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Christian Censors Shouldn't -- By Gordon S. Jackson

Kharis Media LLC
Oct. 18, 2022

OPINION, Oct. 18, 2022 /Christian Newswire/ -- The following is submitted by Gordon S. Jackson, retired journalism professor and author:

    This column offers one word of unsolicited advice to those indignant Christians caught up in the current wave of seeking school library censorship: Stop. Alternatively, Don't.

    I'm talking about an outright ban on books, not the sensible arrangement where librarians and concerned parents come to an agreement that a child needs permission to access a controversial book. Achieving such an arrangement in your setting is a smart way to move forward; it addresses your concern to protect your child from what you believe is unsuitable material, while also honoring the rights of those who view things differently. But pushing for outright bans on books is a bad idea, one that Christians, along with society as a whole, should resist and reject.

    Let me briefly list five reasons. They are of varying importance, and you may marshal strong arguments against one or more of them. But taken as a whole, together with others I outline in my book, "Christians, Free Expression and the Common Good: Getting Beyond the Censorship Impulse," I'm convinced that seeking to ban books from school libraries is invariably counterproductive.

    First, with few exceptions, such as the need to protect national security secrets, an aversion to censorship is ingrained in this country's political DNA. And for good reason. The United States is passionately committed to freedom in various forms, especially freedom of expression. We live in a plural democracy, alongside people whose political, social, economic, and religious views differ markedly from our own. A key principle of our life together is that we honor each other's freedoms; Christians are not exempt from that civic responsibility. Given the benefits that come from free expression, Christians should be upholding, not undermining, it.

    Second, there's the payback danger. Imagine that you've managed to pack your school board with like-minded Christians, all of you seeking to ensure the school district's libraries will be free from what offends you. Good and well... until the next election turfs you out of office in a few years. Based on your invocation of censorship, you cannot count on your successors to have a forgiving spirit. They may well choose to strip anything explicitly Christian from the libraries' bookshelves. It's worth remembering that for hundreds of years the Bible itself has been one of the most banned books around the world; it is secure in the US in part because we provide protection to virtually all other books as well. In short, our democracy demands that we put up with much that troubles us and to avoid doing to others what we wouldn't want them to do to us.

    A third, and obvious, reason is that you could be wrong. The book you find offensive today may be regarded tomorrow as excellent literature that your children will without qualms read to your grandchildren. There are countless examples of once-banned books that are now regarded as cultural treasures.

    The reasons given so far apply to everyone playing censor. But number four applies specifically to Christians. Far from serving the cause of Christ by seeking to ban material that offends you, you are more likely to reinforce the stereotype your secular neighbors may have of Christians as killjoys, curmudgeons, or bigots. Rather than coming across to the broader public as a noble champion for morality, you're seen as a narrow-minded reactionary. They're not saying, "My, how courageous and faithful are these Christians."

    Finally, your censorship efforts will almost certainly lead to a "backfire" problem. Seeking to ban a particular book will almost certainly further, not hinder, its reach. For example, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn has a long history of making banned lists. Historian Arthur Schlesinger has pointed out that the board of trustees of the Concord Public Library banned it in March 1885. Schlesinger says that when "Twain heard what the Concord Public Library had done, he remarked, 'That will sell 25,000 copies for us, sure.'"

    Censorship should always be the last resort of a free and open society, reflecting a move that has broad support—such as the need to protect this country's national security information. By contrast, the relatively small number of Christians who think they are qualified to judge which books should be excluded from school libraries need a reality check. For it appears that when it comes to censorship, even God has his limitations. As Josephus Daniels, a newspaper editor from the early 1900s, said, "God never made a man who was wise enough to be a censor"—or a woman, he would no doubt write today. Or a Christian.

    Gordon S. Jackson, retired journalism professor and author of several books, resides in Spokane, Washington. His latest book, The God Who Blesses: 50 Reflections on Blessing and Blessedness, is published by Kharis Publishing, an inspirational and faith book publisher based in Aurora, IL.

SOURCE Kharis Media LLC

CONTACT: Don Otis, 719-275-7775