We have an Internet ministry and our very existence depends on our right to free speech. The recent terrorist attack in Paris has become synonymous with an attack on that freedom. Nothing could justify the slaughter that took place that day. But for the world to shout, Je suis Charlie, or I am Charlie, is to align ourselves with the behavior of a magazine that profited from slander. As Christians, we are not Charlie, and we shouldn’t want to be Charlie. We are called to walk this life with a higher standard.
The recent edition of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, was displayed throughout the world. The cover is a cartoon of Mohammed holding a sign that reads “Je suis Charlie.” Richard Malka, a French lawyer, provided this quote: “We will not give in. The spirit of ‘I am Charlie’ means the right to blaspheme.” I live in the United States of America and I have the right to blaspheme as well. I also know that having the right to say something does not make it a right thing to say. Those of us who cherish our freedoms need to prayerfully consider how to use those freedoms.
Søren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher and theologian said, “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” Winston Churchill said, “Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled. But some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, and if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.”
Benjamin Franklin, an influencer of the United States Constitution said, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” Thomas Jefferson, another contributor to our constitution said, “A nation as a society forms a moral person, and every member of it is personally responsible for his society.” John Adams, an early advocate for including the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, said, “It is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.”
It would be difficult to defend the idea that our American culture still values religion, morality and pure virtue as a necessity for democracy. The men who authored the ideas that became our constitution would never have envisioned the cultural changes we live with today. Those men understood that the document they had created would only function well in a culture that chose to use their rights, to do what was right. Freedom to choose provided for the original sin and for every sin that has followed.
We are not “Charlie”. We are Christians. The name “Christian” was used in antiquity to describe a person who was a follower of Jesus and would not bow down to a Roman emperor. The word is only used three times in the New Testament. The first time is in Acts 11:26, “The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” The second time is in Acts 26:28: “Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” The third and final time the word Christian is used is in 1 Peter 4:16. Peter was encouraging his congregation to stand firm under persecution. He said, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”
We are not Charlie. We bear a higher name. We are Christians, followers of Christ. We should be grateful every day for the country we live in and the freedoms our Constitution provides. But our freedoms are governed by the highest of standards. We are not Charlie, we are Christians and Peter told us to praise God that we bear that name.
“Je suis Christian” looks a lot like the name above all names. Let’s make that name our slogan of freedom. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).