By now the echoes of the murders in France have reverberated around the world. Twelve people were slaughtered in the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
In solidarity, the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie (I am Charlie) has gone viral, echoing the famed rallying cry “We Are All Americans Now” from the French newspaper Le Monde following the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
But are we truly ready as an American culture, much less a global one, to mean such a thing? To say “je suis Charlie” is to say that all voices are meant to be free, regardless of what that voice might say. Charlie Hebdo, after all, was not a tame publication. It took on religion in all its forms, not just Islam, and was equally mocking of it all.
But this is more than religion being open to satire. To say “je suis Charlie” is to say that people should be free to espouse personal convictions, allowed to take personal moral stands, enabled to live in and through a stream of democratic ideals.
As Brian Pellot reflected, “I do not consider myself racist, homophobic, Islamophobic or misogynistic. ‘Being Charlie’ doesn’t mean being any of these things, despite what you think about the magazine’s tact and tone…As advocates for freedom of expression we must sometimes defend views we find repulsive. This doesn’t require us to endorse them. In this case, we must protect what gunmen tried to kill, a satirical magazine some deem offensive. #JeSuisCharlie simply means, ‘I defend freedom of expression.’”
Yes. But it’s easy to side with such a sentiment when it comes to the exercise of free press in the face of senseless terrorism which seeks to silence it. It’s not so easy when it comes to allowing people to live by convictional standards that seemingly draw into question your own.
Kelvin Cochran was recently suspended for 30 days and then fired “following complaints that he promoted anti-gay views in a 2013 self-published Christian book.” Cochran was a thirty-four year veteran including serving as the presidentially-appointed fire administrator for the nation in 2009. His book simply stated his belief that sex was designed by God for a man and a woman.
Residents in Georgia are calling on the city to reinstate Cochran, maintaining that the firing violates his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and belief.
Are we going to “be Charlie” to him?
Most observers of the American cultural scene know exactly where I am going. Our culture is all for the freedom of expression until that expression calls into view a differing moral stand.
As David Brooks wrote in The New York Times, “There are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.”
If we are going to uphold the right for others to say what they feel and stand for what they believe, then be consistent. It is hypocrisy at its highest to say “je suis Charlie” when you then want to penalize an individual or group for taking a stand to which you disagree.
So whether it’s allowing people to not bake a cake for a gay wedding, allowing a college Christian group to actually have Christian leaders, or allowing a school to be used by faith groups – to name just a few stories in the news of late,
…the question remains:
“Are you Charlie?”
Let’s hope the answer becomes an unequivocal, across-the-board, universal,
James Emery White
Kate Shellnutt, “Bible Citation Costs Atlanta Fire Chief His Job,” Christianity Today, January 9, 2015, read online.
David Brooks, “I Am Not Charlie Hebdo,” The New York Times, January 8, 2015, read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. You can also find out more information about the upcoming 2015 Church and Culture Conference. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.