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Could Christian Worship Be Regarded as Hate Speech?

It seems unthinkable to followers of Christ for the terms “Christianity” and “hate speech” to be linked to one another.

Yet a recent Internet search for the phrase “Christianity as hate speech” brought a noted response of an astounding “about 1,600,000 results.”

Who would assert such a claim? Some of the resulting links were for blogs, social media and opinion pieces, while others appear on what could be legitimate news sources.

While the search results represent a range in the use of the term “Christian,” the very real possibility does exist that expressions of orthodox Christian doctrines may be construed by some people as hate speech, with a relatively new focus here in the United States.

For most of U.S. history, the gospel entrusted to Christ’s church was widely acknowledged enough for American citizens to consider it neither foolish nor a stumbling block, to borrow descriptors from Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:23.

No one took particular offense at the church’s existence and message since constitutional protections were, by and large, honored for all citizens and groups.

Sadly, that was true because the gospel had become entangled in the nation’s epic narrative of divine providence for America as a unique nation and a force for ultimate good in the world.

That could be changing.

If the Christian faith is determined to exist as an expression of hate speech and, therefore, in danger of being forbidden, what, then, about worship among Christians?

In what sense might the worship of God be cast into the category of hate speech?

Presently, it appears that any person or group who holds a position that is deemed to be exclusivist and is found to be offensive might be said to hold beliefs that are hateful toward others.

In such a climate, worship that is based on what Christ’s followers believe to be true, may, indeed, be deemed foolish (at the least) and offensive (at the extreme), more so than ever before.

Worship that is biblically faithful can be described as being specific and exclusive. For example:

  • If we say we worship the one true holy God and that all others are not God, is that hate speech?
  • If we sing praises to God encountered in the narrative, who is the heavenly Father, incarnate in Jesus Christ and revealed in the Holy Spirit, can that be counted as an attack on persons who sing a different theme?
  • Could we be declared out of bounds constitutionally if we assert that baptism and the Lord’s Table are participation with Christ reserved solely for his followers?
  • Might we be hauled into court if we proclaim that the eternally loving God is the Creator of all things whose grand redemptive enterprise will culminate in a new heaven and a new earth where God and the Lamb will sit upon the throne forever?
  • Will we be told we cannot preach Jesus as “the way, the truth and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father” except through Jesus? And can we be prohibited from offering our prayers in Jesus’ name?

Such worship is precisely the kind of distinguishing characteristic that sets Christianity apart, a stance that may become less tolerable within an aggressively secular culture.

For more than 200 years, Christ’s followers living in the U.S. have enjoyed constitutional protection for liturgical practices we understand to be right and proper according to God’s Word.

We should be thankful. We should also be vigilant in like measure, for those protections cannot be completely guaranteed.

Cultural rumblings remind us that this world is fickle, and the freedom to honor the triune God as the only true God may be increasingly fragile.

Scripture’s prophetic witness would caution us not to expect such freedoms – and not to be surprised that, if we do have them, they one day disappear.

The things afforded to us by worldly empires are not immutable; that which is granted and secured by the state can be rescinded and denied by the state.

In a prior EthicsDaily.com column, I wrote, “Christ’s church requires neither the approval nor protection of earthly empires in order to be faithful to God in its worship and its witness to the gospel.”

Christ calls his church to be faithful regardless of what temporal kingdoms and their leaders do or do not do.

Our hope is in the holy triune God – the same yesterday, today and forever – whose word is absolute and whose kingdom stands forever.

Rob Hewell is a professor at Ouachita Baptist University where he is director of the worship studies program. He is the author of “Worship Beyond Nationalism: Practicing the Reign of God.” Additionally, he is professor of worship and resident fellow at B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and is a member of the Ancient-Future Faith Network and the International Council of Ethnodoxologists. You can follow him on Twitter @DrRH2007.