Jeff Lukens
February 22, 2008
Is Christian tolerance tolerable anymore?
By Jeff Lukens

Intolerance may be one of the most serious charges in America today. It seems to carry much emotional firepower without requiring much evidence. And it often seems the greatest offenders are Christians. Our modern code of "tolerance" has been the public's answer to those who differed from them, yet the church's understanding of moral truth often offends the "do your own thing" crowd.

Tolerance means respecting to the beliefs and practices of others, and learning to live peacefully with what we believe to be wrong. We are not tolerant of something unless we first object to it. Tolerance allows for the free flow of ideas. It assumes that all points of view will be fairly considered, even when they may not be popular. A person does not tolerate something they are indifferent to, because it requires nothing of them.

"Tolerance" can be harmful when it becomes a tired response for indifferent neutrality to every moral issue. It can be the virtue of people who believe in nothing. Today, "tolerance" has made passing judgment unfashionable on many attitudes and behaviors.

To avoid judgment is not to be sensitive or tolerant. It is to avoid responsibility. Teachers judge the work of their students, and students the work of their teachers. Parents judge their children's study and viewing habits, and their friends. Without judgment there can be no standards or rules to govern behavior. We see the human cost every day in our urban streets, drug rehabilitation centers, emergency rooms, crisis pregnancy centers, and divorce courts. It is defended by the call for "tolerance."

We need to distinguish between diverse and tolerant attitudes, and morally bankrupt ones that can't call depravity for what it is. The real issue is not whether we are tolerant, but what we are tolerant of. Modern "victims" often position themselves against Christianity, when the Gospel ironically created what makes their movement possible when Jesus took the side of the victim.

As Christians, we know that God hates sin, but is he tolerant of it? And how should we be? Many portray God as morally uncompromising, and sure to punish evil. But he is also portrayed as patient, and slow to anger. It seems he does tolerate sin, at least for while.

Perhaps the most illustrative story about God's attitude toward tolerance is the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. The religious leaders brought her to him as a trap. Either Jesus would deny the law and lose his authority as a moral teacher, or he would agree to condemn the woman and lose the sympathy of the people. He surprisingly does neither. Jesus tells them the one who is without sin should cast the first stone. He tells the woman he does not condemn her. Then, he critically says what no politically correct activist today would say, "Go and sin no more."

This is where "hate the sin, love the sinner" is most relevant. The growth of the church is based largely on its inclusiveness. While we know we are loved by how someone acts toward us, people whose behavior Christians believe is wrong often say they don't feel loved by them. Believers must not necessarily be tolerant, but they should be loving, which is a far greater challenge.

In the years following the legalization of abortion, it may have appeared that Christians cared more about the fetus than the woman. Saying abortion is wrong was easier than providing practical help. Since then, substantive caring has replaced accusations as volunteers have arisen to care for pregnant women in difficult circumstances.

The homosexual movement is another flash point. Gays and Lesbians claim to be seeking tolerance, but what they really are looking for is affirmation. Anything less they call intolerance. It may appear that Christians hate the sinner as much as the sin. While one's thoughts may first turn to the Gay movement as a perversion of Martin Luther King's civil rights movement, and their own bodies, such self-righteousness inflames rather than heals the issue.

Yet God's Word as expressed in the Bible clearly states homosexuality is wrong. While believers should have compassion for people that are in bondage to the homosexual lifestyle, they cannot change what God commands. Any dialogue needs to make this clear.

Small steps in a caring direction are beginning to appear. Faith-based ministries such as Exodus International report high rates of success with treatment to overcome homosexuality with many former homosexuals going on to marry and have children.

These are the attitudes of healing and reconciliation, and this is the attitude of Jesus. Few are attracted to the Gospel through condemnation. Many come because someone took the time to love them first, to build a relationship, and then to hear the motivation for that love.

Christianity will always be a counterculture movement. For too long, many believers have chosen to isolate themselves from an alien sinful culture. In doing so, they have abdicated their role of shaping cultural ideas. It is wrong to criticize Hollywood, the press, television, the arts and the publishing business for their immoral and irreverent views without working with them. Instead of protests and boycotts, the way to clean up these industries is for Christians to join them.

Our challenge as Christians today is to reassert the Gospel to a world in desperate need of moral clarity. There is no reason now to apologize for our values to an overly tolerant world. The foundation of our morality is clearly God's love, and that love compels us to value everyone whatever our differences.

© Jeff Lukens

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