National Catholic Register


Who Is Intolerant? Who is Tolerant?


BY Ellen Wilson Fielding

February 14-20, 1999 Issue | Posted 2/14/99 at 2:00 PM


“Deconstructing the Gospel of Tolerance"

by Daniel Taylor

(Christianity Today, Jan. 11, 1999)

Daniel Taylor writes: “How did orthodox Christianity, whose spread throughout the world was predicated in great part on its inclusiveness (‘Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden’), come to be a symbol of exclusivity and intolerance? … The religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe led to the increasingly widespread conviction that there had to be a better way to decide these things than with the sword. The answer was tolerance, essentially a decision not to decide — that is, to decide on the private level but not on the public.

“Genuine tolerance … requires us to allow those who espouse or live out ideas we think wrong, perhaps even harmful, not only to do so but also to try to persuade others to do the same. … [In a sense, the] least tolerant person is the person who accepts anything, because such a person is not required to overcome any internal objections.

“What is the difference between a genuinely tolerant society and a morally bankrupt one, incapable of calling evil for what it is? … At the core of tolerance is a kind of intolerance. If you can only tolerate that to which you object, then you have already shown yourself somewhat intolerant in making that initial objection.”

“Jews for Jesus [is] to a Jewish parent what the Moonies would be to an evangelical Christian parent — only worse, because Christians, for all their sense of being under attack, are still far too numerous to be in any danger of disappearing, a situation not felt by many Jews.

“So what am I to think of Jews for Jesus? … Is it intolerant even to offer the gospel, without bribe or coercion? Can this story only be told to those who already embrace it? Should no one try to convince anyone to be and believe anything but what he or she was born into? Are feminists and environmentalists equally wrong to evangelize?

… What am I to do if I believe I have a life- saving message?

“Is God tolerant? Yes and no. The Bible certainly teaches us that God hates sin. … He is depicted as morally uncompromising, righteously angry, holy, and sure to punish evil. Yet he is also depicted as patient, long-suffering, forgiving, and slow to anger — qualities closely related to tolerance. It seems he does, in a sense, tolerate sin — at least for a season. If tolerance is withholding the power to coerce conformity with one's own views, then it seems God is exceptionally tolerant. After all, we do much that displeases him, that violates who he is and what he made creation to be, and yet he does not immediately destroy us or even force us into obedience.

“Is God tolerant? Yes, more so than we are. But also less so. God's forbearance never compromises his holiness or justice. He forgives and waits where we attack and destroy. He grieves and judges where we are lax and indifferent. Our goal is to be as tolerant as God but not more so, praying earnestly for wisdom to know the difference.

“God is so much more than tolerant that Christians can rightfully ignore tolerance as a fundamental goal for their own lives — but only if they are willing to live by a much higher standard. God does not call us to be tolerant of our neighbors. God calls us to love them. … Biblical love is always sacrificial love. Don't say you love someone unless you are willing to suffer for that person.

It is clear that there are things we ought and ought not to do. And there is no reason to apologize for asserting that to a tone-deaf world. But it is also clear that the bedrock of all biblical morality is God's love. That love is not incompatible with judgment (‘go and sin no more’) but it is incompatible with our not properly valuing all that God has created, including those who offend us.”

A condensed version, in the words of the original author, of an article selected by theRegister from the nation's top journals.