With Texas (and a little sliver of Oklahoma) to our east and Arizona to our west, New Mexico is stuck in the middle of those more populous states. That’s okay. As far as geography goes, there’s much to be said for being in the middle. I like to visit Dallas and Phoenix (although the only time I’ve been to the latter, I was sick as a dog throughout the SBC Annual Meeting last year), but I wouldn’t want to live in either of those places. Whenever I say something like this, my wife tells me that’s where God will end up moving us. I should know better by now.
When it comes to where I personally stand on issues — theological, political, social, and economic — I am most certainly not a moderate. In fact, the word moderate and some of its derivatives — like moderation — are words that I now look at through a different lens. Too often, it seems, people want to “moderate” their own views and to even help others “moderate” their views. In and of itself, that’s not a problem. However, too many people — politicians and preachers — want to so “moderate” views that they don’t like so that the political, social, or religious landscape is scrubbed of all things annoying.
We see that philosophy at work, even among self-professed conservatives. In Arizona, our neighbor to the west, the Republican-controlled legislature has passed a bill that would radically regulate and censor online communications. Don’t you just love it when conservatives, who should know better, start enacting radical policies that assault one of this country’s most precious freedoms? But, that’s exactly what is happening in Arizona. According to the Comic Book Defense Fund (that sounds funny, but I’m not making that up):
“The (Arizona) bill is sweepingly broad, and would make it a crime to communicate via electronic means speech that is intended to ‘annoy,’ ‘offend,’ ‘harass’ or ‘terrify,’ as well as certain sexual speech. Because the bill is not limited to one-to-one communications, H.B. 2549 would apply to the Internet as a whole, thus criminalizing all manner of writing, cartoons, and other protected material the state finds offensive or annoying.” (full article here)
As a conservative, I find this bill to be an absurd attempt to regulate speech, which in itself is a violation of and, full-frontal assault on, the First Amendment. You would think that conservatives would understand that the First Amendment protections for “freedom of speech and of the press” would be something worth fighting for and preserving. Instead, you have a Republican-controlled legislature censoring speech all in the name of an “anti-bullying” campaign. No one likes to be bullied, so this move to protect citizens from “bullies” sounds nice in theory, but those nice theories usually do not go over so well once they have been tested in the real world. Who gets to define speech that is intended to “annoy” or “offend?” Would my “cousin” CB Scott’s rubbing it in that SEC powerhouse Kentucky prevailed in the NCAA basketball championship be annoying? On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t answer that question.
Of course, “annoying” or “offensive” speech is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder. I suppose it all comes down to whose ox is being gored. Most people find it hard to tolerate — much less defend — speech that they find annoying. It goes without saying that some are easily offended, usually by words which they don’t like uttered by speakers or bloggers they don’t like. But, that’s the double-edged sword of the First Amendment. With one edge we will sometimes have to be subjected to speech that will annoy us or offend us. (If you’ve ever been around a Dallas Cowboys’ fan, you know exactly what I mean 🙂 ). Just think. As Christians, every time we share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there is the very real possibility that we will “offend” people. Do we really want the state to pass laws which would censor all speech that anyone at anytime for any reason might find offensive? That edge also calls us to defend speech that we might find abhorrent and even un-Christlike (here and here).
But, the other edge of the sword is that which allows us to speak and write with freedom unlike any other country in the world. It is a freedom that allows us to share the Gospel with our neighbor on Saturday and to preach in the name of Jesus Christ — His Crucifixion and Resurrection — on Easter Sunday and throughout the year. It is a freedom that allows us to take a stand on the pressing moral issues of the day. It is a freedom that allows us to write blogs that question the judgment (and sometimes arrogance) of leaders, both within the political and religious worlds. It is a freedom worth fighting for.
Perhaps Barry Goldwater, then U.S. Senator from Arizona and Presidential candidate, said it best in his 1964 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention:
I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!
Conservatives in political bodies like the Arizona legislature and conservatives in religious bodies like the Southern Baptist Convention would do well to remember Goldwater’s words. For true conservatives, these will be words to live by!