In this ‘fun’ political season, I keep seeing people leverage “God-given” rights, personal liberties and other things that sound great on the surface for unwarranted personal gain.
One of the recent occurrences of a free speech “issue” in popular media to cause an uproar was the firing of Curt Schilling over controversial comments/posts on Facebook. There have been many people who would seemingly defend Schilling to the death — just do a search of #CurtSchilling on twitter if you don’t believe me. And there are others who hold that he finally got what he deserved because of his history of posting controversial comments on a variety of issues, ranging from his views on same-sex marriage, to Muslims, to, most recently, transgender people using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Subsequent to each of these actions, he has received warnings from ESPN.
Personally, I believe that Curt Schilling has every right to post whatever he wants, but I also believe that ESPN has every right to fire him. These two rights do not infringe on each other. We all have the freedom to do (essentially) whatever we want, but that freedom does not make us free from any consequences.
These consequences certainly change person-to-person — especially when the person in question is in a position in which she/he has a spotlight or is working as a government official. For example, Kim Davis was county clerk prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage. Her position as a representative of the government is different than if she were in a private organization.
In various Scriptures, we see examples of freedom to act resulting in drastic consequences regularly. As was mentioned in a recent “Ask an Evangelical” column, while Moses converses with God on Mount Sinai, God’s chosen people construct and worship a golden calf. Thousands die as a result. The rich young ruler who inquired about following Jesus opted to stay in the life he knew because he had much and could not bear to part with his possessions, but this potentially deprived him of salvation. God gives us freedom of action, but that does not give us freedom from consequence.
Similarly, when the church chooses to act in particular ways, there are consequences. Whether positive or negative, the Church holds the attention of many. And, while the Church is not employed by any particular person or organization, it does represent a body of believers and, ultimately, the presence of God on Earth.
Are we the church when we hold picket signs and scream at those with differing views? Are we the church when we hoard away our excess and plenty when others have nothing? Are we the church when we avert our eyes and ignore the needy? Are we the church when we hold fast to our beliefs without considering the experiences of others? Yes. We are still the church. But these actions contribute to how others view the church and may impact whether others choose to either get involved in or avoid the church.
Are we the church when we act in compassion? Are we the church when we do what we can to provide for the needs of others? Are we the church when we set aside our prejudices and choose to get involved? Yes. And if we consider the people Jesus spent his time with — lepers and prostitutes and tax collectors (all marginalized people) — then these actions as the church are more in line with the life and ministry of Jesus.
The ultimate question for us, then, is this: How will we act? Will we defend controversial speech and become the church associated with marginalizing others? Or will we act in such a way that our “consequences” positively impact our communities?
Certainly, there is room for respectful disagreement on a wide spectrum of issue — the church is made up of humans, not robots — but Curt Schilling’s rhetoric did not give himself or others the space for conversation (much less respectful disagreement) and, as a result, he represented ESPN and the church in a negative light. And if we, as the church, do not create a civil space for these important conversations, we bind ourselves to consequences, positive or negative.
Kyle A. Franklin is a recent graduate of Gonzaga University, where he earned his Master’s in Religious Studies. He completed his bachelor’s degree in history and religion at Pacific Lutheran University in 2007 and has worked in both the ELCA Lutheran Church and the United Methodist Church.