“Charlie Hebdo” (French for Charlie Weekly) is a French satirical weekly magazine famous for its irreverent, radical, and often downright offensive cartoons, articles, and jokes. In the aftermath of the brutal killing of several “Charlie Hebdo” editors, staff, and multiple innocent bystanders and hostages, people around the world banned together in solidarity by wearing “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) t-shirts “as a sign of support for the victims, the newspaper itself and the principle of free speech.”
At first glance, such strident and overt support of the magazine seems so appropriate, so right. After all, support of free speech is a very Christian ideal. Noting the purposeful and often “over-the-top” offensiveness of many of the “Charlie Hebdo” publications, one Christian blogger, Jesse Carey, writing for RELEVANT MAGAZINE, challenges us to rethink how we show our support:
Beyond being a cornerstone value to most modern, Western cultures, free speech is vital to a Christian worldview. As Christians, the freedom to exchange ideas, the ability to criticize those in power for the sake of justice and the liberty to have honest dialogue—even with our Creator—is woven throughout Scripture.
But just because we may want to speak out against threats to free speech doesn’t mean we should issue unwavering support to those who choose to exercise their speech in ways we don’t agree with. In other words, there is a difference between mourning the deaths of those killed and supporting the work they did in life. To admit so does not demean their deaths or lessen the tragedy.
We should think carefully before declaring “I am Charlie,” even if it’s only intended as a simple act of showing unity, support for victims or values related to free expression.
In other words, we can support the victims, their families, and even the democratic ideal of freedom of speech without explicity throwing our support to an institution which uses words, not to build up, but to stir up. As Carey reminds us, the Scriptures are replete with warnings such as, Proverbs 18:21 which tells us, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).