You Can’t Read That!

You Can’t Read That!

March 8, 2024 Uncategorized 0

I’ve been preoccupied with study and other endeavors such as work and raising kids, so I haven’t paid much attention to banned books of late. At the same time, it seems I’ve heard a pretty steady drone of people talking about this amidst all the other hot button issues that seem to dominate the headlines. Strangely, I seem to remember having this conversation as a teenager, as an adult/teacher and here we are again… talking about banning books. The odd thing is, when I ask people who is banning these books, I get one of two answers: “I don’t know” or “Republicans.” That just makes me want to dig a little deeper into this issue and explore exactly what is happening. I’m not going to share that information here because I want to spend the time talking about the underlying concepts as a whole. Just know that you can find the information from sources like the American Library Association or PEN America.

I should also take a moment to inform you that I am going to draw heavily from my own experience in this article and I am by no means telling you that you must adopt my viewpoint. I realize that some of my views and methods are connected to my role and calling. I also realize that for this reason, my methods and views are not useable by some people. Still, I wanted to share some thoughts as this issue seems to be getting bigger and bigger.

Admittedly, I also don’t tend to care about banned books because I personally don’t recognize anyone’s authority to tell me what I can and cannot read except God. I’ve actually never subscribed to the idea that I could/could not or should/should not read certain books based on social ideology, political ideology, social norms or anything else. Because of this, I’ve probably read things many people (including some of my fellow ministers) would not like. I fully stand by the choice to read some (not all) of those books to this day. Before having children, I was a fairly staunch proponent of no censorship. What I learned in the process of raising children is that this issue is not really a two-sided issue as much as the political pundits and talking heads try to make it one. This whole discussion is nuanced and deserves to be treated with solid reasoning that you won’t find in a 30 second Instagram story or a TikTok.

Challenging the First Amendment is En Vogue

One thing I’ve noticed is that Republicans and Democrats (as political entities) both regularly seek to impose limits on the first amendment. That is, they are both pro and anti-censorship depending on the context. When it comes to speech (or writing) that falls outside what they find comfortable, acceptable or reasonable, they vocally and vehemently oppose it. They organize rallies and press conferences to explain why the other party is evil for allowing it and assert their own moral superiority for wanting it banned. When the political parties can’t ban the spread of an idea on one stage, they’ll sometimes choose another venue to fight that battle. I suspect banning books is that tactic being put to use.

On the surface, this sounds absolutely ridiculous, even hypocritical. It is both ridiculous and hypocritical, not because these entities (not that they are monoliths) seek to impose limits on what can be said but precisely because they decry the other party’s desire to do the same. Sadly, rather than acting like individual, autonomous, sentient creatures, we often live as if we must function according to the platforms and ideologies of our chosen political party. As such, we sometimes don’t stop to think that as human beings who are responsible for other human beings that we might need to shelter some individuals within our spheres from certain content. That begs the question – Is it possible to oppose blanket censorship and support the individual freedom to screen or filter content? You bet it is!

Threatening the Status Quo

Before we look at how we can permit free speech while also filtering content, we need to acknowledge the political bias that sometimes undermines our faith. While these challenges seem to be a regular occurrence, I think our political blinders often keep us from seeing flaws in our own party’s platform or ideology. Sadly, some believers cling to their political ideology so strongly that they willingly abandon some key aspects and values of their faith to stay in line with the party; choosing friendship with the world (it’s values and systems) over the Word of God. Not long ago, I watched an older woman at a town hall meeting ask a well-known politician if there was room for her in his political party. She explained that she had been a member of that party for some time and that she was a believer with Biblical values. Unsurprisingly, the politician did not answer the question. In my opinion, his non-answer spoke volumes about his actual position. Often, people in seats of power don’t want that power disrupted to the point that they sometimes won’t even entertain dissenting ideas (both in the capitol and the pulpit).

Throughout my life, I’ve noticed that in many cases, when people in positions of authority tell people that they can or cannot/should or should not do something (especially where exposure to ideas is concerned), they conceal some of their reasons for doing so. In many situations, exposure to dissenting ideas would threaten the power dynamic for those individuals proposing suppression of thought. This is something we see often in cults, in cases of false teaching and in cases of religious/spiritual abuse (read up on David Koresh or Warren Jeffs). This technique is often used to manipulate people into blindly and continuously following a bad agenda or from refuting bad ideas. It’s my job to protect my kids from bad ideas and from people who would try to control/manipulate them.

