06 November 2012

Bye-Bye Tolerance

Recently, in the Huffington Post, Marilyn Sewell has written an opinion piece on why she is “saying goodbye to tolerance.”  She opened her piece by noting her membership in the “the most tolerant of faiths” the Unitarian Universalist church.  Despite her disposition toward tolerance, she is admittedly finding herself “increasingly intolerant of the theology and practice of many evangelical Christians.” 

She visited a conservative seminary where the students, who were “unfailingly polite,” have treated her like “an insect under glass”.  They were not confrontative [sic], but she perceived that they were concerned for her soul.  To my own way of thinking, I am not sure how being unfailingly polite is consistent with the image of Christians as supporting hate crimes, which she argues later in the piece. Indeed, politeness is an admirable trait.  Furthermore, I am not surprised by the students’ curiosity at her faith background.  She should know that as evangelicals, we are also accustomed to the type of scrutiny that she feels.  Curiosity about others’ beliefs is a good thing.  Finally, she surmises that the students were concerned for her eternal soul.  I have no doubt that is true; indeed I hope it is true. One of the hallmarks of evangelicalism is the belief in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Savior (John 14:6).  If we profess to be evangelical Christians, part of our identity involves concern for the souls of those around us.   We believe the Bible is objectively true and so our concern is objectively real, a facet that rarely enters this discussion--what is Truth? 

Sewell moves on, noting that “much of what [evangelicals] believe is unloving and in fact destructive.” She then provides the example of two nephews—one gay, one evangelical—and how the evangelical will not speak to his younger brother “presumably because his children might be adversely influenced.”  I am left wondering how she has come to this presumption.  Did she form her opinion about why they disagree and then make the data fit that presumption?  Perhaps there is a different reason these brothers do not get along that she knows nothing about.

Then she makes an unfortunate leap in her thinking.  She writes “of even more concern is the preponderance of hate crimes being committed against gays and minorities” and goes on to cite several statistics.  Indeed, there are many hate crimes being committed throughout the world.  Where she is in error, however, is in her apparent presumption that these hate crimes are either committed, or at least tacitly approved of, by evangelicals.  This is flatly false.  Christians were at the forefront of the abolition of slavery in England and in the United States.   Christians have been at the forefront of ethical treatment for prisoners.  Christians were deeply involved in trying to stop Hitler.  Christians continue to be involved in fighting against abortion, sex trafficking, and human exploitation around the globe.  I suspect that if she were to take the time to look at who has committed hate crimes, it would not generally be church-attending evangelicals.  She also fails to include the clear data that the 20th century has seen great movements of genocide in Germany, Rwanda, Cambodia, and other places at the hand of atheist regimes and atheist leaders. Evangelicals have consistently stood for the oppressed in the face of this tyranny. 

She later returns to the idea that for the evangelical, faith in Jesus is the only way to salvation, which is a stance that turns everyone else into an infidel, unbeliever, or moral pervert.  Her use of the word infidel is interesting and I suspect was chosen to associate evangelicals with Islamic extremists.  “Unbeliever” is also interesting because I would suspect that most people who don’t believe in Jesus would in fact be…well…unbelievers.  I am not sure evangelicals would choose any of those terms to describe others.  Yet, I suspect we would all assent to the idea that unbelievers are sinners.  So are believers.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Every person, Christian or not, is facing condemnation due to their sinfulness.  The only remedy for that sinfulness is Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross 2000 years ago.   

Later Sewell asks, “if these ‘others’ are offending God by their sins and are on their way to hell, what covert permission is being given to those inclined to act violently on their prejudices?” The Bible offers no covert or overt permission to act upon these prejudices.  Christians are to love others wholeheartedly and to turn the other cheek.  Do those professing Christ fail at that sometimes?  Certainly, but violence and hatred is not exclusive to those proclaiming to be evangelicals (whether they actually are evangelicals is a topic for another day).  Again, I suspect that if she were to dig into the data rather than making baseless assumptions, she would discover that those who hold to orthodox biblical teaching are among the least likely to act out violently. 

The irony that she seems to miss is that secular society has increasingly been intolerant of Christian beliefs.  Christians are regularly dissuaded from speaking about their faith.  Christians are not allowed to run their business practices as they wish.  She also apparently failed to include Christian martyrs in her list of hate crimes.  According to George Weigel, The International Bulletin of Missionary Research annual bulletin in 2011 noted that, “there have 270 Christian martyrs every 24 hours over the past decade.”  That’s one million Christians dead because of their faith.

In the end, she concludes “somewhere in the middle is the silence, the refusal to speak out against prejudice.”  I wonder, would she encourage others to speak out against the prejudice and intolerance toward Christians that she is advocating here?

In a way, I am glad that Marilyn Sewell is saying goodbye to tolerance. At least she is finally bringing to light what we evangelicals have known for years.  Tolerance applies universally...unless you are a Christian. 

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