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Tolerance is a sham. Tolerance is much talked about, but rarely practiced.
Big blue posters hung from the dorm and academic building walls: “What the Bible REALLY says about homosexuality.” It was a meeting with a gay pastor who was on campus to set the record straight. Sounded fun to me. If it’s a choice between physics homework or an open discussion on homosexuality, I’ll take the discussion.
The auditorium began to fill with students of all sizes, shapes, and sexual orientations. Some came with Bibles in hand, others came with someone of the same sex in hand. A large portion of the crowd was very flamboyant.
The event began as the gay pastor introduced himself. He came across as warm and friendly. He explained that he was homosexual and had been with his partner for twelve years. He then asked the audience which category each of us fit into:
Are you openly gay or lesbian? Raise your hand.
Do you think the Bible says it is wrong to live a homosexual lifestyle? Raise your hand.
Do you think the Bible says it’s OK to live out a gay lifestyle? Raise your hand.
The raised hands to the last two questions were pretty evenly split. I wondered if there would be booing when those who believed the Bible does not condone a homosexual lifestyle identified themselves, but there wasn’t.
The speaker opened by saying that suppressed Scriptures had been presented in an incomplete way and he was there to tell the rest of the story. And what a story it was. According to him, the real story was that Jesus healed a slave in order to sustain a gay relationship. David and Jonathan were gay, and Ruth and Naomi were lesbian lovers (forget the fact that both Ruth and Naomi had been married).
His remarks were received with genuine tolerance. I’d even venture to say most of the Christians sincerely listened with open minds. But his information was false. His translations from Greek were contradictory. His basic arguments were terribly flawed. Yet, no one heckled him, jeered him, or tried to shout him down. The crowd, particularly those opposing his ideas, was truly tolerant. This was the first time I had witnessed true tolerance on the college campus. It was refreshing. This was exactly what the free exchange of ideas should look like. Christians and conservatives in the audience were tolerant of the man although they didn’t agree with his ideas.
When he closed his remarks, which were 45 minutes in length, and opened the floor for questions, hands shot up in the air. As Christians and conservatives tried to get clarification on interpretations and assumptions, he grew increasingly frustrated. Audience members were making good points. They were reasoning, exposing sloppy scholarship, as well as perversion of the Scriptures. He was struggling to hold his own and gradually began to lose it. Finally, in a hateful tone of voice, he said, “If you reject us by thinking homosexuality is a sin, then you’d better watch out for judgment day!”
His condemnation didn’t make the headlines of the student newspaper or even so much as cause a stir. Can you imagine what would have happened if the tables had been turned? What if a Christian pastor had told the homosexual students they’d better watch out for judgment day. It would have been a classic case of hate speech.
Tolerance is a sham. Tolerance is much talked about, but rarely practiced. Tolerance, as defined by the politically correct, means tolerating those who fit snugly within the borders of the politically correct. To get a firm grasp on tolerance, and how to respond to pseudo-tolerance, we need to start with definitions:
Webster’s dictionary describes tolerance as “the act or practice of tolerating especially: sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from one’s own.”
The politically correct tolerance we see practiced—or rather extracted—today goes way beyond a mere sympathy or indulgence for a set of beliefs peculiar to one’s own. This contemporary pseudo-tolerance has actually become a mask for intolerance.
Josh McDowell calls the phenomena of tolerance the most “ominous culture change in human history.” He says, “It is a change so vast that its implications are mind-boggling. Most frightening of all is that most Christians seem to be missing it. As a result, we may very well wake up in the not-too-distant future in a culture that is not only unreceptive but openly hostile to the church and the gospel of Jesus Christ, a culture in which those who proclaim the gospel will be labeled as bigots and fanatics, a culture in which persecution of Christians will be not only allowed but applauded. And all of it will be directly related to the ‘new tolerance.’”1
Christians themselves are very confused. One study McDowell cites reveals that “the majority of kids (57%) in strong, evangelical churches already believe what the new tolerance is teaching: that what is wrong for one person is not necessarily wrong for someone else.”2 Score one for moral relativism.
