The Duty of Political Speech
- Friday, September 25, 2009
The political atmosphere these days is charged with progressive electrons.
Everything seems to be flowing toward one end of the political spectrum, and those who raise a hand or voice to offer a contrary opinion are ignored, scorned, or attacked by those who are supercharged with the temper of the times. It can be rather intimidating to express one's views about matters of moment in the public square, unless those views harmonize with the newly dominant progressive mindset.
Elihu must have felt a similar wariness about speaking up in the situation involving Job and his friends. Each of Job's friends and counselors had reached a similar conclusion about the sufferer's dilemma and how it should be resolved. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar all agreed: Job must have sinned in some way, and if he would only ‘fess up to his transgression, the Lord would quickly restore his well-being. These were long-time friends of Job, and wise old heads at that. What could a young man possibly add to this discussion, especially since he was prepared to reject the counsel of his elders and turn the conversation toward a new focus?
Elihu may have felt somewhat intimidated, but he insisted on his right to speak into the situation. In Job 34:16-27 he offered an analogy to justify expressing his views, one that he was certain all parties would agree with, and which would therefore allow him room to voice his opinion.
It is this analogy, a brief for the duty of political speech, that concerns us here. We want to consider Elihu's analogy for what we can learn from it about speaking up on matters of public moment in our own day, when all the loudest voices seem to be blowing and blustering in a direction that many of us may not find to our liking.
The priority of political speech
Elihu's premise in this analogy is that no one is going to object when someone who sees injustice in the public square raises his voice to protest (vv. 16-19). Indeed, even the wisest among them would acknowledge that men must not simply stand by while unjust rulers pursue wicked policies, showing partiality to special interests in order to pad their own wellbeing. The duty of speaking up, even in the bluntest of terms, would be agreed upon by all.
Nothing has changed since then. "We the people" are the ultimate political power in this democracy, but if we forfeit our twofold duty of vigilance and voice, then the wheels of our democracy fail to work smoothly, and the gears of special interest will redirect the nation on a course that veers from the trajectory of the Founders, a trajectory based in and motivated by principles agreeable to a Christian worldview.
Many would say this is precisely what is happening in our day. In the face of that prospect, voices are being raised all over the nation, objecting to policies and courses of action that strike many ordinary Americans as out of sync with the nation's purpose and character. They have been greeted by scorn and vilification from the mainstream media and those in charge of the progressive agenda, but, at the moment, they seem to be standing their ground like Elihu, demanding to be heard. They are only doing their public duty.
The prerequisites of political speech
But before one ventures to raise his voice in the public square, certain prerequisites must be met. Otherwise his protests will be easily deflected and destroyed, and his voice effectively silenced. What are those prerequisites?
First, they who would participate in the public square must keep informed and vigilant concerning the issues of the day and the people who are pressing them. Elihu took for granted that anyone who would speak up about matters of public policy must know both what issues are on the table and who is pushing the agenda.
Here there is no substitute for reading, conversation, and searching out all sides on any particular issue, so that we gain the best insights from all quarters and can weigh them in a thoughtful and discerning manner. At the same time, we must become informed about where particular politicians stand and how we may contact or otherwise communicate with them in the most effective manner.
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