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The Word on the Week

Free Speech

Anyone who knows anything about “free speech” knows that it is not free – it comes with a large price tag! In many cases the price is not paid in cash but imprisonment or martyrdom. Of course some would transgress the boundaries of moderation and use extreme language so it has become necessary to introduce the “incitement to hatred” offence to our statute book. Incitement to hatred seems to be absent from the language of the Manifesto 08 advocating democracy, human rights and the rule of law in China. Indeed these freedoms are enshrined in the Chinese constitution and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which China subscribes. However Liu Xiaobo got an 11 year jail sentence for his part in writing the Manifesto and this week he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize! The jail sentence was passed under Chinese criminal law where Liu was found guilty of leading a group which spread rumours and slanders presumably found in the Manifesto and his 700 essays. The internet has contributed to the circulation of these documents and although there is currently a news blackout in China on the awarding of the Nobel Prize, we now live in a global world where even the ‘great wall’ cannot keep information out. What does the Bible have to say? Some of the proverbs in the Book of Proverbs were written by King Solomon, who would have had absolute power. Yet he penned the lines: – “With patience a ruler can be persuaded and a gentle tongue can break a bone” Quiet persuasion and a refusal to be provoked may win surprising victories. Jesus is perhaps the best example of this. Isaiah’s prediction, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” came true at His trial. Respect for authorities, even when they are acting unjustly, recognises that they have their power from God. Biblical limitations arise when freedom of speech is threatened and the Gospel is hindered. We have Saint Peter’s reply to the threat: “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts chapter 5 verses 28/9). Three lessons can be made: Patience is a strong persuader Silence when false accusations are being made Non-violent disobedience when proclaiming the Gospel is at stake. The Gospel imperative caused Wesley to pen these words: “Preach Him to all and cry in death behold, behold the Lamb.”