Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The line between truth and hate speech is sometimes blurry

Last year in the small African country of Guinea Bissau, a blind man was brutally attacked by a group of radical Muslims inside a church building. In an undisclosed country in North Africa, three Muslim background converts to Christianity were kidnapped, tortured, and, as far as I know, remain in captivity today. In Pakistan, a group that many Pakistanis believe is an Islamic charity has been known to kidnap Christian children, sell them into prostitution, and use the profits to finance global terror. These are stories from people that I know personally from my travels. You’ll find many similar stories in Brother Andrew’s remarkable book Secret Believers.

Allow me to be brutally honest for a moment. Though I think it’s great that there are high profile Christian leaders seeking to build bridges of tolerance and respect with those of the Muslim faith, undoing negative stereotypes through peaceful dialogue; sometimes I wonder why the same leaders seem so hesitant to speak out against what’s happening to our brothers and sisters in Christ suffering under Islamic extremism in Muslim lands. Are they afraid they might be guilty of inciting hatred by telling the truth? On the other hand, sometimes I wonder about what the consequences would be if I went around from church to church telling only stories of Islamic extremism verses Christian heroism. Would I be telling the whole story?

If I sound conflicted. I am. In my upcoming book “Alone with a Jihadist: A Biblical Response to Holy War” I use some pretty strong language decrying Christian Zionism—even calling it “ethnic cleansing for Jesus”—because some pretty horrific things are happening to the Palestinian people and there are lots of clueless Christians in America actively supporting it—financially. When I shared some of my feelings with a close spiritual mentor, the response I got was, “Aaron, there’s a lot of demonically inspired anti-Semitism going around these days. With neo-Nazis and people like that. I just don’t want to see you becoming a voice for the enemy.”

Frankly, neither do I. I recognize Israel’s right to exist and also condemn Palestinian terrorism. I realize that not all Jews are Zionists and equally true is the fact that not all Zionists in Israel are anti-Palestinian. But am I a hundred percent certain that people will take my words in the spirit in which they are written? Hardly. There’s a common myth in the Muslim world that it was the Zionists who masterminded 9/11, not Islamic extremists. That of course is ridiculous, and so is the idea that the Zionists are the reason why you can’t pay off your credit card balance.

Those of us who think of ourselves as “progressive evangelicals” may comfort ourselves that it was a white supremacist that carried out the horrific attack at the holocaust museum last week, but let’s get honest with ourselves; the attack could have also been carried out by an anti-Israel leftist. Or what about the Muslim convert that killed the army recruiter in Arkansas? Is it possible that all the leftist talk calling Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld war criminals and equating them with Hitler—something I do not agree with by the way—might have incited this man to violence? Maybe.

Scripture says that Christians are to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). That should be our standard. The problem is even if we do speak truth in the most sensitive ways, that doesn’t guarantee that people won’t twist our words to justify their own selfish ends. People certainly twisted the Apostle Paul’s words to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16). Consider the Apostle Paul talking about homosexuals “receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due,” (Romans 1:27). Sometimes I wonder if Paul’s words in this passage would be classified as “hate speech” by today’s standards.

Where is the line between truth and hate speech? To be honest, I don’t really know. All I can do is make the best attempt to let my speech be “with grace seasoned with salt.” Perhaps that’s all any of us can do. Having said that, remember the story in the beginning about the blind man in Guinea Bissau that was attacked by radical Muslims inside a church building? The rest of the story is that after this incident, the Muslims in the region universally condemned the action, calling it anti-Islamic, and vowed never to let an incident like that happen again. Perhaps we could use a few more rest of the stories.

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