Archive for Intolerance

Overcoming the World: Part 5–As Far as it Depends on You

 

Constantly rejoicing in hope [because of our confidence in Christ], steadfast and patient in distress, devoted to prayer [continually seeking wisdom, guidance, and strength], contributing to the needs of God’s people, pursuing [the practice of] hospitality.

 Bless those who persecute you [who cause you harm or hardship]; bless and do not curse [them].  Rejoice with those who rejoice [sharing others’ joy], and weep with those who weep [sharing others’ grief].  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty [conceited, self-important, exclusive], but associate with humble people [those with a realistic self-view].  Do not overestimate yourself.  Never repay anyone evil for evil.  Take thought for what is right and gracious and proper in the sight of everyone.  If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  (Romans 12:12-18 AMP)
Well, the election’s finally over, and as expected, it has stirred up more issues than it has settled.

 

As is usually the case, Truthseekers were at a loss throughout this election, since Truth and politics are generally not found in the same place at the same time.  Some of us voted defensively, some of us searched in vain for a viable third party candidate, and some of us just stayed home.  Now that what’s done is done, we’re all asking ourselves the same question.  “What do we do now?”

 

Well, the answer is the same thing we’ve always done.  Seek Truth in the common ground.  But how do you find common ground in a nation so divided?

 

I covered a lot of this during the last election in the Us and Them series.  However, since it seems to me that strife and discord have been amped up significantly this time around, I would like to focus on the concept of peace and the part we have to play in it.

 

We are called to hate what is evil and cling to what is good.  In a climate such as this, I would suggest that we focus on the clinging to what is good part.  It’s too easy when emotions are running high to go from hating WHAT is evil to projecting that righteous hatred onto people, which is the line we should never cross.  If the news is raising your blood pressure, watch something else.  If your “friends” on social media are stirring the pot with their ignorance, get off Facebook and go put your face in a book.  Better still, put your face in THE Book.  Remember, all evil things will eventually pass away, and the good will remain.  So why expend our energy on things that won’t last?

 

We aren’t supposed to judge people anyway, but we REALLY need to get past this judging people by whom they voted for.  I think most of us can agree that there were no good choices this year, so why should we judge someone else’s choice?

 

That person you’re angry at because he or she voted differently than you and is venting about it on social media—who was that person to you before the election?  Did you respect him or her then?  So why not now?  No one’s inherent worth is diminished by a single ballot.  Remember that.

 

A Truthseeker’s objective is to end arguments, not start them.  It is not our place to try to inject moral superiority into the discussion.  For this reason, I urge patience above all.  Resist the temptation to “correct” people, even if they are obviously wrong.  When people are angry or upset, the lids of their minds are fastened tightly, and you aren’t going to reach them anyway.  Pray for peace and reason to return to our society, and wait patiently for this to pass, because it will.  Dust can’t settle if you stir it up.

 

Look for ways to be kind to people.  The needy are still needy, so don’t forget them.  Let wherever you are be the “safe space” where discussion of politics doesn’t have to happen.  There are so many other things to talk about.

 

Don’t take the bait when some fool on the internet calls you out, directly or collectively, for how you voted and/or the motivations behind your vote.  Justice is God’s job.  If they have it coming to them, they will receive it in their due time.  This is a good opportunity to practice forgiveness.  After all, our sins are forgiven to the degree that we forgive.

 

I don’t really know that there were any “winners” in this election, but there are many who will lose.  I am not suggesting that the criminal element of our society that would riot and destroy and call it a “protest” should be treated with compassion and understanding, but there are many people who stand to lose something dear to them in the upcoming administration.  Be compassionate while they grieve their loss.

 

Make the most of every opportunity to establish common ground with people, preferably face to face.  Listen to their stories.  See people as individuals and not as members of a group.  Come alongside people in their difficulties.  Focus on solutions rather than problems.  Above all, pray first, and listen carefully for an answer, before presuming to dispense wisdom.  When tensions run high, even the most well meaning of advice can be perceived as an attack.

 

And PLEASE avoid the temptation to seek revenge, whether in word or deed.  That is NEVER our job.  It is natural to feel some sense of satisfaction when the times shift in your direction after they have been against you, but it is not our place to rub anyone’s nose in their own misfortune.  You will never earn someone’s respect by spiking the football.  Just hand it to the official and go back to the sideline.  Justice is God’s job, and part of that is righting wrongs.  It will happen in His timing.  Don’t force the issue.

 

Most importantly, it is up to you to make the first move toward peace.  You will have to use your best judgment with each individual you encounter as to whether that means actively extending an olive branch or remaining silent.  Things are going to be ugly for a while.  They may get out of control for a time as well.  You have a choice to make it better or make it worse.