Does the Bible talk about tolerance? In the NIV, the word forbearance is sometimes translated tolerance. In the original Greek, the word for tolerance means to hold up, as in “forbearing with one another.” The concept of tolerance is biblical. We are commanded to forbear with one another, and to be patient with one another in the interest of growth, maturity and coming to discover truth. Tolerance and forbearance in pursuit of a worthwhile goal are good things. Yet, with all the commotion this new form of tolerance causes, the very word almost leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.
I was trying to think of examples of how the politically correct are tolerant on a secular college campus, but most of the examples involve being tolerant of deviancy and immorality. My fitness instructor promoted tolerance and diversity by encouraging us to go watch a drag show. She was telling us which bars to catch the shows at when she realized that as freshmen we were all under 21. Being a responsible faculty member, she said we should wait until we were 21 and then go see a drag show. She said she would encourage us to see drag shows just like she would encourage us to visit a place of different ethnicity.
The politically correct often exercise their version of tolerance by accusing those with opposing views of intolerance. Had I suggested viewing a drag show might not contribute to one’s lifetime fitness, I surely would have been accused of being intolerant.
It is important to understand this because identifying and labeling intolerance in others is the nucleus of tolerance movement. By pointing out those who are intolerant, the tolerant create an illusion of moral superiority. They market themselves as self-righteous, the holy ones, the people that “truly” care, that “truly” understand and have a corner on the market of truth—if there was such a thing as truth. Of course, the guardians of tolerance, by being intolerant of others, are actually practicing the thing they preach against—but let’s not confuse them with reality.
Much of the nonsense in the classroom, the lunacy of freshman orientation and the garbage at large that happens on a college campus today is made possible by this great myth of tolerance. That’s why it is important to understand how tolerance works, and to follow the faulty premises of tolerance to their disastrous logical ends.
The myth of tolerance is fueled by two major lies. You may not recognize these lies when you first encounter them. Initially, they may even sound good and make sense. But when you subject them to the scrutiny of basic reasoning, the lies become apparent.
The first lie is that tolerant people are good people and that intolerant people are bad people. Inherent in this idea is that tolerance is always good. Therefore, the more tolerant a person is, the better a human being that person becomes.
Really? Why don’t we try it out:
Let’s say you are a male at college and your roommate wants his girlfriend to spend the night in your dorm room. You tolerate that with a wink and a nod, and hey, you’re cool. You’re tolerant. Who are you to judge?
Let’s say the next night, he wants to have two girls spend the night. You might be a little more uncomfortable with this scenario, and it’s not really your thing, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be your roommate’s thing. And besides, you’ve already proven yourself tolerant of one girl and earned the accolade of good guy. By extending the logic of tolerance, if you tolerate two girls, you become twice as tolerant and twice as good. You are doubly understanding. Doubly less judgmental and doubly compassionate.
Now, let’s say the roommate is tired of sexual escapades in the dorm room with two girls at a time and wants to try something different. Really different. Maybe bring a sheep in the room. Or a cow. Or a little boy. You now have an incredible opportunity to prove just how open-minded and truly tolerant you really are. You can see how once started down the path of tolerance, you begin veering down a slippery slope. Tolerance is not the equivalent of goodness. Blind tolerance without discretion is anything but good. It’s ignorant. G. K. Chesterton referred to tolerance as the virtue that remains after a man has lost all his principle.
The truth is, most of the people who give lip service to tolerance don’t believe in it themselves. They can’t quite put their finger on it, but they know in their gut there’s something bogus. In some cases they simply haven’t thought it through. In other cases, they have thought it through, but they’re too scared to talk. Too afraid of being labeled intolerant.
The second lie about tolerance wraps itself around the first. The second lie goes like this: Just because it’s wrong for me, doesn’t mean it’s wrong for you. No thoughts, ideas, or value judgments are better than any others. No set of ideas, convictions or principles have more merit than another. This, again, is the heart of moral relativism. There is no right or wrong, no absolute truth; morality changes relative to the winds of culture. One day it may be illegal to kill babies in the womb; one day it may not. One day it may be illegal to snuff out grandma in the nursing home; one day it may not.
