Je Suis Charlie and Christian
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the attack was how targeted it was, how it sought very specific people, rather than just a broad group. Satirical cartoonists were expressly targeted and murdered at one particular magazine, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris. In doing so, thirteen journalists who had spent nearly three decades dedicating their careers to criticizing, questioning, and exposing the follies of French society and government, were taken from this world and their work - to uphold and practice freedom of press and speech. The men behind this atrocious act of mass murder were Islamic extremists, and they were exacting their own depraved brand of revenge on the staff of Charlie Hebdo for perceived blasphemous images of the Prophet Mohammed. To put it more simply, thirteen lives ended because three men felt a central figure to their faith had been disgraced.
Free press and speech were confronted by fanatic religion, and on January 7th, it seemed as if those freedoms had lost, greatly.
Freedom of speech can be a tricky thing. It allows a whole lot to be said in many different ways. However, the things said, photographed, filmed, or drawn can often strike a negative cord within someone. For someone who closely identifies themselves with a religion it can be particularly difficult to ignore what feels like a blatant affront on an intrinsic part of your life.
Charlie Hebdo, the satirical journal, had been in operation off and on since 1970, and in its nearly 45 years had taken a critical shot at anyone from Charles de Gaul to Christ; from politics to prayer. The magazine was leftist and atheist, so no subject matter was sacred for its editorial staff. Many might wonder why something so prolifically offensive, to the point where simply working at Charlie Hebdo becomes life threatening, should be supported?
Why should the world be outraged at the death of people whose life’s work was to give no reverence to what many revered deeply?
As a Christian writer I have thought over this for days, trying to grapple with these questions on a spiritual level rather than professional. Being a writer I am brokenhearted and angry at the death of any journalist. It’s a profession and a way of expression that society greatly benefits from and its protection tantamount to that given to any other human right.
As a Christian, I struggle with understanding why a lot of publications go far beyond the line of offensive, and the necessity of it. However, I quickly remember that I live in a world which is becoming increasingly offended by my faith and by the words in my Bible, and I am thankful for all that is offensive, yet still protected. When we look back at the early Church and the life of Christ, it was usually words not works, which were causing persecution. After His arrest, Jesus was question by a high priest who asked if He is the “Son of the Blessed?” To this Christ replies, “I am,” and with that the crowd accused Jesus of blasphemy (there’s that word again) and condemned Him to death, but not before spitting on Him, of course ( Mark 14:60-65).
I am not trying to argue that the staff of Charlie Hebdo and Christ made the same sacrifice or died an equal death. But, what I am trying to argue is that words, whether spoken or written have made an immense impact on our world and will continue to do so.
So what does that mean for Christians? For starters, it means we should pray over our words. Matthew 18:18 clearly explains to us the power of words, not only in our physical world, but the Spiritual as well. What happened in Charlie Hebdo was a heartbreaking example of the impact words have. Their motivating power for grand efforts to change the world for the better or worse is unpredictable and difficult to contain. I think that is why I love the wording of Matthew 18:18 so much, “…and whatever you lose on earth…” The word lose tends to give an uncontrollable movement to the action being discussed in the verse. Personally, I have always envisioned an unstoppable and powerful decision being made; which is the will of God.
The words written in Charlie Hebdo sparked an evil that ended lives trying to keep speech free. It was hurtful, harmful and sometimes hateful speech, but it was free enough to impact the world. Since the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders the world, especially the West, has been rethinking and debating the effects of speech as free as Charlie Hebdo’s satire, yet the Christian world is rather quiet on the issue. While doing research for this article I could not find much, aside from personal blog posts, regarding such an important issue. It is a very poignant time for Christians to ask themselves how free speech impacts their faith and lives. Although I personally have decided to support Charlie Hebdo, I am very much “Je Suis Charlie” right now, many Christians might not agree, and that is fine, but let’s discuss it.
Reflect on this issue and pray about it. It made me sad to find that there is very little out there regarding Christian thought and free speech, so let’s fill that void. Don’t let atheist cartoonists be the only champion of free speech, we have the Holy Spirit, a great wealth of discernment and wisdom, to help us view, discuss and analyze world events as they unfold. The staff of Charlie Hebdo did not remain silent, and they were only writing for the fleeting things of this world.
If we are calling for a generation of Esthers to stand up for Christ, then by all means we cannot be silent! Esther was anything but. Pray over your words, pray for boldness, and then speak, write, paint, draw, film, sing or dance those ideas into action let loose on this generation. Now, we are by no all means calling for revolts, angry protests or hurtful actions. That is not who Christ is, and therefore, that is not who we are. Because you can't spread the Gospel and the word of God to all the nations if you hide in the protection of your family, friends and church.
Sometimes, you must not be afraid to strike up a conversation about Jesus with a stranger, or to defend you faith when a professor bitterly rages against the existence of God. Other times, you may have to remain silent, as Jesus did on the cross, despite the taunting of the crowd. Discern the value of your words - with prayer and fasting as Esther did - and speak life when the time is right, but don't ever use your faith as an excuse to tear anyone else's beliefs down. Be quick to listen, but slow to speak, so that your words have worth and power. It's a delicate balance, but as Jesus showed us, it is the perfect balance of influence and evangelism.