Christianity & Censorship￼
Censorship is the word of the day. From the hubbub over the removal of Maus and other books from school curriculums, to the Joe Rogan and Neil Young Spotify clash, to Whoopi Goldberg’s recent suspension from The View, the issue of censorship remains in vogue.
While most people claim to be against censorship, their actions often suggest that what they are truly against is “being censored.” Censorship is thus advocated for under the less dystopian guise of “combating misinformation” or “protecting society from dangerous falsehoods.” Free speech is all good fun until someone starts spouting disagreeable or contrasting ideas. Henry Ford famously quipped: “Any customer can have a car painted any color he wants, so long as it is black.” In today’s culture anyone can have free speech, so long as they use that speech to agree with prescribed and approved cultural narratives.
The Church v. Censorship
Christians frequently express indignation at being the victims of censorship, and rightfully so. Look no further than the repeated attempts to censor books, articles, or social media posts supporting a traditional, biblical view of sexuality. Satan desires nothing more than to censor truth and amplify falsehood, which places the Church directly in the crosshairs.
At the same, Christians are not immune to the alluring power of censorship. Coercion, corporate pressure, boycotts, and calls for censorship have all been a part of the Church’s playbook throughout the years. When combating the secular influence of Hollywood, the Church’s default response has often been one of subtraction rather than addition; quicker to try and get disagreeable films pulled from theaters than to create alternative films to put into them. Churches can draw loud applause by denouncing the evils of secular entertainment, even while a legion of creative artists sit neglected in the pews week-after-week waiting for the Christmas program to roll around again in order for their God-given talents to be called upon.
The New Testament church demonstrated a clear counter to this censorship mindset. On the surface, the frequent condemnations of false teachers and prophets seemingly validates the need for censorship, but the context is important. The biblical authors appear largely uninterested in the teachings of false prophets in the public sphere. Instead, they focus directly and repeatedly on the false prophets infiltrating the church. Much like Jesus flipping tables in the temple, the emphasis is not to regulate the speech and actions of the unbelieving world, but to preserve the purity of the the truth in the Church, so that the faithful could take that truth into a world confused and led astray by lies. When it came to the outside world, the biblical solution to worldly philosophies was not to silence falsehoods, but to proclaim the truth with boldness and without compromise.
Darkness and Light
Christians are called to be light in a world of darkness (Matthew 5:14-16). Darkness does not overcome light; darkness is the absence of light. Removing darkness does not reveal more light; shining more light dispels darkness.
The Church cannot censor darkness out of the world. Jesus declared, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). The solution to false teaching is to abide in and proclaim the truth.
The early Christians had an unwavering conviction that the Gospel truth was better than any lie found in the world. They did not need to go around correcting every pagan prophet or secular ideology, they only needed to raise their voice and boldly proclaim the truth. If all secular opinions must be censored and silenced in order for the Church to gain a listening ear, then perhaps the Church should examine why its message has seemingly lost its power and appeal.
Open dialogue and freedom to express competing ideologies and worldviews benefits the Church, for any falsehood is exposed as empty when compared with the truth that can set people free. Of course, there are nuances. Opinions shared on a podcast or contained in a book available in a school library, for example, are categorically different from ideologies taught in an elementary school curriculum. The former represents contributions—good or bad—to public dialogue, where the ideas can be discussed and judged. A school classroom, however, is not a public dialogue.
Standing against censorship does not mean “everything goes.” Christians should not be apathetic toward ideologies pushed by secular society, particularly when children are concerned. But Christians should focus on shining light rather than overly fretting about the darkness. Freedom of speech and ideas should be the default posture.
Destroying is easier than creating. Being outraged about bad ideas is easier than thoughtfully contributing good ideas to counter them. The more an idea is banned or suppressed, the more alluring it becomes, and the faster it spreads. The Church cannot spend each day plucking every new weed. Instead, the Church must cultivate the soil with seeds of truth, so that the truth takes root and flourishes. Christians cannot censor a spiritually dead world into eternal life, but they can continue to proclaim the truth that sets people free.