Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Intolerant of Some Tolerance

As I mentioned yesterday, XBIP is soliciting posts for another symposium. The topic is "Diversity and Tolerance." You'd be hard pressed to find other buzzwords for the 21st century that are more ubiquitous than these. Unfortunately, the two words are linked together far too often, and in highly inconsistent ways. Tolerance is a virtue, unless you have to tolerate the beliefs of those who have views opposing your own. Diversity is good, but we don't want too much diversity if it includes ideas of which we're not fond. Conservative Christians see this bias from the left - tolerance for all things anti-prayer! I'm sure many liberals see this from the right - tolerance for all things anti-gay! No wonder we often find ourselves talking past each other.

I think there's a better way, and that is to acknowledge that tolerance has limits. For instance, our society does not tolerate certain behaviors. Serial killers are roundly condemned, for instance. We also do not tolerate, at least not in any widespread way, the idea that children should be exploited or abused. (Yes, I realize there are some - WARNING! Intolerant judgmentalism immediately ahead! - sick and/or evil people out there who tolerate these things. I'm ignoring them to keep the question centered on rational people.) (Oops...I apologize for being intolerant to the irrational.) This type of intolerance is a good thing. Any culture that tolerates certain behaviors, which are destructive, are cultures not long for this world.

We also do not tolerate certain thoughts, although in practice beliefs and ideas are harder to deal with than behaviors. In general, most people agree that beliefs promoting hatred of our fellow man are anathema. (In practice, it's harder to find people that act this view out in every aspect of their own lives.) Intolerance is a good thing when applied judiciously, both to ideas and actions.

Diversity can be good or bad. Celebrating diversity of culture is fine unless you want to include the hateful mantras of Nazi Germany. Diversity of thought is helpful when brainstorming new approaches to solving problems, but not necessarily so when it leads people away from truth in favor of meaningless celebration of differences.

We should tolerate the rights of people to have opposing views, and we should tolerate their freedom to express them within societally accepted methods. However, we should also be intolerant of foolish ideas and dangerous behavior. Diversity should be embraced up to the point where we are asked to accept people whose behavior is different from, and dangerous to, our society.

We do not need to worship diversity in all things. Intolerance is not a bad thing. In fact, this is the crux of the first question in the symposium.
Should diversity and tolerance include compromise from Christians on moral issues, i.e. Same-Sex Marriages, Abortion, Embryonic stem cell research, etc...?

In a word, no. Compromised principles are no longer principles at all. Revelation 2:1-7 proclaims to the church at Ephesus that Christ is pleased when the church is intolerant of wicked men and false prophets. Jesus Himself was not very tolerant about the notion that salvation could come through means other than through Himself (John 14:5-7). We should not compromise our standards or principles to assuage the world.

If we are not to tolerate what we deem to be evil, though, how do we demonstrate that intolerance? This is the, I think, the gist of symposium question 2:
How can we display the love Jesus asks of us to those living in and/or supporting immoral lifestyles?

Indeed, we are to act out our intolerance in love. If we are to love even our enemies then how much more are we to love those who (a) we don't see of as enemies, but (b) have beliefs that differ from our own? I need to love those who disagree with me. This does not mean AT ALL that I agree with opposing views, or do not fight for my principles. What it does mean is that I enter the arena of thought with respect, using civility of tongue and humility of spirit to argue my point as passionately as possible. If I turn people off to my message through mean-spirited behavior, what good are pure motives and sound logic? If you want to hold to truth (as I do) and you want people to listen to you (as we all should if we believe we have a truth that can save souls) then we need to act in such a way as to attract their interest, not turn them off. It is a Phyrric victory that wins you style points before the debate judges but turns off your opponent to an eternally impactful Gospel message.

How do we act lovingly? Leave out the insults. Do not impugn motives needlessly or without evidence. Avoid violence and incitement. Listen to others instead of shouting them down. Let them say what they will, then lovingly show them where they may be in error, not with hopes of embarrassing them, but of bringing them close to the truth. Admit when you make mistakes, and be willing to learn: just because someone disagrees with me does not mean they are wrong in pointing out my own error. I make mistakes, and I need to allow others to show me where. This is for my own good, as well as for opening the door for meaningful dialogue.

Finally, XBIP asks:
Should we work in the legal and political arena to abolish or limit immoral acts from becoming accepted as normal activity?

In a different word, yes. However, even within the political arena, which can be cutthroat by nature, we must act in love and compassion while holding dearly to our principles. We cannot insult those who disagree with us, and must respect (even tolerate) their right to speak of things we see as wrong. Then we must demand that they likewise tolerate our right to speak, and while speaking we must tell the truth in love.

And we must remember that our most important work is done at the relational level, not at the governmental level. We are to make disciples, not law. As citizens of a democratic republic, we have rights and obligations to our nation: where we see benefits for all (and in areas of morality, we should see benefits of acting morally) we need to pronounce this vision. But we are to prioritize loving our neighbors and making disciples.

God demands high standards, and we have no right to compromise those principles. But we also have no right to show animosity towards others. Intolerance of ideas does not mean disrespect or hatred of people. Tolerating the rights of another does not require acceptance of their beliefs. Speak the truth. Hold fast to the truth God's given us. Love all, even when they think differently from you. Enjoy diversity (as all are made in the image of God and all are uniquely covered with His fingerprints) but conform to Christ.

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