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Life as Performance Art

    In 1951, the renown Protestant theologian, Richard Niebuhr published his important book Christ in Culture.  In it, he outlines the different ways Christ, and his church is in relationship with the secular world.  Seventy-two years later the book remains in print, and I have read it several times over the years to better understand the relationship between an orthodox belief in Jesus and the secular world.
    More recently, I have come to believe he missed an important part. It is where culture (the secular realm of conversation, ideas, and politics) has now attempted to silence and squelch the church, teachers, parents, and many others with whom they disagree. It is a matter of following their agenda or suffer the consequences. 
     There is nothing new about this. It has existed long before dictators such as Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, along with some minor thugs have attempted to do silence their opponents. The first three attempted to create a completely atheistic society, where all worship was focused on their political leaders.  That trio has not succeeded nearly as much as the tyrants of North Korea. They just started a new religious cult based on worshipping the founder of the nation.
     What is different this time is that an assortment of groups, each with their own strident political agenda has attempted to stifle free speech.  Last week Mr. Wilcox’s editorial was about words that should not be used because it might be upsetting to others. Those attempts at stifling speech now extend into the church. Their desire to control what can and cannot be said from the pulpit.
     It began about a decade ago in Alberta, Canada, where a Calgary cleric was accused of committing hate crimes because he dared to quote the Bible from the pulpit.  Now, he did not get in hot water for talking about loving one another or loving God, but because he quoted some passages from the Old Testament and from St Paul who were opposed to homosexuality.  The cleric said that this is what the Bible teaches, and that was sufficient for him. Most of his congregation agreed.
    In due course he was arrested, charged, and convicted of a hate crime.  The judge gave him a choice of retracting his beliefs and statements, repenting, and promising never to do it again, or face punishment.  All the judge did was make the preacher a martyr in the eyes of those who believe in free speech. Still, it was the beginning of a trend.
      In 2019, a Finnish physician, Paivi Rasanen asked a question why the Lutheran church of her country was sponsoring a pride event.  It wasn’t long before she was arrested for a hate crime – for asking a question. Four years later, the case came to trial. There were no witnesses, no one coming forward to say that they had been aggrieved, and the trio of judges found her innocent. The prosecuting attorney brought the case back on appeal. She is waiting for the second trial to happen.
     All of this is far bigger than a difference of opinions, and far more important than a debate on human sexuality. It is a matter of free speech.
    The first week in September free speech took another knock. This time it is Iraq, where the government announced that the word homosexual is now illegal.  They replaced it with “sexual deviancy.”
     A few weeks ago the local newspaper in Marion, Kansas, not all that different from the Allegan County News, had their offices ransacked, as well as the home of the 90+ year old owner of the paper, because someone had disagree with something the reporters were investigating. They had not written even a rough draft of an article; they were merely looking into it and taking notes. That was sufficient for the bully boys to go to work. 
     Worse, it was truly in the public interest. A member of the community was attempting to get a state liquor license despite having some DUI convictions that would preclude getting the license Apparently the applicant talked with the local sheriff who agreed to “look into” the matter. He went beyond his promise:  Computers, hard drives, floppy discs,  and other property was confiscated.  Along with it, lots of ransacking.
     Eventually, a judge said that this was completely out of line and ordered all of the property belonging to the newspaper and reporters returned to them. Of course, nothing was said whether or not they had downloaded all of the files before handing them over. Nothing was said or done, not even a “we’re sorry for your loss” about the woman who died. Nor is there anything to prevent it happening again or somewhere else.
     I see this as important because there is nothing to guarantee it will not happen with the Wilcox papers, or to the reporters and writers.
    Making matters worse is that seemingly everything we say or write can be construed as offensive by someone, and instantly converted into a hate crime. The best example of taking this too far occurred in 2019 in England when a man shared a tweet from his Bible study group that pride was a sin. Someone took offense, and the fellow who posted it was arrested. Then someone else said it was a shame that there were such small-minded people as the individual who objected. Sure enough, the fellow who wrote small-minded was arrested for a hate crime.
     It seems that the whole issue is not whether a statement is right or wrong, but that somewhere someone might feel offended.  After all, we cannot have someone going through life with traumatized hurt feelings!
     And don’t naively think that you are “safe” in your home because many of our devices are capable of recording what is said.  A new study by the Mozilla Project pointed out that words, facial expressions, and more are being monitored and collected by more than twenty-five different makes of automobiles.
     Big Brother is here, and he is watching you.  And listening.  Everything you and I say or do is going into our Permanent Record.
    It is time to stand up for our Constitutional Right to be offended!  This is an important part of living in a free, or even relatively free, society.  We can get offended and get away with it. It is a freedom and right we need to exercise frequently, or we might lose it, and then how boring will life become.

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