We like the freedom to choose – some of us in the UK will still remember when there were only three TV channels and they did not broadcast throughout the night. These days, not only are there more channels but with things like iPlayer we can decide when to watch our favourite programmes as well. With a box of chocolates, we like to choose our favourites and opinion is divided on whether coffee- or strawberry creams are yummy additions or vile interlopers among the other nicer chocolates. For me the ultimate chocolate choice is between a smooth truffle and a soft, liquid caramel that melts in the mouth.

We also like the freedom to say what we think, to express an idea and to try to persuade others of our point of view. With a General Election coming up we will find people from various parties (and none) trying to get us to cast our vote in favour of their party and to support their ideas of what is best for the country. So arguments about broadcasting leaders’ debates are not just about the logistics involved in organising them but are also about how many differing voices and opinions get to be heard.

Recently, there has been some controversy about “freedom of expression”. Some would argue that any and every opinion should be allowed to express itself no matter how stupid or unpleasant some may be; others would say that there are limits if, for example, someone is trying to incite violence or is encouraging others to commit a crime. On some occasions it is better to keep quiet. The hard part is saying who is to decide what you can and cannot say or when you can say it. If we nominate some public authority to tell us, we stand in danger of censorship that only permits a narrow range of opinion to be expressed. The result could be that some views are suppressed and we miss out on the unusual but useful idea. If we have no limits, then we lay the ground for unnecessary offence for some and hurt for others.

Christians prize the freedom to be able to present the gospel to the world. They cherish the freedom to express an alternative life-style to the “rat race”; as well as offering alternatives to the violence we see in the world and to apparently limitless consumption. They want the opportunity to be able to point to Jesus: as our example to follow, as well as being our friend and saviour. Christians are in favour of freedom.

I would say that that freedom of expression includes the freedom to speak out and the freedom to hold one’s tongue; freedom to poke fun at the pompous, freedom to respect those with whom we disagree. You may have the right to print rubbish but you are not compelled to do so, and we do not have to read it either.

How should Christians decide what to say, print, or broadcast? I would suggest two simple principles based on these questions: is it true? That does not exclude jokes or fiction but does challenge us to be honest about our intentions. Secondly, is it in keeping with the two greatest commandments to love God wholeheartedly and to love our neighbours as ourselves? We may not get it right all the time but the freedom we are encouraged to seek is not the freedom to tell lies, it is the freedom to speak and live the truth about God.

Jesus said, “The truth shall set you free” (John chapter 8 verse 32)

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