On occasion, my initial reaction to this assumption that all ideas have equal worth has been to think, “Who am I to say my Christian convictions are good and noble?” On second thought, there are approximately 2,000 years of tradition behind my Christian principles. They embody the principles of natural law. They have been the foundation for the institutions of marriage and family that have sustained cultures, and for 2,500 years the Judeo-Christian tradition that has created one of the longest-lasting moral orders in the history of man.
The concept that all convictions, principles and ideas have equal merit, and nobody’s idea is better than somebody else’s idea, carries a mighty intimidation factor. But if you take the reasoning and apply it to other situations, the fallacy becomes apparent.
Was there no difference between Sadam Hussein’s conviction that dissidents should be jailed, tortured, and have their eyes gouged out, and our Founding Fathers’ conviction that dissidents have the right to free speech? Was there no difference between Hitler’s conviction that the Jews were an inferior race and needed to be exterminated, and the United State’s conviction that ethnic cleansing is immoral? Both ideas cannot be equal in merit. Both ideas do not yield equal consequences.
Fundamental to the success of the lie that all ideas have equal worth, is viewing life apart from a framework that includes God. When there is no moral authority in your view of life, it’s easy to see how this lie takes hold. If man is the one writing truth, not God, and all men are created equal (so says the Declaration of Independence), then all truths must be equal.
Following such logic, the truth claims of the Klu Klux Klan are just as valid as the truth claims of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The philosophy of Stalin is just as valid as the philosophy of Plato. The belief systems of Hitler, Lenin, and Saddam Hussein are just as valid as those of C.S. Lewis, Churchill, and Mother Teresa. Ludicrous. Following such logic doesn’t just lead to chaos on a college campus, it leads to chaos in the world at large.
The mush mind of tolerance leads to group think. Individuals become too intimidated to think for themselves and eventually unable to think for themselves. Fear takes over, and the risk of speaking up seems too great. That fear leads to an abridgement of freedom of speech, the very cornerstone of liberty. Without exaggeration, I believe that on many college campuses, in many classrooms, in many settings, the fear of speaking and going against the grain border on the fear more commonly found in a dictatorship or police state.
As Christians, we can’t be passive spectators when it comes to tolerance. When a Christian says, “This is what I believe to be true, but you can believe what you want to be true,” Christianity is demeaned. Certainly that person has a right to believe what he or she wants, but you don’t have to do that “agree to disagree” business. Two opposing truths cannot be simultaneously true. Christianity claims to be the Truth, capital T. Narrow? Oh yeah. Gonna raise eyebrows? Definitely.
Christianity is a logical target for tolerance watchdogs because, by it’s very nature, Christianity is intolerant. Jesus claimed to be the Way, the Truth and the Life. He claimed to be the only Son of God. Those aren’t exactly claims that are vague or ambiguous. He didn’t describe Himself as one of many ways to God, but the way. This is just the kind of statement that makes tolerance watchdogs foam at the mouth and strain at the leash. So, on the one hand, we can say with certainty that Christianity is intolerant. Well, we can say it, but it’s not entirely true.
There is also a dynamic of Christianity that is very tolerant. Christianity may be one of the most tolerant religions in the world.
How so? Christianity is tolerant in that Christ accepts men and women in whatever moral and spiritual state they are in. You don’t have to get your act together, pass a test, or prove yourself before you can come to Christ. If you have a problem with drugs, you’re welcome to come. Problem with alcohol? You’re welcome, too. If you have a problem with honesty, cheating, a horrible temper, or an eating disorder, or you’re in a relationship that’s a mess, you’re welcome.
The core of the gospel message is that Jesus died for all men. There are no stipulations extending grace and redemption to a certain few of a particular race, gender, class, or social status. No one is excluded. The invitation is truly tolerant, because the invitation is for all.
The beauty of this invitation is that you can come in a terrible state, but God won’t leave you in a terrible state. He’ll give you a rock to cling to, firm ground to stand on and heal you from the inside out. That is true tolerance in the classic sense of the word—a forbearing that works toward growth and maturity.
When we fail to deal with the tolerance issue, two things happen. As conservatives, we compromise liberty. As Christians, we compromise truth. Those are the two things at risk when we silently bow to leftist tolerance.
