Thursday, October 13, 2011


One of the main complaints against the Church today is that it is intolerant: intolerant of other beliefs, intolerant of other lifestyles, intolerant of anything that disagrees with it. To this accusation, any self-respecting Christian should gladly plead "guilty." However, the Christian should also point out that, in calling us out on our intolerance, the accuser is himself being intolerant. We say, "You shouldn't do 'x'." The world says, "Oh, you shouldn't say 'shouldn't,' that's being intolerant." And this would be hilarious if the world got the joke. Anyway... you guys know this: this is Logic 101. The real point of this post is to say that tolerance is only the world's garbage version of something Christ had and the Church should have in abundance: love.

For some weird reason, the world sees the two as the same thing, or at least closely linked. They think that if you loved someone, you would be tolerant of their beliefs--if you are intolerant, that is proof that you do not love them. I have frequently seen people say that Christians should act more like Jesus--stop being so intolerant and show some love, you know? Alright, let's see what Jesus did. John 8: the pharisees bring a woman guilty of adultery to Jesus. Jesus blasts the pharisees, right? The pharisees were being intolerant, and Jesus wasn't having any of that! Just look at what he says to the woman: "I do not condemn you." See? Jesus is being so tolerant of the woman's "alternative lifestyle." (Note: this was sarcasm. I only say that because sarcasm is difficult to transmit through text). Read the very next words: "Go, and sin no more." By saying that, Jesus is being intolerant of her lifestyle of sin. He is not going to tolerate it. We do not see "tolerance" from Jesus: neither do we see the hateful garbage that certain "churches" spew on a daily basis. Instead, we see love.

And love is not some sort of crappy, lukewarm "middle ground." Love is fiery and passionate and active and moving--it seeks to change the bad and preserve the good, because it knows that the bad really is bad, and the good really is good. Jesus does not condemn the woman, because she has repented: but he immediately follows up with a command to sin no more. Love must include both of these sentiments, or else it is not love at all. Love is an active combination of acceptance of the person and rejection of the sin--and both acceptance and rejection must be extreme, even fanatical.

I wasn't going to say this, but I feel that this note demands it. Right now, in our fallen world, love has an integral, necessary counterpart: hate. Just as we are commanded to love people, we are commanded to hate what is evil. We cannot love people without hating sin. If we try, we will forget hate, and soon we will forget love. And there will be only silence as we sit and quietly tolerate our world, quite literally, to death.


  1. "To this accusation [of being called intolerant], any self-respecting Christian should gladly plead 'guilty.'"

    I gotta admit, my first thought was "really?"

    But I had to give it some thought before I wrote out my post, because I don't think you said something that I disagree with, ultimately. The rest of the post is solid (kudos), and I think you say lots of good things.

    But this comment, about gladly claiming the accusation of 'intolerance,' makes me hesitate. I ask myself why, and all I come up with is the following. Bear with me, as I haven't really thought this out much.

    I think that I hesitate because the term 'intolerance' strikes me as something that people don't mean the way that you or I might take it: as only applying to the belief system (as your initial sentences discussed "lifestyles, beliefs, etc"). My suspicion is that when someone accuses me of being intolerant--perhaps I've expressed my beliefs concerning homosexuality or drunkenness--they are also undercutting my stance on an action, accusing me of being intolerant of that person in identity.

    The question of identity is a difficult thing here, anyways, since some people identify with certain actions or lifestyles. This is one of the biggest problems with the preaching of 'love the sinner but hate the sin,' since many sinners (especially homosexuals, it seems) place their identity in that sin ("What am I? I am a homosexual.").

    How does one passionately hate sin but love a sinner when the sinner personally and deeply identifies themselves with a particular sin? These sorts of questions give me pause.

    This is, I think, why I hesitate to 'gladly plead guilty' to the accusation of being intolerant, though I'd consider myself a self-respecting Christian.


  2. I think this comes down to two things: the world's false understanding of identity, and our poor history (especially recently) regarding "lifestyle" sins. The sinner may identify himself with a particular sin, but the fact remains that the sin is completely extraneous to his actual identity as a broken image of God awaiting redemption. I think that a Christian in that situation should make it absolutely clear that the sin is not a part of their identity, and they should stress the love they have for the person while rejecting the sin--this is where the Church has failed in the recent past.

    The love will show, I think. I hope. But some people have so hardened their hearts that they refuse to see it. And, to be fair, we often aren't great at showing it. But it is our responsibility to accept the people, reject the sin, love what is good, hate what is evil, and pray for God to take care of the rest.

    And thanks a ton for the comment and encouragement. I really appreciate it, and I hope to see more. And to your last comment: we should be intolerant of sin, but should never stop at merely "tolerating" people. We should love them.

  3. Your second and third paragraphs I have absolutely no issues with. I want to stress that here and now, just to be clear. We are pretty much in agreement.

    But your first paragraph leaves me with just as many questions. Saying the sin is not part of someone's identity is more difficult than abstracts can represent. So I'll try to make up a concrete example (still abstract, in the fictional sense).

