Is Free Speech Worth It? The interesting case of Pastor McConnell.


By the time you read this, the trial of Pastor McConnell in Northern Ireland will be over. Pastor McConnell, a Pastor from Belfast was charged with “improper use of a public electronic communications network and causing a grossly offensive message to be sent by means of a public electronic communications network.”

Specifically, his remarks on Islam as “satanic” grabbing most of the attention. He’s certainly not the first person to say particularly nasty and damaging things against Islam but in Northern Ireland at least, he seems to be the most famous.

Some believe this trial is a result of political correctness gone mad or the latest sign that Christians in the West are increasingly coming under attack and prosecution.

While I don’t think either of these reasons are true, Pastor McConnell in my view should be entitled to hold certain beliefs about any group or individual as he wishes and should in most circumstances (I’ll get to that soon) be allowed to express those views as he sees fit.

Yet, the big mistake we can all make is in assuming that support of his right to say these things equates with support of Pastor McConnell or more specifically, the ideas behind his views.

Ironically, the many fears he has about Islam, could manifest themselves in attitudes towards Muslims from others who fear the unknown too.  Views that could ultimately create and sustain the hatred of the Islamic faith and those who follow their lives by its teachings. Views that could lead to violence and deep prejudice. The deep unconscious belief that many hold that Islam and therefore Muslims are dangerous, is one that will grow and grow if we allow such comments to go unchallenged.

The argument then that attacking Islam is not the same as attacking Muslims just doesn’t hold up. It is one that underestimates the power that our consciousness has to personify hatred for a religion.

Still, there are 2 reasons why I believe that this trial should never have taken place.

Unexpressed views can’t be challenged

The best way to challenge views that are incorrect and especially have the power to create more evil in the world is to challenge them. To argue against them. To show that they are not true using logic but often more powerfully, stories. Mistrust and fear of another group can only exist when there is no interaction between the two.

The fact that so many Protestants don’t trust Catholics and vice versa in Northern Ireland is because of this very reason. Coupled with an education system that rarely mixes the two, many don’t grow up hearing the stories or better still live as part of the stories of the “other” side on a real personal level.

Until we spend time listening and getting to know the stories and people of Islam, we will never be able to see them as people who are simply trying to make sense of everything like everyone else.

This is why we should welcome Pastor McConnell’s views. Not because they are true but because now we have an opportunity to expose the hatred and fear behind them, bringing them into the light so that they can be seen for what they are.

The second reason though is one that seems to fly contrary to the first,

All publicity is good publicity?

The trouble with allowing views like this to be expressed is that they will lead to some taking them too far.

We wouldn’t have heard about Pastor McConnell’s views if they hadn’t been given the airtime that they were. This would have been a non story. So one part of me is glad that they were expressed and given airtime so we can challenge them, yet another is saddened that there have been those who have taken advantage of this situation to further the lie that Christians are being persecuted in the West. And to plunge, to even lower unconscious depths within us, the fear of those who are different.

So I apologize if this has not given us anything tangible to work with but it is a sign of the tension we live, in questioning which views should be expressed and which shouldn’t. At times like this I fall back on Paul’s view in 1 Corinthians 10 v 23 that we are free to do whatever the heck we like, but that doesn’t mean we should always do (or preach in a sermon), whatever the heck we like. (Paraphrased of course)

There are actually another two interesting side notes coming out of this whole discussion.

After the attacks in Paris and other similar terrorist attacks, there is a very quick reaction to demonize Islam. For extreme examples you just have to look to one of the Presidential candidates in the US, whose views are so extreme that they are calling for a complete ban on Muslims entering the US.

The problem of course is that it is ridiculous to equate what a few people have decided to do in the name of a perverse interpretation of their religion, with the millions of others who live peacefully and inclusively in their communities. It’s sad to witness much of this demonization of Islam coming from Christians, who for their own part must not be aware of the irony of singling out the actions of a few as representative of millions.

This tweet from @jeffbreakfast sums up the hilarious absurdity of this type of logic perfectly.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 9.19.14 PM

Contrary, it is rare that the terrorist acts from people like a man who carried out a mass shooting on a Planned Parenthood facility recently, are used to highlight the evilness of Christianity. But why not? It’s the same principle after all.

Why not? Because that would require us to look deep within ourselves and face our own pain. And of course you can’t equate the actions of a few with a whole belief system.

Which leads to another interesting factor. How we use language to attack others because at some deep level we are in pain. We attack because it’s easier to transfer our hatred for ourselves onto someone else.

When you’re at peace with who you are and with your beliefs, there’s simply no reason to attack others for theirs. (Tweet This)

We doubt or question and as a faith Christianity is generally not very open to such feelings. We need to understand, we need a set of lists to keep us in place. We need to be sure. Anything that disrupts that, threatens our whole system of surviving. So we use that tension which is extremely uncomfortable and transfer it onto other faiths.

If I can make Islam out to be evil and heathen, well at least I can feel better about my doubts and questions.

If the only way that we can give credence to our own faith is by taking shots at different types of faith, our faith can not be very strong to begin with.

So this goes much deeper than just free speech. It goes much further than Islam or Christianity.

It goes to being comfortable with differences. It goes to being open to question and face our own deep pain. It goes to healing of that pain. Not just for Pastor McConnell and the people that he has hurt.

But for everyone.

One thought on “Is Free Speech Worth It? The interesting case of Pastor McConnell.

  1. If you find these difficult to understand, you need to go to the same efforts to understand the Quran! No where in the Bible does God tell Jews or Christians to use terrorism, rape,murder, poisoning,taxing of infidels, harassment, stabbing infidels just because they are infidels, and more! Nor will you find a New Testament or a God who became one of us in order to sacrifice His perfect sinless human self for even our darkest aforementioned sins! Nor will you find the word Islam, Muhammad, Quran, or anything else Muslim, unlike the Quran, because it came 635 years after Christ. I think due diligence is required in making a true assessment. Yes, it is worth it.

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