Today at church someone made a passing joke about “safe spaces.” The concept has been on my mind since I recently posted a video on one of my social media platforms where the concept was also mocked. I realized I have never written anything addressing the issue of “safe spaces.” What is the biblical response to these?
Safe spaces are a bit out-dated. There was a time when they were the talk of the Social Issues town so to speak. They don’t seem to be as controversial as they once were. Many on the political Right use the concept of safe spaces to mock what they perceive as the feminization of those on the political left. “Why don’t you go cry in your safe space” is the kind of rhetoric used, for instance, to tell a person on the Left they are soft.
But what is a “safe space?” They can be defined broadly, and that’s the danger. A quick Google search gives this definition:
A place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other emotional or physical harm.
Given this definition, who doesn’t want a safe space? According to this, safe spaces not only seem acceptable, but inevitable. By this definition, who doesn’t have a safe space?
For me, my church would constitute as a safe space. That is certainly a place I can go where I expect to be safe from emotional, physical, and social harm. As churches, we form our fellowships around shared biblical ideals, and form like-minded groups of people. Therefore, although there are always differences, we are largely of one unified mind, and therefore have no expectations of feeling like an outcast, discriminated against, or harmed.
In many ways my church even “protects” me from ideas. In the public sphere, I welcome dissenting opinions. I love the debates. I love challenging those who reject Christ and His Word. But I obviously do not go to church to challenge non-Christians, nor is the purpose of church is to be challenged by unbelievers. Christians go to church to love, serve, and worship with fellow Christians. There are many ideas not welcome in church. That is neither the place nor the venue to be speaking and promoting dangerous falsehoods (2 John 9-11; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
With that, the pastoral office can be a safe space. This is a place where lay members come to seek counsel from their trusted leaders. They expect to be able to confess their sins, shown grace, and most of the time take advantage of confidentiality privileges.
Perhaps a more universal example of a common safe space is the home. I am unaware of any parents who spend their downtime discriminating against their children for their race or political beliefs.
When reading this raw definition, it is bizarre to think anyone would reject such a notion. In fact, Hasan Piker took this exact route when debating the issue at Politicon with Charlie Kirk. Piker’s former university created safe spaces after a bullied student committed suicide. He claimed that safe spaces can save lives and prevent bullying. Who would be against such a thing?
Regulated Safe Spaces
The problem with a safe space is not in its definition, but in its name. The reason the home is safe is because it is regulated. There are laws which protect your personal property, and protect you from others who think they have a right to it. On top of that, we are allowed physical means to protect the boundaries of these spaces (locks, fences, weapons, security systems, etc.). In a fallen world, the only way to keep a space safe is to regulate it. Therefore, safe spaces don’t work unless they are regulated spaces.
Giving the Government a Foothold
Paul speaks of putting away anger in Ephesians 4:26. Then in verse 27, tells us that doing so gives the devil “no opportunity.” Other translations use the word “foothold.” They translate Paul as commanding us not to give the devil a foothold. I love that metaphor.
When rock climbing, one is constantly looking for a foothold. To hang by the arms with dangling legs is a vulnerable place to be, and a climber won’t last long in that position. Paul says anger is an outcrop of rock which gives the devil a foundation, it gives the devil traction, it gives him a foothold, and an opportunity to wreck you.
Safe spaces are governmental footholds. Safe spaces are another example of our culture’s proclivity toward creating artificial categories and sins. The culture creates such categories and sins, and inserts them into the public, so that the government can grab hold and legislate. That is why I am against safe spaces, and why I think you should be too. I am not against individuals naturally finding places and people who provide them a sense of security, support, and comfort. I am against those people and spaces having an imperious authority over my theology and worship.
The easiest way to severely regulate religious and social speech in the public sphere is to create a new category of speech called “hate speech.” With this invention, the government can now claim we the people still have freedom of speech, all the while severely regulatimg what we say, stripping us of the speech a society with true civic freedom allows. In similar fashion, “hate crimes” allow the government to manipulate God’s Law, and in the process, God is expected to hate murder less, provided it was for some petty grudge, rather than a person’s sexual attractions.
The true danger of safe spaces is not in its hyperbolic abuse. The fact that colleges created them after the election of a president many students did not vote for seemed dramatic, but that is not why I am not a proponent. Safe spaces are not agitating because they are sissified or feminized expressions of irrational fear, as many against them propose. That may or may not be true about safe spaces, but the heart of why they are dangerous is that when inserted into the public arena as an official category, they become a tool. When we allow the government to recognize certain circles as safe spaces, there is nothing in place from preventing the government to increase the size of that circle until we have all found ourselves encompassed within its border, and under its jurisdiction.
The danger of safe spaces is that they are a slippery slope toward the entire nation becoming one big safe space, wherein the government gets to decide what language and religious practices we may never partake of for the sake of protecting others who may feel discriminated against. Safe spaces become a slippery slope toward a nation where any speech or behavior which threatens the powers that be can be censored and punished. And Christians are not the powers that be. Our language, our message, our social beliefs will be some of the first that these safe spaces come after.
Discrimination laws become a danger to Christian business owners. Hate speech laws become a danger to Christian preachers. Safe spaces will become a danger to every Christian in the public sphere. Ironically, safe spaces find their safety in the power of their threat. Safe spaces are threatening to everyone outside of that space.
Ultimately, we need a safe space from your safe space.