1 Corinthians 10:
23 ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things build up. 24Do not seek your own advantage, but that of others.
31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. 32Give no offence to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved.
With our broad understanding of "freedom of speech" in America, a great deal is lawful, but that doesn't make a lot of it beneficial. I think it is well past time we started to ask ourselves if what we are about to say, or print, or film will be beneficial and of advantage to others rather than ourselves. Paul speaks of giving no offense to anyone and we might want to give that a try. After all, we've seen the results of sticking to what is strictly "lawful."
A poorly made short film disparaging the prophet Muhammad and the result is riot elsewhere in the world and death. This certainly may have been lawful speech but it was far from beneficial. The results were obscene and I do not defend them in any way, but they were incited by "lawful" speech.
Mitt Romney makes remarks disparaging 47% of the American population, brushing them off as not his concern. This speech was "lawful" but hardly prudent. It has left many of us wondering if Governor Romney would truly have the interests of all Americans at heart. He has raised doubts while seeking his own advantage with a group of wealthy donors. The result has been anything but advantageous and has left many angry, hurting, or despairing for their party's chances in November.
Our daughter came home shaken from school yesterday. We are American Baptists and I have just completed the ordination process and schooling to be an American Baptist minister. We are open to others of all faiths or lack thereof and Madeline engages friends of all stripes in friendly dialog about her beliefs and theirs. So, she came home yesterday and told us that in Chemistry class religion came up and many students "lawfully" spoke of their hatred of Christians. For the first time, our outspoken daughter was silent in class. She said she felt afraid to speak up. I'm sure the teacher not speaking up to temper the class's remarks didn't help much. All that was said was "lawful" but hardly beneficial.
I heard on NPR yesterday that there is a huge disconnect between the United States and the rest of the world when it comes to this issue of "free speech." It is believed in the rest of the world that the speech that comes from the U.S. has the backing and approval of the U.S. government. Needless to say, this is often less than beneficial. And when people around the world react badly to our "lawful" yet harmful, self advantage seeking speech, we believe them to be merely dictatorial, reactionary, fundamentalists seeking to curtail our rights. And so a vicious cycle is created.
Let's go back to the wisdom of a widely traveled, highly educated, vastly experienced public speaker and speak that which is beneficial for others rather than what is merely advantageous to us or simply "lawful," which can so often be awful. It is a choice. How will you choose?