Silencing Civil Discourse in the iPhone App Store

There is a widespread notion floating around in our Western culture that we should endeavor to admire the works of others completely apart from any consideration of the moral and/or ethical disposition of that person (or persons, or organization, or whatever). “Judge the work itself…not the creator,” or so the thinking goes.

While I can certainly appreciate the noble sentiment behind such a philosophy, I have admittedly not always been able to fully accomplish this particular feat in real life. Who someone is, and what they stand for, can noticeably color my perception of his or her work, whether for good or bad. (I suspect this is at least partially true for just about everyone…I am simply trying to be honest about it.)

For example, I will confess that I previously enjoyed listening to the music of Elton John far more than I do today. Although he has been an avowed homosexual for most of his life, I was totally OK with setting aside his lifestyle decisions when listening to his songs. I could still readily appreciate his obvious musical talent…and invest in it. Indeed, my vinyl record collection at home is chockful of his albums. It was only after John began attacking religion (and Christianity in particular) that my enthusiasm for his recordings began to wane. No, I did not launch a boycott. No, I did not remove his albums and CDs from my shelves and angrily burn them. None of that “crazy Christian reactionary” stuff. Truth be told, I still really like a lot of his work from the 1970s, “Tumbleweed Connection” in particular, and yet I note with interest that his stuff doesn’t show up on my turntable or in my iPod as much as it used to.

I also found my great enthusiasm for old Woody Allen comedies (“Love and Death,” “Take the Money and Run,” several others) negatively affected by the news surrounding his sexual affair and subsequent marriage to his stepdaughter Soon Yi Previn. With all due respect to his prodigious talent at filmmaking, it’s just really difficult these days to push past “the creepiness factor” and assess his work solely on its own merit. (Easier by far just to pick a different movie, right?) I also was a huge fan of Mel Gibson back in his “Road Warrior” days, and greatly impressed with the courage he showed in bringing “The Passion of the Christ” to movie theaters. Gibson’s subsequent decline into drunken bouts of anti-Semitism, extramarital affairs, divorce, and horrifically-ugly custody battles has dimmed that appreciation somewhat, too.

Some might dismissively label what I am confessing as “prejudice,” but after much soul-searching I honestly don’t think that’s right. The “adjustments” I’m trying to describe are more along the lines of an unwanted change of heart, more akin to the sinking feeling one gets when reading unexpected bad news about a friend or coworker with whom one enjoys a cordial relationship. The latest unexpected entry into the pantheon of Feeling Somewhat Betrayed for Having Previously Liked Somebody is Apple Computer. (And this one really bums me out, to be honest.)

If you haven’t yet read about it, Apple recently caved in to pressure from various organizations and removed The Manhattan Declaration from its iPhone app store. Ostensibly that particular app was pulled for being “offensive to large groups of people.” I’ve read (and signed) The Manhattan Declaration. I invite you to read the document and decide for yourself. There is nothing at all that could seriously be classified as “hate speech” in it. Had there been any language that failed to recognize the intrinsic worth of each and every human being, I would never have signed it. Sadly, it just seems like we have arrived at a point in our culture when saying “Look, I just disagree with you” is considered one and the same with “I am an intolerant religious zealot.” But this contentious attitude is not at all accurate nor fair; it is instead an ill-informed response to a cartoon caricature of faith.

I have been using and enjoying Apple products ever since the mid-1980s, when they first launched. I still do. Just this past year I purchased yet another Apple laptop for my college-bound daughter. If I were to walk around the house and count up the number of iPods, laptops and other Apple products in my home, we would hit double-digits without breaking a sweat. (We have several children, just FYI.) The kids clearly prefer Apple products, so do we, and I have no plans to stop buying Apple anytime soon. Still, I have to confess that it gets harder to get psyched up for our next Apple purchase in the face of astonishing corporate cowardice and an unwillingness to protect free speech, or more specifically, an unwillingness to protect the free speech of Christians.

Chuck Colson is understandably upset at Apple’s pulling The Manhattan Declaration app without notification or anything remotely resembling “due process.” We should all be upset that approximately 8,000 activists are able to effectively silence another organization with differing views. I invite you to read Colson’s op-ed piece in the San Francisco Examiner and decide for yourself how you feel about this issue. You can read more about The Manhattan Declaration at their website and you can also view a fairly amusing video which was also posted to The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

As you do your own Google searches and sift through the press releases, statements and counter-statements, I’d like to ask you to consider how this episode in the corporate life of Apple would have been viewed had the shoe been on the other foot, i.e. if Apple had caved to pressure from a half-million signers of The Manhattan Declaration and removed iPhone apps that were pro-Islam, pro-abortion or pro-whatever? I wonder how that might have played out in the media?

We should all be alarmed whenever the cause of civil discourse is short-circuited and a few very loud, very angry people are permitted to silence the opposition. We should be terrified when we consider “what’s next” on the agenda for those who achieved this “victory” by bullying the powers that be at Apple. Thus emboldened, does anyone really think that the removal of one iPhone app marks the end of the campaign to silence people of faith? Seems unlikely.

But this sort of thing is nothing new for the Christian, of course. The Bible has very helpfully provided us with at least two very clear examples of what happens when people decide that it is time to silence someone speaking truth. To get some idea of the heart attitudes that can be revealed whenever the cause of Christ becomes inconvenient, we merely need to read about Jesus’ inaugural sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30) or the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7.

For my part, I am perfectly content to have every other worldview given a fair hearing in today’s marketplace of ideas; such is my confidence in the truth claims of Christianity and in the sovereignty of God to change hearts for those He elects to eternal life. And in case you are wondering, this blog was written on a MacBook Pro; yes, I’m going to keep using Apple products and trust that Apple will soon recognize how dangerous it is to allow any group with an agenda to step all over the reasoned discourse of another. It really doesn’t matter whether or not you or I fully agree with the tenets of The Manhattan Declaration; the bigger concern here is that thoughtful, respectful statements of opinion can be so quickly shouted down and a giant “culture maker” such as Apple so thoroughly intimidated into compliance.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV, emphasis mine)
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

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