The Duty of Political Speech
- Friday, September 25, 2009
A second prerequisite for political speech is that we must be clear on the terms of justice. In biblical terms, justice has five facets, each of which is but an expression of the just character of God.
Preventive justice involves the precautions we take to make sure that our actions don't harm others unnecessarily.
Obligatory justice requires that we keep our word, be faithful to our contracts, and represent the truth in all matters of public or private concern.
Restorative justice requires that, if we in any way have brought harm or damage to a neighbor of his property, we must be prepared to recompense him accordingly, in order to restore his wellbeing to the status quo ante as much as possible.
Retributive justice metes out punishment against those who willfully violate the persons or property of their neighbors.
And distributive justice requires that citizens express concern and take care of those in need in their community, sharing from their resources to help those who find themselves in want.
Whenever political leaders fail to take account of the Biblical requirements of justice, or consider actions that either violate those canons or seek to expand them in unbiblical ways, it is the duty of citizens to raise their voice in protest. But we will not be able to do this unless we begin to be more careful and informed about the requirements of justice and the ways it is, or is not, being practiced in our day.
A third prerequisite may be glimpsed in Elihu's reference to "him who is righteous and mighty" (v. 17). We must not allow anything in our character of manner to be a hindrance to what we wish to speak into the public square. Christians are called first to be witnesses (Acts 1:8) before they assay to speak a word of witness to others. If our manners, demeanor, or conduct can be dragged out for all to see in ways that shame us or the Truth of God, then we will have effectively forfeited our place in the forum of public speech.
The final prerequisite for political speech is that we remember that those who lead us in the political arena are only men like ourselves, and we must not chary to confront them boldly and bluntly when the situation requires (v. 18). It can be daunting to stand up to a political figure, naming names, indicting injustice, and calling for changes in a direction more in line with Biblical principles. Whether we do this in a public meeting, a letter to the editor, or merely in conversation with friends, there will always be those who object to our frankness and seek to shout us down. But we must not be cowed by such tactics, nor must we allow ourselves to think, as some seem to believe, that certain political figures are beyond reproach or correction, simply by virtue of office, tenure, or other factor.
The perspective of political speech
It is important that believers who seek to participate in the public square not check their faith at the door as they begin to engage the secular world. Elihu reminds us that there is a larger, overarching perspective and framework within which all political speech occurs, and, while we may not parade all the details of this landscape before our fellow citizens, or include them in our speeches, we will certainly want to keep them in mind as we proceed.
We may summarize this perspective as follows: All men and women, regardless of their beliefs, convictions, or views, are the image-bearers of God, and are ultimately accountable to Him (vv. 19, 20). We are not deists: God, we know, continually watches the ways of men and weighs their actions, moment by moment, on the scales of His justice (vv. 21-23). They can expect to know the favor of God, and, thus, continuing tenure in public service, who seek policies in line with what He regards as just and good (vv. 23-25); those who insist on transgressing His ways can expect that He will bring them to judgment, both now—through a variety of means—and in the great day of His wrath (vv. 25-27).
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