The news of conservative talk show host, Rush Limbaugh’s death prompted responses around the country. He was affectionately referred to as “the Babe Ruth of talk radio.” Sean Hannity said, “He was an innovator. He was a pioneer. He was a trailblazer. He was a great patriot.” Brit Hume called Limbaugh “a giant.” Representative Jim Jordan called him “an icon, patriot, an American hero.” And former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich referred to Limbaugh’s death as “a tragic moment.” Gingrich added, “He was a wonderful man and one of the greatest heroic figures of the conservative movement.”
But not everyone was so quick to pay homage to the iconic talk show host. One sentence, in particular, caught my attention yesterday. The vitriolic remark that was directed at Limbaugh saddened and angered me. The comment was so inflammatory and mean-spirited, I’ve chosen not to quote it here. It was that bad.
As Americans, we have been granted the gift of the first amendment which gives us the freedom to speak our minds. We have the freedom to disagree. We have the freedom to dissent. We have the freedom to differ with our ideological opponents. Benjamin Franklin said, “Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such thing as Wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without Freedom of Speech.” And so we exercise our first amendment rights, in despite the current trend by Progressives to silence free speech. We offer our opinions and should be able to do so without fear of censorship or persecution.
As Christians, however, we have a higher calling than the first amendment. We are called to love our ideological opponents: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43–45, ESV).
While we are protected by the first amendment in America, we run the risk of abusing our liberty when we zealously heap unfair insults and accusations on our ideological foes. We abuse our liberty when we “dance” on the tombstone of our ideological enemies. Such a path is simply not an option for a follower of Jesus Christ. “Our chief end,” according to the Westminster Confession of Faith is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” One of the ways we glorify God is by loving those with whom we disagree.
The Way Forward
Loving our enemies does not necessarily mean we agree with their worldview, support their ideology, or endorse their political convictions. It is entirely possible to actively oppose our opponents but maintain a posture of respect. For example, former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. made the following comments after receiving word of Limbaugh’s death:
Ford is not a political conservative. Yet, he is able to show respect to Limbaugh and honor his legacy. The way forward requires clear thinking and hearts that submit to Scripture. Followers of Christ would do well to remember a few critical principles before we set foot in the graveyard of our enemies.
1. Remember that each person is created in the image of God
Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Since all people are made in God’s image and created to glorify him (Isa. 43:7), they have inherent dignity. Psalm 8:3-5 says, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” Helmut Thielicke beautifully expresses the truth of mankind’s dignity:
2. Remember that Christian compassion should undergird our attitudes and actions
Scripture reminds us, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12–14, ESV).
3. Remember that our words will be read by our opponents family and friends
Each time I read a piece of angry rhetoric directed at Rush Limbaugh, I wonder how these words affect his wife, Kathryn or members of his family. Perhaps we should stop and think before we utter a series of words that might cause someone else to experience pain, especially someone who is grieving the death of a loved one.
4. Remember that we are accountable for our words
The Word of God reminds us, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36–37, ESV). Ours is a higher calling. Our challenge is to obey God’s divine standard: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29, ESV). J.C. Ryle says, “May we never care what men say of us, so long as we walk in the light of God’s Word. May we strive and pray to be wholly independent of, and indifferent to man’s opinion, so long as we please God.”2
Post-Mortem: A New Perspective
None of this is to suggest that we hide our views or change our convictions. John Adams said, “Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.” Our first amendment rights give us the freedom to disagree with our opponents. So argue your case. Make your convictions known. Passionately plead your case and proclaim your worldview. Exercise your God-given rights. Disagree with Rush Limbaugh. Make your voice heard. But if you are unable to be respectful with your ideological opponents who are relegated to the graveyard, keep your opinion to yourself. Find somewhere else to “dance.”