[N.B.: the following is a piece about free speech. So following the closing square bracket, be ready for 1,105 words. Natch. It’s my right as an American.]
Even though I live abroad – and so far away! – I think about my country, and read about it, and worry about it, all of the time. I worry about whether poor kids in 2017 can get an education as good as or better than the one I was fortunate to receive in a public school system. I worry about both rural and urban communities turning to drugs as an antidote to their seemingly hopeless situations. I worry about the number of children growing up without fathers, even in my own extended family, then perpetuating the cycle of poverty and dependence themselves when they become teens. I worry about the legitimacy of a government that allows the lives of the unborn to be snuffed out. I worry about murders in Chicago, and elsewhere. I worry about public sector unions sucking dry our governments’ solvency. I worry about failing infrastructure, and national security, and jobs, and taxes, and States’ rights, and whether the Supreme Court will cherish the Constitution. So much to worry about! But I am an invested American; I care.
Recently, though, I’ve also begun to worry about free speech. It’s a sad indictment, but it’s impossible to ignore that free speech is under attack in the United States. It’s under attack by the radical and even the not-so-radical Left, who have amped up their vitriol and general crassness – culminating in the extremely troubling fracas at Middlebury College some days ago. Rarely has the old saw, “some open minds need to be closed for repair,” been more apt than in reference to that group of Vermont snowflakes.
A long time has passed since my college days in the mid- to late-‘80s, but to my recollection I knew of no one at my school who would have thought it appropriate to engage in the sort of puerile, casually violent and profane behavior that characterized the Middlebury students (and, a few weeks earlier, the Cal Berkeley students). Our Assembly Series, the speakers for which were selected by a committee of which I was privileged to be a member, brought to our campus learned people from a wide variety of disciplines and points of view. I never remember anyone being rude to any one of them. We sat in beautiful Graham Chapel and listened intently and respectively, and thought about what we were hearing, and maybe even tried on a new pair of ideological glasses to discover whether we could see the issues as the speaker presented them. We revelled in free speech, and in our amazing good fortune to be able to be where we were, engaging in intellectual discourse.
Recently, an American we know who lives in Asia, when asked about his Americanness, replied that his nationality was to him just a matter of the government that issued his passport. I was taken aback. For me, next to faith and family, my Americanness is the most important thing about me; it is my secular quintessence. Perhaps it’s because my most recent immigrant ancestor came to the country nearly 200 years ago, and the earliest of my American ancestors likely crossed the Bering Strait thousands of years before that.
But – beyond my connectedness to the land and the place, and the bits of my breath filling my lungs that whisper of the lives of my hundreds and hundreds of American ancestors – my Americanness means that I believe certain truths to be self-evident, including that my essential rights – including the right to express myself freely – have been endowed by our Creator. It means that I concur with the signers of the Declaration of Independence that our right to be a nation flows from “Nature’s God.” It means that I believe our history shows that Almighty God has seen fit to grant the request of the Founders that our upstart nation be protected by Divine Providence. It means that I believe my country, even with its many flaws and huge challenges, is worth defending because of the nearly 250-year proof of the superiority of our American project and because, as was true when Abraham Lincoln wrote the words in 1862, the challenge still remains: in the decisions that we make about how we live with each other, “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”
Indeed we shall “meanly lose” our country if we let the pampered hooligans, such as those middling minds at Middlebury, make off with our right to free speech. For those of us who profess faith in Christ, free speech – the public proclamation of the good news of the Gospel – is at the core of who we are, and what we are called by Christ to do. Many of the leftist agitators are virulently anti-Christian, and we must resist them – for from its inception, the Jesus Movement has involved speaking out, and not in a mouse-like way. Jesus preached his famous sermon on a mount; on the day of Pentecost, Peter “raised his voice” and preached the first Christian sermon to a huge group of (as of that moment) non-Christians. Stephen’s moving public sermon resulted in his martyrdom for the Gospel. Paul was probably the most outspoken of all of the early Christians (and used his Roman citizenship to great effect as a legal shield against those who didn’t like what he said). In Athens, he didn’t preach only in the synagogues, but also in the marketplaces, and, winsomely, on Mars Hill. So we’re a bunch of big mouths, we Christians; as Peter said, “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
This is one reason why we should pray for our country: so that we can continue to speak out about the great and redeeming news of Jesus Christ. I’ve written about how much I think about my country, and read about it, and worry about it. I never said I pray about it – and that’s because I don’t pray about it nearly enough. Sure, it’s not my eternal home; we homeland-seekers are on a quest to reach a city built and made by God, and we know He has prepared one for us. But while we are on this earthly plane, even if it’s only so we can share the Gospel, we must follow the example of the Founders, who “mutually pledge[d] to each other [their] Lives, [their] Fortunes, and [their] sacred Honor” for our country and what it stands for. And we must do more than speak up in defense of the freedom of speech, and we certainly must do more than worry: we must pray that our land will be preserved, and healed.