So, how do college students deal with the problem of psuedo-tolerance? Based on my own experiences, including some mistakes, I offer the following ideas:
Get off the sidelines, jump in and play ball. Muster the courage and determine to speak up. Not all the time, not every time. Engage as a player instead of a spectator. Resolve that you will speak up. Secondly, resolve that when another Christian speaks up, especially if it’s not going well for him or her, that you will speak up and support that person. “And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him."scripture">” Ecclesiastes 4:12
Once you’ve determined to speak, how you speak is just as important. It can’t be arrogantly or self-righteously, but it can be with enthusiasm and great passion. The key is not to get so caught up in the debate that you get angry. If you start to feel the anger build (your heart races, you feel flushed, and you’d really, really like to “reach out and touch someone”), let it go. Stay calm. The minute you succumb to anger, the discussion is over and you lose. Composure is everything. The goal is not to win debates and leave your opponent in shreds. The goal is to get other people to think, to consider your point of view, and to reconsider their own.
The Bible says to be prepared with a ready answer. It’s hard to prepare answers when you don’t know what the questions are going to be. What’s also amazing is how fast the questions come when these discussions unfold. It’s rapid-fire. In those situations, the best thing to do is try to separate out a single principle, think of it as a thread if you will, and follow it. Once you’ve separated out the one thread you want to focus on, be sure to maintain a separation between the principle from the people. Don’t let others force you to generalize. Don’t let the other side frame the argument. Make clear distinctions between people and principles. This is critical. You don’t want to condemn people; you want to discuss principles. Isolate the principle and follow it to its logical end. Point out that ideas have consequences.
Often in these lively discussions the first charge lobbed is that you are judging and the Bible says do not judge. Taken out of context “judge not” sounds like a universal statement against ever making a judgment. The greater context is hypocrisy and pride. We should not judge with the goal of putting ourselves on a higher spiritual plane and we should not judge by a standard we are unwilling to apply to ourselves.
Judging in an eternal sense is the business of God. The passage does not preclude people from ever making a judgment, because right after the verses that warn about judging is this one: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine.” You’d have to make some judgments to determine what is holy, who the dogs are, and who the pigs are.
Further, if “judge not” is a universal ban, positive judgments would be taboo as well as negative judgments. We couldn’t judge that a movie was good, a book excellent, or a lecture challenging. As Elisabeth Elliott writes on this matter, “If we were not to judge at all we would have to expunge from our Christian vocabulary the word is, for whatever follows that word is a judgment. Jack is a fine yachtsman, Mrs. Smith is a cook, Harold is a bum. . . . Jesus told us to love our enemies. How are we to know who they are without judgment? He spoke of dogs, swine, hypocrites, liars, as well as of friends, followers, rich men, the great and the small, the humble and the proud, ‘he who hears you and he who rejects you,’ old and new wineskins, the things of the world and the things of the Kingdom. To make any sense at all of this teachings requires, among other things, the God-given faculty of judgment, which includes discrimination.”2
Make it clear that we are all judgmental. Each one of us make judgments each and every day, both positive judgments and negative judgments.
One Saturday morning I attended part of an ordination service for two new pastors at our church. A council of pastors and elders asked them questions about doctrine and theology to test their worthiness for ordination. It was a wonderful process of Q and A as the candidates for ordination responded to questions about the problem of evil, the make-up of the trinity, and many other theological issues. Naturally, they built their answers based on scripture. It struck me that that kind of dialogue doesn’t work in the college classroom. What works in the church does not work in the culture. A secular group isn’t going to respect the Bible, so it’s a mistake to start throwing out chapter and verse. Although we may not quote chapter and verse, the truth of scripture must be present.
The key is to find a common denominator. When Paul spoke to the pagans on Mars Hill, he didn’t quote Old Testament scripture. Paul was an Old Testament scholar, but that’s not the reference point he used on Mars Hill. He considered the audience, pagans fond of the poets, and he himself quoted the pagan poets. He found their reference point of his peers and worked from there.
Apollos was “mighty in the scriptures” (Acts 18:24) and powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. Apollos knew his audience and knew what they respected—the Scriptures—so that became his common denominator. Two very different audiences, two very different approaches. Know your audience and speak their language.
