boast my own courage? I go into an extremely liberal hub and wear a hat that I know will turn heads. It isn’t my primary focus. I like the hat, and I am a big supporter of Trump. I am excited about the election. I have every right to wear it. I have every right to stand my ground in a situation such as this.

I think I do the right thing to wear it. Where the opportunity comes to show the love of Christ is going to be the way in which I respond in the altercations. I didn’t make a total hash of it, but I could have surrendered my ego some more. I could have held my tongue some as I rebutted. With the one guy, things ended on an okay note.

My concern for modern Christianity is that they might see a scenario like this and assume that it might be best to avoid wearing such a hat to prevent the risk of offending others. When I was a teenager I had a t-shirt I got from a thrift store. It was an old black shirt that said “Old Fart.” I thought it was ironic and funny, so I wore it. My grandparents would laugh whenever they saw it. One evening I wore it to youth group, not thinking anything of it. An old lady at the church, notorious for being a stickler, approached my father about my t-shirt. She told me she was offended. My dad made me approach her to apologize that she had been offended by my shirt.

I never agreed with my dad about that. I still don’t . For all I know, he doesn’t anymore either. But at that time, he thought it was right for me to make peace in a situation where someone was offended. I respect his intent in the situation. I really do. But it always rubbed me the wrong way. I always thought the woman was being incredibly self-centered to be offended by the shirt. It wasn’t a statement to her or elderly people like she seemed to assume. It was a silly shirt from the store. I was too young to be deemed an old fart by anyone. So it was funny. This is why my grandparents found the same humor in it. Maybe it wasn’t an appropriate shirt to wear to church, but that wasn’t really the point. The point was that she was offended for reasons of her own insecurities and assumptions about me, and I had to censor myself and even apologize to her when I had done nothing wrong.

The Apostle also talks about not eating meat around other believers who don’t eat meat as the result of a weak conscience. For them, eating meat was akin to stumbling into sin. For Paul to eat meat around them affected their own attempts at righteousness as they desired to serve God. His point is that his eating of meat is worth nothing compared to the development of other believers. This I get. Christians should have a preoccupation with two things- evangelism and discipleship. This tells me that I should only be altering my behaviors if my behaviors are going to cause another person to falter in their walk with Christ.

In other words, there is a time and circumstance where it is righteous to censor our behaviors. But we ought not censor ourself just because another person is being offended. This would inevitably lead to sin. Jesus says himself that he came not to bring peace but a sword. Paul says in Romans that he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, to this day, Christians suffer violent loss and death because they refuse to be censored. They refuse to put their light under a bushel.

Certainly this extends further into other areas of our experience. Surely we have to draw a line somewhere. Censorship is a method of Satan. He seeks to censor all truth. It is one thing to alter behaviors for sake of righteousness. It is another to alter them for sake of serving another’s vainglory. My hat may offend others. And when it does, I have a duty to show love and kindness when they poise for attack. But I also have to defend myself and prepare to do whatever necessary to defend myself or deescalate the situation. But fighting against the tyranny of censorship begins with things like this.

Christians are not called to cater to the feelings of the world, whether our matters pertain to religion or not. Our call is to evangelize and disciple the world under the banner of a message that is extremely offensive to many people. It is important that we stand our ground in small ways and that we assert ourselves. But with God’s help, we must never lose focus of the call to love our enemies and to seek every opportunity possible to win souls for Christ.

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