Not All Content Is Suitable for Everyone

In raising children, I’ve learned that not all content is suitable for my children whether you or the school board or the state thinks it is. Whether you want to admit it or not, you feel exactly the same way. The fact that we don’t always agree on everything is extended to how we raise our children and the type of content to which they will have access at school. What is suitable for our children is often based on our values, worldview and our assessment of their readiness to be exposed to certain ideas. Part of my job as a parent (see below) is to serve as a boundary between the world and my children while I raise them to think well, learn well and (most importantly) to form a godly life by way of a Biblical worldview. Part of my job in the church is to serve others by sharing/teaching the Word of God. Sometimes, both of these roles mean I am going t have to engage in reconnaissance.

So, as strange as it sounds, I read, watch and listen to things that frustrate or upset me for a few key reasons. I read and will read books and arguments that I believe hold no weight or value for my life or the lives of those around me.

Because of things my oldest son heard at school (though not through the curriculum) and ideas to which he was exposed by simply being alive in this era of human history, I was put in a position to have conversations with him about racism, abortion, same-sex relationships and gender identity before an age I believed ideal. As these issues came up at school or in entertainment, my wife and I were forced to walk him through how to understand these ideas (through a Biblical lens) at a very early age. What did I learn from the experience? I learned that if I was going to be a good parent raising a godly young man, I would need to get out in front of things he would encounter while also teaching him how to think Biblically as early as possible. While I don’t support blanket censorship, I will absolutely not hesitate to pull the plug on any content sent home by a school, on a television screen, app, computer program, etc. that I think will threaten my kids’ souls. They’ll learn about these things but not before they are mature enough (chronologically and Biblically) to understand them, discuss them and to make wise decisions.

  • First, I value knowledge and understanding. I love study, research and the general pursuit of knowledge (especially Biblical knowledge). Ignorance is certainly not bliss by any stretch of the imagination. What I have learned about math, science, music, art, psychology, gardening and even cooking have reinforced my belief in God and enhanced my understanding of scripture. How? Because I have chosen to believe that God is exactly who He says He is, I have also chosen to believe His word… all of it. The Bible itself contains direct quotations from The Creator, historical narratives (including things people said, thought and did that were not in keeping with God’s commands), poetry and prophecy. That underpinning (Biblical worldview) helps me understand everything else I see, experience, read and learn. Whether I am being reminded that people are (by nature) morally depraved or that God spoke the entire universe into existence and He Himself is not bound to it’s parameters, I sometimes better understand the “why” behind certain passages when I observe what other people see, say and do. I am also always reminded of the greatness of our God and the futility of human beings’ efforts to define and rule over themselves.
  • Second, I understand in order to craft an effective counter argument for any position, one must have at least a rudimentary (but sometimes an advanced) understanding of the opposing position, it’s background, cultural context, etc. For example, some apologists would be ill equipped to debate a well-read atheist about the existence of God. The best debaters on that stage are those that understand atheistic arguments well enough to unpack them and prove their lack of merit. This is also true for most false teachers, false religions or other points of view that use circular reasoning to support their claims. Daryl Davis used this technique with Klansmen. Jesus called out the Sadducees’ errant understanding of the scriptures as they attempted to undermine his teaching and authority (Matthew 22:23-33). Paul, during his time in Athens, encountered the Stoics and Epicureans (Acts 17:16-34) and used their misguided attempts to worship a pantheon of gods (including the unknown god – i.e. any they left out accidentally) to bring them to an understanding of the truth.
  • Third, my roles include (but are not limited to) watchman, gatekeeper and protector. As a pastor, I am required to warn the flock of God when there is imminent danger. As father, I am required to filter the content my children take in. As a husband, father and pastor, I am required to protect people within my sphere of influence from threats. The most troublesome threats are those you don’t know or can’t anticipate. These roles necessitate at least a cursory (but sometimes an extensive) understanding of what is likely to be encountered by my family or the church (specifically the assembly to which I am called). Sometimes, this reconnaissance takes me outside the framework of what I would normally explore on my own. Sometimes that involves using a trusted advisor for a detailed analysis. Sometimes the process involves me watching, reading, learning about or listening to things in their entirety.

