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FIRST-PERSON: Be careful when accusing someone of ‘hate speech’

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–In the recent dustup over New York Knick Charley Ward’s comments on Jews, I was reminded of how diabolical the “hate speech” charge has become. And I mean that literally. It truly is the devil’s plaything — not the speech itself, but the charge of hatred.

Eric Konigsberg of The New York Times, a Jew, reported on Ward’s and Allan Houston’s perhaps clumsy efforts to lead him to Christ. “E” as they called him, was a guest in one of their Bible studies, and Ward was trying to take him beyond the common notion that, in spiritual matters, we’re all basically OK with God, whatever our convictions.

Melissa Isaacson of the Chicago Tribune was beside herself, speaking of those who “babble words of hate and nonsense,” identifying Ward as “racist” and of an “insidious brand of bigot.” To its credit, the Tribune ran a subsequent column by Skip Bayless, who said Ward’s words had been pulled out of context. But Isaacson’s take represented the media norm, so much so that the Tribune’s ombudsman, Don Wycliff, called Bayless’s piece “one of the most courageous newspaper columns I’ve seen in years,” and indeed it was.

Why is the charge of “hate speech” so infernal?

1) It’s usually false. In early America, the Old Deluder Laws provided for public education. The legislators reasoned that kids needed to learn to read so that they could read the Bible, a critical skill in their struggle with the Father of Lies, the Old Deluder. Well, the Old Deluder is still at work big time. Charlie Ward doesn’t hate Jews. In fact, he loves Eric Konigsberg so much that he would risk public humiliation in trying to win him to Jesus.

2) It’s irrefutable, not because it’s true, but because it concerns things outside the realm of clear observation. By attacking one’s motivations and frames of mind, you deny him the ability to conclusively disprove the charge. Who can know such things?

3) It elevates emotion over truth. In our therapeutic society, fixated on feelings, self-esteem and such, the value of truth’s stock has been falling for years. The devil couldn’t be happier.

4) It encourages assault on the Bible. Talk about a “rude” book. The Bible uses such words as “abomination” and “stench” to describe sin. It’s not at all hard to imagine a suit against a church which put the text of “hateful” Romans 1:26-27 on its sign.

5) You can always find a few examples to fill the bill. Yes, there are haters, people who don’t want to see homosexuals saved or racists regenerated. Satan only needs to wave an occasional bloody shirt to stir the unthinking to false generalization.

6) It allows the devil to disguise himself as an angel of light. If you’re against hate speech, you must be on the side of the angels. Indeed, you must be the champion of love speech. Never mind that the indulgent “love” you defend is inimical to the best God has for us, both in this world and beyond.

7) It permits sincerity. Yes, some people tell big lies knowing them to be lies. But it’s so much easier to pass along a falsehood when you can be stirred to believe it. The charge of hate speech is so vague and invincible for the zealous that they can utter it with full, confident voice.

8) It snaps the lifeline. The only hope of the deluded is God’s revelation and transforming work. The devil not only hates the people of God; he hates those who hate the people of God, not because they hate the people of God, but because they are themselves part of God’s creation. By prompting them to defame their true helpers, he attacks their hope of rescue.

9) It serves the phenomenon of projection. A pastor once told me of a lady in the church who charged him with lusting over her. He’d scarcely noticed her until then. In fact, if there was any lusting going on, it was hers, but she couldn’t bear to face it, so she projected the problem onto him. We do well to ask where the hate truly resides. Of course, it’s not nice to judge motives (see # 2 above), but those who stipulate dark motives need to know that two can play this game. We can at least raise the question. And if there is such a psychological phenomenon as projection, the devil plays it like an accordion.

10) It cheapens an important word. By “crying ‘Wolf!'” when there is no wolf, the “hate speech” crusaders devalue a word of great importance to Christians. The Bible forbids our hating people, for hatred is poison both to the soul and to human society. But if the word is attached to relatively minor or bogus offenses, we lose our respect for it, our fear of it and our ability to distinguish it when the real thing comes along.
Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church. Other commentaries by Coppenger are posted at www.listten.com and www.comeletusreason.com.

    About the Author

  • Mark Coppenger