In this era of fake news, hate speech, speech-chilling, echo chambers, incitement passing as reportage, name-calling, mud slinging and straw men attacks passing as academic debate, and people reporting any slightest thing they disagree with to the police, I often find myself threatened by fear to refrain from speaking about things which are important to me.
At one point, I feared talking about my faith in secular media or public online statements, as I thought the world would crucify me for it.
Once, someone wanted to “call out” my faith in public for something I did, as though that would pass as some sinister motive. Someone also once threatened to report what I said in a sermon to the Internal Security Department (ISD) for allegedly violating the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA).
But should the fear of man be our chief operating premise? Consider the response of the Apostles in the early church.
But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)
Peter’s and John’s declaration is bold and definitive. Faced with the authorities’ command to stop speaking or teaching things in Jesus’ name, they essentially told those in power: “You want to punish us for speaking in Jesus’ name, go ahead. We are prepared to face your penalty. You are accountable to God for that decision.
“As for us, we will keep speaking about Jesus because He is a fact which we have seen and heard with our own eyes and ears!”
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO WHEN THREATENED WITH SILENCE?
Know your rights.
As Christians, we understand that all authority over us is placed there by God, and we are commanded to submit to the laws of the land (Romans 13:1), assuming the lawmakers and the laws do not force you into a position where your faith is compromised. We act in righteousness, which in turn exalts the nation (Proverbs 14:34).
In Singapore, we are blessed with a Constitution that protects our freedom of religion (see Article 15). The line we do not cross is in committing “any act contrary to any general law relating to public order, public health or morality”.
As long as you stay on the right side of that line, you have nothing to fear, for the laws support your right “to profess and practise your religion and to propagate it”.
Say what you’ve seen and heard.
Philosophy and science are important domains of knowledge, but open to debate. Personal knowledge is another thing altogether. If I ask you what you ate for breakfast, and you tell me you had cereal, there’s little debate about it. Unless of course I was there with you the whole time and saw that you only ate eggs.
Simply put, when is it justifiable for anyone to silence you for recounting an event you actually experienced?
Of course, before we can recount the good and true of what we have seen and heard, we must actually see and hear the work of God in our lives. This means we must constantly venture in faith to personally experience the amazing works of God.
God works in our internal reality in our private prayer and meditation. God also works in our external reality through our hands and feet. Like Peter and John who raised a man who had been crippled for more than 40 years to stand and leap and praise God dancing (Acts 3:6-10).
Be prepared for consequences.
There will be people who will hate it when we do good and speak truth in Jesus’ name. But if it’s good and true, and if it’s within our rights, why should we fear?
If we should have to suffer for Jesus’ name, it would be our privilege. The Apostles rejoiced when they suffered for Jesus’ name, for they were counted as worthy to so suffer (Acts 5:41).
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
Leave ultimate justice to God.
At times, we may be powerless to peaceably prevent or resist those who stop us from speaking good and truth in Jesus’ name. Those in power will ultimately have to account to God for their actions.
It may feel terribly unjust at the moment, yet we are reminded that it was our injustice which caused Jesus to suffer great injustice. And so we leave ultimate justice to the ultimate Judge.
All about faith in Jesus’ name empowered by the Holy Spirit.
This Peter who boldly spoke in the name of Jesus, defying the powerful religious-political leaders of the time, was the same Peter who was so afraid of them, and of the consequences of being associated with Jesus, that he denied that he had anything to do with Jesus not once, but three times!
The fundamental difference was the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and his internalising the truth that the name of Jesus is powerful – the most powerful thing ever, more powerful than the earthly powers who could jail, torture or even execute him.
When we venture into God’s amazing works in the powerful name of Jesus, we too should not be able to restrain from speaking of what we have seen and heard. Nothing can silence us from that. Even the rocks and stones will cry out in praise; so shall we.
As a Christian who is also a lawyer, Ronald JJ Wong believes in access to justice for all. Burdened for the common good of society, he advocates for the marginalised and volunteers pro bono for the less privileged.