 

You may not be able to single-handedly fix what’s broken in our nation, but how you treat other people is one thing that you CAN control.  So stand firm, pray hard, and keep hoping for the best.  It WILL get better eventually.

 

Intolerance: Part 5–The Narrow Path

So what does it mean when a Christian says, “Jesus is Lord?”

 

A pastor friend of mine defines “Lord” as “one having power and authority to whom obedience is due.”  It would follow, then, that to acknowledge Jesus as the Lord of one’s life would be simply recognizing Him for who He is and giving Him what is His.

 

Acknowledging this lordship comes with a price, though. 

 

Following Jesus requires sacrifice.  It means no longer following the world with its cultures and customs.  It means going against the grain of society, just as Jesus did.  It means demonstrating integrity by making a choice and sticking with it.

 

Jesus’ brother James warned that a man who doubts “should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does (James 1: 7-8 NIV).” 

 

In the face of such admonition, a Christian understands that to follow Jesus, it must be all or nothing. 

 

As a result, the maturing process of a Christian involves gradually stripping away anything from one’s life that hinders spiritual progress and growth.  Our path becomes narrower, and our focus more intense as we press on toward our ultimate goal.

 

This focusing, unfortunately, can easily result in a misperception by those outside the church. 

 

Because they are not walking the same path, they do not understand that it is necessary for Christians to be “narrow-minded” in order to stay on the narrow path that God has laid out for them.  The more focused a Christian is on that narrow path, the less significant anything NOT on that path becomes. 

 

Some misinterpret this as a lack of concern for others.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. 

 

Note that James also wrote, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27 NIV).” 

 

In other words, having a righteous intolerance for sin not only allows for being loving and tolerant of people, it requires it!

             

 

What Christians are intolerant of is the suggestion that there is any other way to God besides Jesus.  The reason for this is that God himself is intolerant of any rivalry or unfaithfulness from His people. 

 

 

Taken in this context, the assertion that Christians are narrow-minded is technically accurate, but not in a negative way.  It is simply the natural consequence of acknowledging Jesus as the Lord of our lives, submitting to His authority and following His leading along the proverbial “straight and narrow path.”

 

 

As long as the church recognizes Jesus as Lord, remaining in submission to our jealous God, then we also remain justified in being intolerant of any rival ideology that our culture would nominate to remove God from His rightful place in our lives.

 

 

Intolerance: Part 4–Our God is a Jealous God

To appreciate fully Jesus’ righteous intolerance of sin, we must remember that He is one with God the Father, who describes Himself repeatedly as a “jealous God” (Exodus 20:5, 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24, 5:9, 6:15; 32:16, 21; Joshua 24:19, Nahum 1:2, Zechariah 1:14).   

 

Unfortunately, many have taken offense to the word “jealous,” due to a misapprehension of its true meaning.

 

To be jealous is simply to advance one’s rights to the exclusion of the rights of others, or to put it another way, to be intolerant of any rivalry or unfaithfulness.

 

For example, a husband has exclusive rights to his wife.  If another man tries to encroach upon the husband’s marital rights, then the husband is jealous, not of his wife, but for his marriage. 

 

In the same way, but to an infinitely greater degree, God is jealous for His church. For God to be jealous signifies the advancement of His glory over anything that we would substitute for it.  This would include not only literal idols and false gods, but also the figurative idolatry shown by our elevating anything that is not God above God. 

 

He has made us, and we are His.  As such, it is His everlasting right to have our unending devotion, worship and praise.  Nothing else, and no one else, has a right to these. 

 

As Christians, we acknowledge God as God, and accordingly, we recognize Jesus as Lord.  Because of our submission to Jesus as the Lord of our lives, we also share in His righteous intolerance of sin. 

 

This presents a problem, though, since those who accuse the Church of being intolerant are those who have NOT recognized God as God or Jesus as Lord. 

 

If they recognize neither God’s authority nor Jesus’ divinity, then consequently, they will not recognize the church’s intolerance as being righteous.  A person whose gods are “logic and reason” will not concede that Jesus was anything but a great teacher at best. 

 

Fortunately, C. S. Lewis has already cleared this matter up for us:

 

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.  (Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1952.)

 

As Lewis makes plain, true logic and reason will lead only to one conclusion for a Christian.  That is the same conclusion that their hearts have already led them to—Jesus’ lordship.

 

(OK, so now what?  Come back for the conclusion: Part 5–The Narrow Path)

 

Intolerance: Part 3–Righteous

 

Since no one can measure up to the standard of God by his or her own efforts, it is therefore senseless to expect anyone else to measure up to our own standards.  