What’s the common denominator for most people? Basic right and wrong. People may deny that they believe in the absolutes that determine right and wrong, but, deep down, almost everybody does believe in absolutes that determine right and wrong. Every culture in the world intrinsically knows it’s wrong to murder. It is important to appeal to that sense of right and wrong deep within individuals. Romans says that God has written the basics of right and wrong on every man’s heart (Romans 1:19,20). Appeal to a base of right and wrong and work from there.
Try to end the discourse on a positive note. You don’t have to ingratiate yourself to anybody, or compromise your principles, but try to end on a civil tone (even if they don’t—especially if they don’t). The goal is not to obliterate people in a war of words; the goal is to win a few more people over to your way of thinking. Annihilation usually isn’t the best method for doing that.
Why? Because you’re right.
The first lie is that tolerant people are good people and that intolerant people are bad people. The second lie says: Just because it’s wrong for you, doesn’t mean it’s wrong for me. No thoughts, ideas, or value judgments are better than any others.
Calmly respond to the charge of intolerance or “being judgmental” immediately. Don’t allow others to distort the truth and stick a label on you.
Take absurd premises—“what may be right for you, may not be right for me”—to absurd conclusions.
Be passionate. Be authentic. But be respectful and kind. Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it. Name-calling and anger mean you’re out of ideas and out of patience. When you are sincere, you may be thought of as someone who is approachable, and this may open the door to further discussions.
I am a senior at Ohio State University. Attending this university has been one of the biggest challenges to my faith. I know God called me to be a light in a very dark place here at OSU. Whether its reaching out to a classmate and simply listening to their problems and praying for them, or tackling the “difficult” issues like evolution and homosexuality inside the classroom, God has called Christian students to stand up for His Truth and message of Forgiveness and Love. Unfortunately, I have seen too many of my own Christian classmates shrink back from voicing opinions in Biology or Sociology and Psychology classes simply because they are afraid of being labeled a “Jesus Freak Conservative.” It is a tough atmosphere to be placed in, but that is no excuse for us to shrink back and let false teachings be spread without a fight.
God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, and if He has called students to a secular university, then He is simply waiting for them to ask and rely on His Strength and Wisdom on how to approach issues.
Maybe being a Christian and a conservative is hard on a secular campus, but on a Christian campus you run into just as many moral issues. You soon learn about the people with the connections and the stories from last year about those who didn’t come back for whatever reasons. Soon you hear of resident assistants being removed from their positions for either letting too many things get by or because they themselves initiated such events. I was appalled since I see the RAs as spiritual leaders and how they took the responsibility lightly. I was invited to a party that was off campus at someone’s brother’s house. I already knew about other parties that had taken place there that weren’t good. I came up with a reason for not attending, and two days later found out the whole story. There was a lot of alcohol, and the short of it is all the people who went to the party have been called to a meeting to discuss consequences for their actions. You can never assume that a Christian college is immune to such happenings. But I would hope the incidents are less likely to occur here than at a secular college. When I say no to an invitation, suddenly I am uptight and legalistic and I just don’t know how to have fun. I don’t care what they call me, I will still say no.
Well anyway, class calls.
Christians in secular colleges and universities can expect to encounter opposition if they major in a field of science. Secular professors will often present arguments designed to undermine the Bible. These might include arguments which supposedly support evolution, the big bang, a multi-billion-year-old earth, and attempt to undermine the biblical teachings of creation in six days and the global Flood. It is very important that we are able to refute these criticisms—not only for our own conviction, but for the sake of others. We need to be ready to give an answer and defend our faith (1 Peter 3:15).
When I was in college and graduate school, the resources and web articles at Answers in Genesis and ICR really helped me to be informed on the issues so that I could see the problems in the evolutionists’ arguments. By being informed on the issues, I understood that when the evidence is interpreted correctly, it always supports a straightforward reading of the Bible. I learned about many Ph.D. scientists who reject the big bang and instead believe that God created, just as the Bible teaches. Although Christians will face open hostility from some of their secular peers and many of their evolutionist professors, there is no need to be afraid of the evidence itself. The scientific evidence confirms the Bible.
—Jason Lisle, Ph.D.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.