Christianity has recently seen a rising number of attacks, from within the church as well as without, regarding its “intolerance.”
So is the Christian church intolerant? And if so, is that really such a bad thing?
We can better understand intolerance by first defining “tolerance” itself. One implication of tolerance might be to listen patiently to another’s ideas that differ from our own, while postponing criticism or judgment.
A reasonable definition of intolerance, then, would be the opposite—disagreeing without listening, judging without understanding, rejecting another’s view out of hand, or to sum it up in a single word—condemning.
So is that what the Christian church is? Condemning? Am I actually implying that it might be a positive thing for the church to behave that way toward people outside of it? Not in the least!
Of course, Christians, and everyone else, should be tolerant of other people. We are aware that many do not believe what we believe, or know what we know about Jesus and the Bible. The most effective method of reaching someone with different beliefs or opinions is, as Stephen Covey put it, to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” (Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Free Press, 1989.)
In other words, we must LISTEN, not just wait for our turn to talk. Our primary motive should never be to tell people why they are wrong, but rather to listen to their story. This active, empathic listening demonstrates tolerance.
However, there is a second part to this principle. We seek first to understand, but THEN we also seek to be understood. That means telling our side of the story. If we have treated someone with tolerance by actively listening, should we not expect the same courtesy in return?
Yet this is exactly the same courtesy that is NOT being returned to the church by antitheists and renegade theologians alike. They impetuously lump us into the political category of “the Christian Radical Right” and call us “demagogues” or much worse, because we defend our “interpretation of the Bible” as truth.
In other words, either they have judged the Bible without reading it, or if they have read it, they have dismissed it out of hand without trying to understand it or those who revere it, regard it as authoritative and follow its teachings.
In other words, by definition, they are being intolerant. Because Christians do not share their opinions or beliefs, we are seen by them as morons at best and likely dangerous.
The irony is that they never look at themselves with the same lens in which they view the world. True tolerance requires humility. It is impossible to listen tolerantly to another’s point of view without first humbly acknowledging the merit of the need of the other to be heard.
To indict someone of being intolerant by exhibiting the very intolerance you deplore is hypocrisy.
(Did I lose anybody? If not, please come back for Part 2–Good and Evil)