    Let's say I get to know a gay couple. The couple is married (legal in whatever state this is taking in), and hate the Church because of their intolerant views of homosexuality.

    If I were to attempt to express to them that I believed their sin (homosexuality) was not part of their identities, I suspect they'd either give me absolutely confused looks (what do you mean being gay isn't part of my identity?) or lump me in with the 'intolerant Church' for 'hating homosexuals.'

    The complexities here are numerous, though. For starters, there is probably a difference between actual identity as humans (broken/regenerated) and our perceived (perhaps also actual) identity as individuals (writer/blogger/theologian/homosexual/spouse/etc). I actually wonder if at some point we need to just start saying things against identities as well. Perhaps some identities are not as good as others, and perhaps some are always sinful.

    Thoughts? I know this is scattered and perhaps crazy sounding, and I hope I made sense, but identity is something that interests me, even as I don't know what to do with it.

  4. I see what you're saying. I was using "identity" as something not really up to us: something unable to be changed by us. But I think that our "individual" identities are only a "subsection" or addition to the actual identity: i.e., a broken image of God who is also a blogger. I do not see it as a "core" portion of the identity.

    "Perhaps some identities are not as good as others, and perhaps some are always sinful." If we go with this, we must then say that identity is not as foundational, nor as immutable, nor as sacred, as may be implied by the term "identity." It then becomes something constructed entirely ourselves: I'm fine with this, btw, but we need to make sure this is what is understood by "identity" when used in this manner.

  5. I'm not sure that I was thinking of identity in the terms that you were.

    Though you've hit something solid with the distinction between 'core' and peripheral identity sections (if you don't mind the added term).

    To take a concept that is a bit less controversial and difficult than homosexuality (and more concrete, I think), I wonder about other things that we find ourselves involved in.

    Our sexuality is close to our identity. I think it is because a part of being made in the image of God means being designed to interact in community. Marriage and sexual relationships (hopefully one and the same) are the closest community we experience this side of heaven. Pushing against a sin on the sexual level (active as well as deep, as opposed to a passive but deep identity, such as disrespect of all authority) is something that needs to be done carefully, though firmly.

    I think.

  6. I completely agree with you, and I hadn't considered your point about sexuality being close to our identity: you're right, of course. "Male and female he created them," meaning both, and both together, being the image of God. Community. And even a wrong, inherently sinful community is powerful and can shape or warp our identity right to the very core: not extending into the core, but right up to it.

    And with that in mind, I know that I have not been giving it the appropriate weight in my head. It is not merely a sin, not even merely a lifestyle sin: it is a sin that extends into who the person is--and although we do not perform the deep surgery to correct it, even the groundwork must be laid very carefully--though, as you said, firmly, without waffling or hedging. Thank you for this.

  7. The issue really lies with the Church and its inconsistency and sloppiness with intolerance. Do we treat the sins of gluttony, gossip or even heterosexual premarital sex in the same passionate fervor as we do prostitution, homosexuality and murder? If we keep ranking sin as if some are more severe than others, the reputation of the Church will continue to suffer in this area.

    And I wonder how useful it is to speak about identity, especially between Christians and non-Christians. It seems none of us have a fully solid sense of exactly what it encompasses. It's a way to try to compartmentalize the aspects of someone's life to understand it, and at the end of the day it's primarily of our own construction. I'm not even sure you can use any scriptural backing to support the concept of "identity" anyway.

    And, as a side note, I'm not convinced the union between a man and woman in marriage is the primary expression of community and love you can have in this life.

    David said,
    "I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women."
    -2 Samuel 1:26

    I feel this testifies to the fact that strong bonds between friends can be deeper on certain levels than what can be found in marriage and romantic relationships.

    "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."
    -John 15:13

    Even Jesus said that ultimate love is shown in a friend's sacrifice for others. It's not in marriage.

  8. I'm afraid I have to disagree with you on most counts, Andrew. The first human relationship ever formed was that of marriage. More than that, it is only in marriage that two become one. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This joining, this ultimate connection, is not found in friendship: it is only in marriage. This joining is so complete that the body of the husband belongs to the wife, and the reverse is true as well. Paul continues, saying "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:31-32). A few verses earlier husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Marriage, not friendship, is the symbol of Christ's bond with the church: this means that the greatest love you brought up in John 15 is, in fact, the love a husband should have for his wife.

    In particular, it is the sexual aspect of marriage that enacts this "becoming one," which is why most churches tend to give sexual sins more weight: it's why Paul himself portrayed sexual sins as worse than all others. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6, "Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, 'The two will become one flesh'... Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body, Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?" It is the act of sex that begins this "becoming one:" otherwise, it wouldn't be applicable to a mere prostitute. But it is. Paul sees sexual sin as inherently worse than others for this reason: it defiles the body of Christ by joining it with someone that it was not meant to be joined to. Sex is, by its very nature, extremely important, and to disregard that is to disregard the first human institution ordained by God himself.