Freedom is contagious

The spirit of freedom cannot be controlled. Photo: LWF/S. Sinn
The spirit of freedom cannot be controlled. Photo: LWF/S. Sinn

The Reformation message undermines organized hate

Rev. Dr Simone Sinn shares her reflections on the increase of hate speech and hate crimes

Sometimes a short, pithy phrase sticks in one’s head because it has touched one’s heart. “Freedom is contagious”—such an odd little phrase. Normally we use the word “contagious” when we refer to a disease that spreads uncontrollably and has the power to infect thousands of people.

Contagion—its danger and power lie in its uncontrollability. In relation to disease its power and force are highly destructive but in relation to freedom, its disruptive power is a true blessing. Freedom is like a spark that kindles hope and energizes many people to imagine a life beyond bondage.

The spirit of freedom cannot be controlled. Someone who has experienced liberation from oppression and has sung songs of freedom will not want to go back to being imprisoned.

Every region and nation can tell its own story of liberation from authoritarian political rule, from colonialism, from patriarchal systems or from apartheid ideology.

One of the destructive systems needing to be addressed is organized hate. We hear and read about “hate speech” and “hate crimes,” and witness to outbreaks of hate on our streets. It is crucial that we recognize that hate is not simply a mood or an emotion.

Today’s outbreaks of hate are in many instances organized. Certain narratives and mindsets provide powerful, dangerous rationales for hate and there are methodologies and networks that organize hate.

What makes hate so dangerous is that it is not merely a heated emotion burning in individual hearts, but it is strengthened by forceful rationales and organized systems. Head, heart and hand negatively reinforce one another.

Today, certain civil society movements creatively and passionately counter these systems. What can we as Christians contribute to that? In the New Testament bears a powerful witness to freedom from destructive bondage. We read how Jesus and his disciples spoke with boldness, in theological language with parrhesia, in the public space, surprising friends and foes by their inner freedom, speaking of God’s love and care in the midst of oppression and hate, and thus kindling the spark of freedom.

The Reformation message is an articulation of the gospel message that speaks of the human being with deep love and care and envisages a world in which each human being can experience and treasure their own dignity and the dignity of others. 

“Freedom is contagious.” I first heard this short phrase some years ago from Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, a German jurist. It was so refreshing to hear someone who is deeply concerned about just and peaceful order in society use the word “contagious.” He understood that it is not just outward laws, but inward passion for freedom and dignity that sustains a just and peaceful order.  


Rev. Dr Simone Sinn is Study Secretary for Public Theology and Interreligious Relations in the Department for Theology and Public Witness, The Lutheran World Federation, Geneva, Switzerland.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of Lutheran World Federation policy.