It is no secret that social media platforms have taken serious steps in recent days to censor certain individuals. Then-president Donald Trump was the most obvious example, but since many others have complained of their accounts being deleted or warned by Facebook, Twitter, and others, for going against “community guidelines”. Of course, there is usually little or no explanation concerning what guidelines were broken specifically. In response, hundreds of thousands began to transition over to self-proclaimed free-speech app Parler, only to have both Google and Apple block it from their app stores, as well as Amazon remove it from their hosting servers, effectively scrubbing Parler from the internet.
Think long and hard about what this means. Many have claimed “these are private companies, so they can do whatever they want”. This is only partly true. Even private companies have some limitation for what they can choose to do under American law. But even if they are not breaking the law in these actions, it should be very concerning to people that a handful of companies effectively have the power to completely remove certain voices from the internet. Effectively, if Google, Apple, Amazon, and Twitter decide they want to shut down a particular viewpoint, they can do so in less than one day. That is a freakish amount of global power for only a few individuals to yield.
Again, many push back. “We’re talking about Trump here,” they proclaim, “and he tried to pull off a coup at the Capitol!” While this claim is debatable in and of itself, that is entirely to miss the point. Even if you feel social media should censor people for legitimate reasons…what happens when they begin to do so for illegitimate reasons? What is to stop them?
I myself have been temporarily banned from Facebook and Instagram for sharing blogs from the website you are currently reading. No reason was ever given as to why. I protested, asking for a reason, without ever getting a reply. Suddenly, and without explanation, I was reinstated a few weeks later. To this day I have no idea what I said that supposedly violated “community guidelines”, but I can assure you it had nothing to do with Qanon, election stealing, or any other currently acceptable reason.
I know many Christians who applauded the censoring of Trump and his followers. I can understand why, but I also would want to give them a grave warning: don’t cheer too loudly, because you will be next. Think about it. Satan, the god of this world, wants more than anything to silence the truth, censor the gospel, and control public conversation away from Scriptural ideals. The enemy is not social media giants themselves, but they can and will be used as tools for the enemy in spiritual warfare. This effort will not succeed in the long run, of course. We know God wins in the end. But it absolutely will be effective in the short-term, and make life more difficult for believers in the public square.
The Canadian government is currently doing its own social media crackdown. Trudeau has promised to clamp down on “offensive content and hate speech”, which includes “racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, misogynist and homophobic views”. This may sound good—who would want those ideas promoted?—but keep in mind that the government does not understand Christian doctrine. Many biblical ideas can easily be construed to fit any one of those categories; indeed, the secular world claims that they do already. It is really not that hard to see that in the very near future churches will have their online services blocked, Christians removed from social media, and perhaps even Bible apps taken down under the guise of “hate speech”. None of this spells the end for the Church, but it will create a climate where following Jesus may go from being merely culturally odd to potentially inviting serious legal issues.
Free speech is an important value. It is not only important from a legal perspective, but also from a biblical one as well. Consider a few examples:
- Proverbs 18:17 “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Part of discovering the truth comes from the free exchange of ideas. If we only hear one side of things and the other is censored, it is easier to be deceived.
- Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Similarly, our understanding and growth becomes “sharpened” in part by being challenged by others. This includes their ideas.
- Matthew 7:12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” The Christian Golden Rule also applies to speech. If you do not wish to be censored, then you should not be keen to censor others.
- Acts 17:16-34 In this passage, Paul had the freedom to proclaim the gospel in public because the culture of Athens welcomed the sharing of new ideas.
None of this is to argue that censorship is wrong in every circumstance. Things like explicit calls to violence or communication for illegal activity, such as human trafficking, are examples that come to mind where censorship is commended. But what we are seeing is more than that. We are seeing the squelching of ideas that don’t align with the status quo. As Christians, we ought to know that our ideas of truth fit that category. The Bible itself says that the gospel is offensive to the unbelieving world (Galatians 5:11). Christian doctrines like the existence of a Creator, moral standards for sexuality, distinction between men and women, damnation, and salvation through Christ alone are more than ancient relics of the past. They are unacceptable hinderances to an increasingly secular humanist future. Censorship is inevitable.
Our strategy for Christian ministry will need to adapt. In Ontario, where I live, lockdowns because of the coronavirus have forced churches to go online with their ministries. This works for the time being. But perhaps the online world will not be so welcoming for long. I seriously wonder if the typical North American style of church is a sustainable model for the future. My guess is that believers here will have to increasingly find other methods of effective Christian ministry. While Satan may mean this for evil, God means it for good. Perhaps this is the way our Lord is purging our churches of lukewarm faith, dulled desire for evangelism, and apathetic worship.
Jesus reminds us that anyone who desires to follow him must first count the cost. For many of us, that cost has been relatively minimal. Maybe that will change in the future. Only God knows for sure. Either way, it is a good reminder for us to get our hearts right before the Lord, re-establish ourselves as citizens of heaven free from the love of this world, and be prepared to meet any trials that may come with joy (James 1:2-4).