 

We are in no position to judge the nature, or character, of another, because we share the same sinful character.  To attempt to judge someone in this way would make us guilty of self-righteous intolerance. 

 

However, there is such a thing as righteous intolerance.  This cannot come from any person’s will or way of thinking, as Solomon wrote, “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins”  (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NIV). 

 

The only possible source of righteous intolerance is the only person who never sinned–Jesus.

 

One of the central tenets of Christianity is that Jesus is not just the only begotten Son of God, but is in very nature God Himself (see Philippians 2:6).

 

Being God in His nature, Jesus visibly displayed all of the invisible attributes of God’s goodness.  Being all good, He is diametrically opposed in His nature to all evil.  Therefore, Jesus is opposed to intolerance—the self-righteous intolerance toward people.

 

John 3:17 tells us that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn it, but to save it.  This was not because we deserved saving, but because He is good.  This is the essence of grace, which is the ultimate expression of tolerance. 

 

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus shows his tolerance of people by showing mercy and grace toward sinners, even the very ones who put him to death. 

 

However, it cannot be disregarded that while Jesus was a friend of sinners, He was never tolerant of sin.  In the Sermon on the Mount, He uses over-the-top imagery to illustrate his intolerance for evil behavior:

 

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30 NIV)

 

One of the most common Bible verses to be quoted out of context by non-Christians (usually in attempts to self-righteously justify sinful behavior) is John 8:7.  The religious leaders are preparing to stone a woman caught in the act of adultery. In response, Jesus is quoted as saying, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her (KJV).”

 

Although this passage does not appear in original manuscripts, and therefore may not have actually happened, the point of the story remains clear:  because we are all sinners, no other person is qualified to cast a stone at us. 

 

Nevertheless, though none of us are righteous, we must remember that we will all be judged one day by the One who is. 

 

This is why, after showing mercy to the woman caught in adultery, He admonishes her (and us) to “go, and sin no more (John 8:11b KJV).

 

(Stay tuned for Part 4–Our God is a Jealous God)

           

Intolerance: Part 2–Good and Evil

 

 

There is a difference between being intolerant of people and being intolerant of evil itself.  To understand the difference, one must have a clear appreciation of not only the characteristics of “evil,” but also of “good.” 

 

From a Christian perspective, God is the quintessence of “good.”  Just a few attributes of God’s “good” character would be that he is loving, faithful, forgiving, a provider and willing to sacrifice all for those He loves.

 

Romans 12:9-21 shows that Christian love is also good.  We demonstrate this love by sincerity, hating what is evil, honoring others above ourselves, joy, patience, faithfulness, sharing, hospitality, blessing those who persecute us, showing compassion, living in harmony, being humble and not proud, not seeking revenge, doing all we can to live at peace with everyone, giving our enemies food and drink when they are hungry and thirsty. 

 

In doing these things, we will overcome evil with good.  All of these things sound a lot like our definition of tolerance

 

All except one—hate what is evil. 

 

Those on a mission to discredit Christianity and its adherents will tend to skip over the other 12 verses and zero in on that one word—hate—and say that is all the evidence they need that Christians are hateful and intolerant. 

 

But what does the scripture say?  It says to hate what is evil

 

Evil is the opposite of good.  If love, joy, faithfulness, patience, compassion, humility, gentleness, and tolerance, are good, then the opposite of these would be hatred, anger, insincerity, deceitfulness, rashness, harshness, indifference, pride and. . . intolerance. 

 

The Bible is telling us to hate intolerance.  Therefore, if our critics are condemning us for hating hatred, then what they are essentially saying is, “We will not tolerate your intolerance of our intolerance.” 

 

In addition, it is critical to note that the scripture commands Christians to hate what is evil, not whom.  By no means does the Bible suggest being intolerant toward people, only toward evil behavior (what we would call “sin”).

The key to making this distinction is in knowing what the Bible says about people in general: ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  (Romans 3:23)

 

In this, the Bible tells us that all people are evil by nature.  We were all created in the image of God, but none of us measure up to the standard of God.  

 

Therefore, if the Bible were commanding us to be intolerant of people, we would then be compelled to hate everyone, including ourselves!

 

For this reason, Christians are called to be tolerant of non-Christians, even as they are intolerant of evil behavior.  This makes sense only because becoming a Christian in the first place requires a recognition of one’s own evil behavior, and more importantly, of the sinful nature from which it springs. 

 

It is common sense to recognize and throw away a bad apple, but an act of foolishness to cut down the apple tree for the one bad apple.

 

Likewise, it is not only possible, but perfectly normal to judge individual acts of sinful behavior without judging the character of the person acting it out. 

 

(So how does THAT work?  Come back for Part 3–Righteous)

 

 

Intolerance: Part 1–Listen!

 

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)