We are fast approaching, if not already in, a time in our nation when being a Christian will be considered synonymous with being a bigot. By Christian, I am referring here to one who decides to be a true follower of the teachings of Jesus verses a nominal Christmas and Easter church attendee. Bigotry is the opposite of tolerance. Tolerance is a trait highly valued in today’s society and a prized characteristic to have attached to your name. The dictionary defines tolerance as “freedom from bigotry or prejudice regarding the beliefs or practices of others who are different from one’s own.” This certainly seems like an admirable and even biblical trait to possess.
The challenge in today’s postmodern world that rejects all absolutes is how to be a follower of Jesus and not be considered intolerant or even called a bigot? We recently saw a perfect illustration of this with the Chick Fil A restaurant chain. During a recent interview, Dan Cathy, the president of the chain, said that he backed the biblical definition of a family, meaning that he is opposed to same sex marriage. This immediately ignited a firestorm of controversy. The mayors of Chicago and Boston said Chick-Fil-A would not be allowed in their cities, some stores were vandalized, and boycotts and protests were called for against the chain. The company was labeled as bigoted for its position on same sex marriage.
The dilemma for Christians is how do we show an unbelieving world the love and acceptance of Christ without condoning sin or compromising our biblical convictions? How do we show tolerance without giving up all convictions? This is bigger than the same sex marriage issue. The scriptures speak to a whole gamut of moral, ethical and religious issues. Faith either means something or it doesn’t. Faith isn’t something you just do on Sunday and then put away for the rest of the week. If it is genuine and authentic, it is lived out twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The other thing about religious belief is that doctrines are different. Everyone does not believe the same thing and some beliefs contradict others. Someone, or more than one person, is right or wrong. Why is that such an obvious reality that we are reluctant to admit?
Intolerance is not when a person does not agree with you or even says that you are wrong and they are right. Intolerance is when that person says you cannot believe, work, practice or even live because of what you believe.
Tolerance does not mean everyone can do whatever he or she wants; that is anarchy. In last month’s article (“Can You Legislate Morality?”) I explained the theological basis of our culture’s worldview that determined its morals, ethics and laws. Someone’s worldview is accepted and someone’s may be rejected (this group then thinking the other is intolerant). However, the Judeo-Christian worldview, as it was combined with the American political experiment, has been the most tolerant, and provided the most freedom for the most people in the history of the world. This worldview is being challenged today and if it is defeated, much true tolerance will be the casualty.
During this struggle, how do Christians find the balance between tolerance and standing firm in their faith? One important thing is to be able to tell the difference between something that is sinful verses something that is merely objectionable to a person’s preferences or traditions. The one who determines what is sinful is not any individual, but God Himself. God says in 1 John 3:4 that sin is the transgression of His law (think 10 commandments). God tells us what sin is in the scriptures. So there are direct verses that tell us what is right or wrong. Along with this there are principles that we can apply to today’s decisions that the Bible may not speak directly to. For example the Bible says nothing about whether certain movies, TV shows or computer games are right or wrong to watch. However, there are plenty of verses that speak to the idea of guarding our hearts and minds because from them the issues of life flow. We will become what we think. These principles then force a person to honestly come before God and determine if something is bringing them into bondage or hindering the mind of Christ being formed in them (Phil. 2.5, 1Cor. 6.12).
There are however, gray areas which cannot be dogmatically declared to be sinful. Christians hold differing views on these things. These are the true areas of Christian tolerance. These are principles of conscience determined by a person’s spiritual maturity, traditions, background and culture. The Apostle Paul tells us to not pass judgment on one another in these areas. Each of us will be accountable to God in these areas (Romans 14.1-12). In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul deals with a specific area of Christian liberty in the matter of eating meat that had been offered to idols. This was not an issue for Paul. However, he realized that, for some, doing this would be a violation of their conscience and have negative spiritual consequences for them. His position on this subject was to allow love to guide his liberty, considering the welfare of others.
It is this spirit of love and grace that is to shine through any time we take a stand for righteousness. Jesus was a master at this. He never compromised on sin, but still people were drawn to his love. He was able to love the sinner while rejecting the sin. Jesus could separate the sin from the sinner. He could love and accept people while not approving of their actions. The nature of God is love along with holiness and justice. These traits operate simultaneously. For example we see the holiness of God in his hatred of sin in the Bible. We see His justice as He pours out His wrath in judgment for sin in the Flood and with Sodom and Gomorrah. However, at the same time we see the love of God. Before His wrath would fall grace would be offered. The greatest example of this is the cross. A final day of judgment is coming when His wrath will fall on sin, but grace and forgiveness have been offered as an escape.
We were created in His image and recreated in His image at our salvation. As His image-bearers we are to properly represent Him in this world. So there will be times when we find it necessary to take a stand for truth and righteousness. Christians have always had to do this; from those who were persecuted under Communist regimes to the early Christians who would not declare Caesar lord, to Daniel and his Hebrew friends who wouldn’t bow to a false idol. When this time comes we can face it by seeking God’s wisdom and speaking the truth in love.
In the marketplace, your faith may impact profits or personal promotion. In our nation we are supposed to have freedom of speech and freedom of religion. In regards to the Chick-Fil-A situation, this means that no government entity should get involved and try to use zoning laws to keep a business from operating because they disagree with the company’s religious faith. Freedom of speech applies to all even to those with whom we disagree. Because we disagree does not mean we have the right to destroy property or take away constitutional rights. That is what makes our country so great.
We are free as individuals to choose whom we will do business with. This choice may be made on the basis of product, price, personalities, moral positions or any number of variables. That is the free market in operation. However, today, political correctness has run amuck and is being used as a weapon to intimidate people of faith to stay silent and tow the “party” line. This is nothing new. The truth is there comes a time when a Christian has to do the right thing. Oftentimes, no matter how kind, loving and gracious you try to be, there will be consequences for your stance. The bottom line is this: we must obey God rather than man and trust God with the consequences. Like Esther of old who put her life on the line to intercede with the king for her people, she did the right thing and said, “If I perish, I perish.” That is true faith in action.