Let the Words of Our Mouth Be Pleasing Unto You   Back to blog list

July 16, 2021   Jonathan Ayling

Christianity’s relationship with power has always been a difficult one. In the counter-intuitive
nature of the gospel, it flourishes in opposition, persecution, and pain. Praise God for this fact!
Yet, in no way does that mean that we should simply sit by and indulge the abuse of power over
us, or the removal of freedoms which allow us to spread the Gospel and display the love of Christ.
The Minister of Justice has recently released a series of proposed changes to New Zealand hate
speech legislation in response to the Royal Commission into the March 15 Christchurch attack. In
the wake of such an atrocious and unconscionable act of hatred, it would be easy for us to think
that strengthening our hate speech laws will lead to more social cohesion and safety for minority
groups in our country. Who could oppose that? In no way can I impugn the Government’s
intentions. Yet, it is important that we consider the finer points of this legislation, and the effects it
will have. I am a professional engaged extensively in this space, and write to outline for you the
troubling content and implications of these law changes.
———————————————————————————————————————————

Without being inflammatory, let me be clear: in very real terms, the Government’s proposed hate
speech changes present the point at which portions of our faith become illegal in this country.
Where in the past there has been a relatively high bar for hate speech, that being the incitement to
violence, the proposed changes would lower this bar considerably to simply be incitement to
hatred. While again, some may be inclined to claim that Christians should oppose incitement to
hatred, the rub comes when we question how ‘hatred’ is defined, and who gets to define it.
According to current legislation, the standard would be when an individual’s words are
‘threatening, abusive, or insulting.’

It should come as no surprise to any Christian in our day and age that certain claims in
Christianity can easily be interpreted as hateful, abusive or insulting; and I am not simply saying
because of the way the claims are expressed. The very nature of the claims are definitively
opposed to the perspectives of some in the world. The ancient Nicene Creed of One God, the
Father, and One Lord, Jesus, is by nature exclusive and can be considered intolerant and
offensive to those outside of the Christian Faith.

For example, those who identify as transgender will be part of an explicitly ‘protected group’ from hate speech under the proposed changes. It is clear that a man who identifies as a woman does
not simply feel ‘insulted’ by the Church maintaining the integrity of a traditional view of gender. It
is disingenuous to characterise their view of our position as only ‘offensive’. They believe that their
very identity is being denied by our position. It is understandable that they interpret this biblical
view as hateful. This raises the question, should Christians work dedicatedly in love to show that
their true identity is found in who Christ says they are? Absolutely! Does that mean we must give
up our right and responsibility to say that their identity is confused? Absolutely not! To do so
would be to deny the command to, as the Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4 ‘speak the truth in
love.’

The proposed law changes refer to ‘the maintenance or normalisation of hatred’ as the point at
which a legitimately held opinion would be considered hate speech. That is to say that, not only
would communicating with a transgender individual the fact that orthodox Christianity maintains a
traditional view of gender, but simply communicating this in our families, or in our Church
communities, would be deemed equally ‘hateful’, and also subject to these laws.

Christ was always very clear, that while love is at the heart of the Gospel, nonetheless the Gospel
itself will cause offence. The expected response to the Gospel message, as seen in Peter’s
sermon in Acts 2, is to “repent”; that is to say, a radical change of mind and life orientation. The
claims of our Lord were in complete defiance of the substance of man and our capacity for good.
It is no wonder the world is offended. The Apostle Paul claims that to the Greek is it foolishness,
and to the Jew it is offence, but to those of us being saved, the Gospel is the very power of God (I
Corinthians 1). As our society has continued on a consistent trajectory away from traditional
biblical values and a worldview informed by Christian belief, this has become increasingly true this contradiction has simply grown more pronounced, more overt, and more offensive.

Yet, not only is the bar lowered considerably in terms of what would not be considered hate
speech (lowered so low that it would unavoidably capture crucial parts of Christian belief), but the
penalties associated with this law has been increased considerably. Where in the past, hate
speech law came with a penalty of 3 months in prison or a fine of $7,000, the new law would
possess a penalty of 3 years in prison or a fine of $50,000. Make no mistake, the intent of these
proposed changes will make it a crime to communicate the essence and values of the Christian
faith. Christian leaders who do not recognise, or worse who deny, the considerable threats
presented by these proposals are failing to motivate and mobilise the Church to peacefully,
lovingly, and respectfully, insist the Government maintain their liberty of conscience and freedom
of expression, so that they might still legally preach the Gospel of Christ. Law which gags our
freedom of conscience and thought is law which suppresses truth. There is no way we can sit on
the sideline and passively allow this to occur.

At the heart of the call on the people of God is to be conduits of blessing through the anointing of
the Holy Spirit. At its zenith, this blessing of the knowledge of the Messiah, the hope of all people.
Yet, the call to be a blessing takes very practical, concrete, possibly even political forms, in our
daily lives as well. To call on the Government, despite their best intentions, to not proceed with
these hate speech proposals is part of what it means for the Church to be a blessing today. It is
the freedom of speech which has allowed us in the past to oppose monstrous economic, racial, or
political institutions, and win. To lose parts of our freedom of speech through more intrusive hate
speech laws, despite laudable intentions, will remove our ability in the future to oppose equally
monstrous institutions.

Can I encourage you to submit in the Ministry of Justice’s consultation, and tell them that policed
speech does not protect the vulnerable, for it simply pushes those who spout indefensible and
condemnable opinions underground, where it is harder for the light to reveal their true nature.
The Free Speech Union, a secular, broad coalition of individuals and organisations, has a petition
calling for these proposals to be shelved, and will provide you with a template for a submission.
This organisation works simply to defend your right to hold beliefs, and to peacefully express
them.

As Christians, let us dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to communicating the Gospel of the love
of Christ in winsome, gentle ways. But let us not delude ourselves that as we endeavour to live
like Christ, we will follow in his footsteps of rejection and opposition. While we will ever rejoice in
the Lord, whether accepted or rejected by the world, let us work while the day is light.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *