Saturday, February 19, 2005

Free Speech or Bad Manners?:

Charges against the "Philadelphia Four" were dropped last week. The four Christian protestors had been arrested for refusing to obey police orders that they stop disrupting a gay pride parade by, among other things, reciting anti-gay Bible verses on a bullhorn. The judge ruled that such peaceful expressive activities are fully protected by the First Amendment and cannot form the basis of a criminal prosecution.

All in all, this is a good result for Christians, gays, and gay Christians. The fact is that we are in the midst of an important cultural debate about the place of homosexuals in American society and the Church. Silencing those on the wrong side of this debate would not only be the wrong thing to do from a constitutional standpoint, but it might actually hinder our ability to win genuine support for our cause.

Still, the judge’s decision leaves unanswered a much more basic question: Do the Christians who would disrupt the peaceful celebrations of gays and lesbians really think they are called by God to do this? Yes, the Bible says that sodomy is a sin. But Jewish law also mandates an ethic of hospitality that would seem to run counter to this sort of "free speech":

Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Ex. 22:21)
The logic of this command is really no different than the do-unto-others ethic of Christ, and it would seem to counsel against resorting to the sort of "speech" the Philadelphia Four engaged in. During the incident, which happened in October, several of them were calling out, "Sodomists repent. You're going to hell," a police officer testified.

At some point, those who would justify these kinds of spiritual threats by appealing to the First Amendment must also ask whether they would want gays and lesbians to demonstrate in front of their churches, disrupt their services and celebrations, and attack their faith using similarly incendiary rhetoric.

Would these Christian really find such tactics to be an acceptable exercise of “free speech”? Or would they simply find it to be what any good mother would call it: bad manners?

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