Wisdom is in knowing where, when and how to read things or take in new content that might not align with a Biblical worldview. It takes a reasonably good understanding of scripture, maturity in the faith and solid personal boundaries to be a watchman, gatekeeper or protector. You have to know when it’s better to leverage someone else’s skills or research to help you make decisions than to read/watch/listen to the content yourself because you cannot effectively protect people from that which would cause you yourself to stumble and fall.

Similarly, it takes solid evangelism/apologetic/argument skills to refute certain types of arguments. Better to quote, paraphrase and reference the work of someone who has completed the laborious tasks of researching and writing about something than to attempt to refute it with limited resources yourself (assuming you are not inclined to do that research yourself).

A Practical Approach

What does allowing free speech while challenging bad ideas look like in practice? In practice, I am still anti-censorship. I hold this position not because all points of view and all ideas are valid (they certainly are not); I hold it because of the implications of blanket censorship. If I oppose someone’s right to argue in favor of racism and segregation (while waving the accompanying banners and flags) to the point of wanting that speech banned, I also must be willing to accept that someday my right to speak out against those evils may be challenged or restricted. This goes for every idea/topic up to and including the Bible. At the same time, if your ideas get to be expressed, so do mine. If we decide that teachers can introduce books on gender identity, sexual relationships, racist ideologies, narratives that challenge the historicity of the trans-Atlantic slave trade or the Holocaust, we absolutely must be allowed at least an equal opportunity to refute or challenge those ideas. In other words, if the book my child’s teacher wants him to read denies or minimizes the impact of slavery or the Holocaust, or teaches him about gender identity (instead of leaving that to his mother and me), I should have the right to have my worldview and a refutation those ideas represented as well.

Imagine living in a country where your ability to preach the Gospel and publicly declare the Word of God were restricted to the point of imprisonment. Well, that is a reality for too many believers in this world (some of whom live closer to the U.S. than you might realize). Do I think the people who create and enforce these restrictions have good ideas that are worth considering? Often, no I do not. Yet, I listen (or read) because there is a greater purpose in view. I think you have to have a reason to listen to or read ideas that conflict with your values and that reason must ultimately point to the cross. So, if we’re going all in on censorship, we’d better count the cost.

There is a blues musician by the name of Daryl Davis who came into the public eye for something other than music several years ago (I referenced him above). Davis, has been responsible for the renunciation of the Ku Klux Klan by at least 200 of its members over the years. How did he manage this? Well for one, I would say divine protection. Davis took the time to sit down with individuals, listen to their points of view and show these individuals who he is. He went into those meetings with an understanding of what the Klan is, who they were and their arguments. He used that knowledge to help these people separate themselves from their hateful ideology.1 I can’t tell you for certain that these 200 people came to an authentic faith in Jesus, however, I can tell you that they threw off at least one thing preventing that.

“If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” [1 John 4:20 NASB95]


There Are Limits

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not talking about books that champion the occult, witchcraft, satanism, etc. As I’ve indicated above, reading and learning about opposing ideas isn’t a license to read, watch and listen to whatever you want. There are some things that are “no-brainers.” You don’t have to listen to vulgar music to know that it’s detrimental. You don’t have to take hard drugs to know that they will ruin your life and eventually kill you. You don’t have to watch pornography to know that it will undermine God’s purpose for sex, destroy your family and invite demonic influence/oppression. Sadly, I know well-meaning people who genuinely believe that you need to experience a wide variety of things in order to be a well-established adult. Make no mistake, there are things that we are told never to touch, never to experience and never to entertain. These are non-negotiables (see Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 5, Revelation 22:15).

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. “Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty. [2 Corinthians 6:14-18 NASB95]

The Bible is clear, we are to be separate (holy). How can we do that and also oppose blanket censorship? Well, I am not saying that you have to be opposed to blanket censorship. I am saying that this is simply my preferred position is one in favor of self-censoring and opting out of certain content on behalf of our children. I think that is the balance to be struck (if there is one). Though I would much prefer that all ungodly ideas, content and opinions were in no way relevant to what we do on a day to basis, that is simply not possible until the millennium when all thrones have been cast down and Messiah Himself will reign over all humanity. In the meantime, what choice do we have but to be gatekeepers for our children?


  1. Dwane Brown, “How One Man Convinced 200 Ku Klux Klan Members to Give up Their Robes,” NPR, August 20, 2017,

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