Sunday, February 19, 2012

Love and Tolerance

A few weeks ago, an image was posted on that raced across facebook and other social media. It appears that there was a gay pride parade in Chicago, at which a Christian group showed up with signs: Signs reading "I'm sorry for the way the church has treated you" and other similarly toned messages. The picture, view-able here, shows a man clad only in underwear embracing, and being embraced by, a member of that Christian group. So far, so good, right? The church screwed up big time a while back, and we're still dealing with the consequences. It's good to see Christians showing love to the homosexual community.

But there is a problem: If not with the act itself, then with how it was perceived by people at large. Go back to the picture and scroll down to the comments. "This is the Christianity I grew up with! Finally... some tolerance!" "Tolerance and're doing it right." Finally, one that really sums up the problem: "It's a new time of acceptance and allowance. Love reigns..."

Those of you who regularly read my blog may remember a post I did a while back regarding the world's perception of love and tolerance. Judging by the comments on the image, the world is incapable of separating "love" and "tolerance." To the world (and an increasingly large number of Christians), it is unthinkable that you can love someone, and not be tolerant/accepting of their lifestyle. 

I'm going to use an analogy now. And, as with all analogies, their is a danger in it being misunderstood. The only purpose of this analogy is to demonstrate that one can love a person and still seek to change a core aspect of who they are. Understood? Let's take a man with a heart condition. Let's say he has a hole in his heart that gets microscopically bigger with each beat: Let's even say this condition was congenital--he was born this way. In ten or twenty years, he will die. Can you love the person, yet insist he get treatment for it? Of course you can. 

But that's not the same as homosexuality, clearly. That's a purely physical condition, whereas homosexuality is a matter of mind and spirit. So let's take mental illness (note: analogy). Here I should say that I have extensive personal experience in being close to and loving someone who is mentally ill. Often, the illness can very nearly define the person suffering from it, and, to make things worse, the sufferer will often refuse to believe that they are even mentally ill. The illness has been with them so long, it influences every single thought they have, it extends into almost every portion of their being... it seems perfectly, utterly natural to them (indeed, to them it is natural) and they do not understand why they need to take medication, because they're fine, they really are. 

Now: Can you love someone who is mentally ill and, in love, try as hard as you can to get them to take their medication? Indeed, it seems as though that's the only loving thing to be done. It would not be loving to tolerate their illness as something natural, even if it is something they were born with (although here, my personal experience does not extend). It would not be loving to accept their dangerous illness and leave them be. 

That is not love.

But it is tolerance. It is acceptance. It is allowance. And its result is apathy and death.

As a Christian, I believe that homosexual actions are sinful. I understand that to many homosexuals, their homosexuality is a key part of their identity, and I am NOT saying that homosexuals are in any way less human than any other person. But as a Christian, I believe that the proper response, indeed the only response, is to do as Jesus did to the woman caught in adultery: To love the person wholeheartedly, and show absolute intolerance for the sin. "Neither do I condemn you. Now go, and sin no more." Jesus does not condemn her for her sins... BUT neither does he give her (or us) any room for thinking that her lifestyle is acceptable to God. Jesus loved her, not her lifestyle, and he seemed to easily separate the two.


  1. Your distinction between 'love' and 'tolerance' is spot on. Well done.

    As far as the picture goes, there is an entire ministry behind what is going on in that picture, and they tend to land much closer to where the commenters do. We (myself and three other people from a site I work with) did a podcast discussion about it, if you are interested.

  2. Thanks, James. And that's a great thing that the ministry is doing: Unfortunately, they only seem to be standing up for the mercy of Christ, and not his justice. And I'll definitely give that podcast a listen.

    1. I'm glad there are ministries that are interested in reconciling the relationship between the Church and any specific type of sinner, particularly those that are defined by communities. It is a good outreach.

      The group, however, doesn't appear to actually consider it this way. They don't seem to affirm that homosexuality is a sin, but want to open the discussion. I'm hesitant, personally.

    2. I agree completely. Jesus never once compromised his values. He befriended prostitutes and tax collectors: And then he took them out from where he found them. He walked the sinful streets only so those who inhabited them would follow him out: Not so they could wave to him and continue to make their living there.

  3. Great post Mack. As per usual, you clearly and concisely articulate truth that speaks to the heart of the issue. I envy your ease with language.
    As I was reading the post, I had a couple questions pop into my head (More tangentially related than anything):
    1) Would a Non-Christian even be able to really make the distinction you articulated? It seems possible that without a Christian cultural paradigm one could not even properly identify the gesture by Christians as "Love."
    2) Is it possible for a Non-Christian to Love in the manner you have described?

    1. Thanks, Steph. Your encouragement is much appreciated. As for your questions:

      That was my goal in making the parallel with mental illness. As Chesterton says in Orthodoxy, "Though moderns deny the existence of sin, I do not think that they have yet denied the existence of a lunatic asylum. We all agree still that there is a collapse of the intellect as unmistakable as a falling house... A man cannot think himself out of mental evil; for it is actually the organ of thought that has become diseased, ungovernable, and, as it were, independent... And however quietly doctors and psychologists may go to work in the matter, their attitude is profoundly intolerant—as intolerant as Bloody Mary. Their attitude is really this: that the man must stop thinking, if he is to go on living."

      Kind of a long quote, but the point is this: Many mentally ill people do not believe themselves to be mentally ill. Any attempt to cure them, therefore, will be opposed, sometimes vehemently opposed. This does not change the fact that those who love them WILL attempt to cure them. The man with the arrow lodged in his arm may resist it being drawn out: Nevertheless, out it must come, if the man is to live.

      These are, I think, examples that anyone can agree with. Any non-Christian who has taken his child to get a painful tetanus shot, against that child's will, will understand that love and tolerance literally CANNOT coexist in a world of sickness and painful remedies.

    2. Ok, I see now how your post answers the first question, but what about the second? Is your response suggesting that Non-Christians are not capable of love and hence why the analogy is necessary?

    3. The last bit answers the question:

      "These are, I think, examples that anyone can agree with."

      The example of taking a child to get a shot, against the child's will, is one that points to love in anyone, regardless of religious orientation.

    4. I should hope that non-Christians are capable of this kind of love. Otherwise the phrase "tough love" wouldn't be a phrase (or it would be one of those "church-exclusive" phrases). The analogy is necessary because the world does not seem to understand how you can love someone AND tell them something that makes them feel bad about themselves.

      Everyone understands this in other areas. Children are not to cross the street without looking, and a father is most definitely being intolerant when he tells his children that: But he is being loving. It's just in the area of religion that people, for whatever reason, aren't able to grasp this concept.

    5. Oh, so Non-Christians can love in spite of imperfections or generalized moral human failings, as opposed to Christians loving in spite of sin in paricular. Ok... I think that satisfies me. Though there is some nebulous question nagging at the back of my head. If it should materialize into a solid thought I may post it here.

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