Reflecting on “Free Speech,” the Media, & Ferguson, MO

For my congregations, think of this is a continuation of my sermon from this past Sunday.  You can go back and read it here.  

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what’s going on in the news lately: ISIS & Iraq, Palestine & Israel, Robin Williams’ suicide, a death on a dirt racetrack, & the ongoing saga in Ferguson, MO.

And unless you’ve been living with your head in the sand lately, or in some sort of complete isolation, you’ve got some idea what’s going on in at least one of these stories.

I just read the news, the blogs, the comments below articles; my Twitter Feed, my Facebook Newsfeed and all I can think is, “Stop the madness.”  Agendas, ideologies, opinions, conspiracy theories, facts, questions, answers, solutions…..

….and what is missing from all of them is the fact that people have died.  Lives have been taken and lost.  And everyone involved in all these stories – victim, initiator, and their families – have been affected, their lives forever changed.

But we don’t care about that in this country.  What we care about is which side is right.  What we care about is theological doctrines on suicide and mental illness.  What we care about is a demand for justice on both sides that leads to agitation and escalation – what really amounts to is a demand for more blood….someone’s head on a platter.

What I’m not saying is that issues of justice concerning race, persecution; discussions about suicide and mental illness aren’t important.  I hope people give a damn about them – and especially people of faith.  But what I do care about is that such conversations happen with compassion and mercy for the other present.  That’s not happening now.

And you know why it’s not happening?


This is how the media portrays itself.  What you’ll read in it and between the lines is this: shoddy, inaccurate, and one-sided reporting; distortion of the facts; and a complete disregard for humanity in the name of “free speech.”  You know the Media’s battle cry: “People have a right to know ‘the truth.’ It’s their freedom, it’s constitutional.  It’s free will.”

Let me offer you a word about “free will.”  Lutheran Theologian Steven Paulson offers this in his writing: “Sin is God’s withdrawal of the Holy Spirit that hands us over to free will…” (Lutheran Theology, Loc 1129 of 3845, Kindle Edition)

Translation: Free will, the notion that there’s no boundaries in this life, that we can do whatever we want, that we have a right to say whatever we want….all without any regard for compassion and grace, without regard for anyone else but ourselves – it’s sin. 

For those of you a bit more on the non-religous side, let me put this in terms a little more objective for you.  The Christian message boils down to this commandment: Love God, and love one another as God in Christ has first loved you.  We’re supposed to take an attitude of love towards our neighbor that embodies selflessness, sacrifice, and compassion.  At least that’s how it’s supposed to go. (Yeah, we Christians frequently screw it up, no argument there)

But the point of this commandment, this “law” is that it keeps us from killing and destroying each other.  We know where “free will” gets us – “I’ll say what I want, and you’re free to your opinions too.  But if we disagree, I’m free to say and do the most hateful, hurtful, and violent things I can possibly think of.  But that’s my right…’s Free Will baby.”  And such a notion of free will is a lie.  And as Paulson writes further, “…the Law (God’s commandment to love) has already made its universal judgment and come to its fatal conclusion: there is no good heart anywhere.”  (Lutheran Theology, 1090 of 3845Such a notion free will turns us into blood-thirsty animals.  It hurts, destroys, and kills.  It de-humanizes others and ultimately, ourselves.

There needs to be boundaries to what we say and do.  We can demand justice, but not without compassion and mercy.  Not without thinking about the other.

The Media wants you to deny this.  They’re  actually shameless in their exercise of “free speech.”  The motive: gotta sell a story.  Gotta make headlines.  Gotta stir things up, even twist the facts a bit, even invade spaces of privacy….because there’s money to be made.  Free speech, YOUR right to know.  OUR Free Will exercised.

My wife puts it best: “My heart just hurts….someone died.”  As I think about Ferguson, MO, I’m going to guess that Michael Brown didn’t think we was going to die when he woke up that morning.  I don’t think Officer Darren Wilson woke up that morning thinking he was going to draw his weapon and kill someone.  And I’m willing to bet that Officer Wilson and his family, and Michael Brown’s family are simply hurting over the loss of life that happened in an ill-fated instant, in the heat of the moment.

Let the justice system, as flawed as we think it may be, do its due diligence.  But let’s recover a sense of our humanity…..”stop the madness.”  If there’s anyone we should be directing our anger at as outsiders in these things, it’s the Media.  As long as we buy into the agendas, the sensationalism, the conspiracies of the Media and other attention-grabbers who would say compassion and mercy for the other is NOT what we need to have right now…..we’ll never be truly human, never be truly “free.”





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